On June 11, 2015, Governor Robert Bentley signed a law increasing the Alabama property limits for the first time since 1982. Now, the homestead exemption for an individual is $15,000 (or $30,000 for a couple) and $7,500 for personal property for an individual (or $15,000 for a couple). This is great news for Alabamians who are forced to turn to bankruptcy to protect their property from foreclosure, repossession or the possibility of losing property to the Trustee in the bankruptcy process. Prior to this amendment, the homestead exemption was $5,000 (or $10,000 for a couple) and $3,000 for personal property (or $6,000 for a couple).
What Are Exemptions
You may wonder….what is an exemption? What does that mean? An exemption in bankruptcy allows a person to keep certain property or assets even after bankruptcy is filed. The exemptions are defined by statute and exempt property cannot be seized or sold to satisfy the debts of the person filing for bankruptcy. For example, let’s say you own a car valued at $2,750 with no lien by any creditor plus other household goods, furniture and jewelry valued at $1,200.00. So the total value of your personal property is $3,950. Under the new exemption statute just passed, you would not lose any of your property if you filed Chapter 7 because the exemption allowed is $7,500 for personal property. Under the old exemption amount, you would be over by $950 and could have possibly lost some of your property. The same would be true as to your residential home. (Please note, to claim the homestead exemption, you must live on the property the date your case is filed.) An example as to the homestead exemption would be this: your home is valued at $175,000 and you owe a mortgage company $160,000. In this scenario, you have equity in your home of $15,000. Under the new law, the equity in your home is protected. Under the old exemption amount, you would have excess equity of $10,000 that could not be protected from creditors or a trustee in Chapter 7 bankruptcy. So you can see what exciting news this new law is to those seeking protection from creditors.
In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the bankruptcy exemptions play a role — they determine the minimum amount you must pay to unsecured creditors through your Chapter 13 plan. This amount can mean the difference between a successful Chapter 13 and being unable to fund a plan.
Many thanks must go to Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice for advocating for these changes for the last three years. We must also thank the sponsors of the bills, Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) and Representative Jim Hill (R-Moody) and the members of the legislature who voted unanimously for these increased exemptions. Finally, I must give a huge thank you to Governor Bentley for immediately signing the bill into law.
If you have met with an attorney to discuss bankruptcy previously but did not go forward with filing because the payment was too high due to equity in real or personal property or you would possible lose property, please call one of our Bond & Botes offices to speak with one of our attorneys so we can re-evaluate your financial situation in light of these new exemptions. You may be on your way to a fresh start!
Gail Hughes Donaldson is a Managing Partner of the Bond & Botes Law Offices in Montgomery and Opelika, Alabama. She holds a Bachelor of Science from Auburn University at Montgomery, and a Juris Doctorate from Thomas Goode Jones School of Law. She’s been helping families work through the bankruptcy process since she started with Bond & Botes back in 1993 as a paralegal. Read her full bio here.