The Law Offices of Dennis R. Wheeler specializes in preparing and filing personal and small business bankruptcy for clients in San Francisco and the Bay Area under Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code.  We have considerable experience in this area and have many satisfied clients who have achieved their fresh financial start.  It is always our goal to apply our experience to providing the highest level of personal service to each individual client.

If you are struggling to make ends meet, have more debt than you can handle, or maybe your home or car is at risk, call our office today to schedule a free initial consultation.  Let us help you understand the debt relief options that are available, both in and outside of bankruptcy.

Empower yourself with information—then you make the choice.  Your fresh financial start is just a phone call away.

If you file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the answer is no, you keep your property.  In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you repay all or a portion of your debts through a repayment plan over a period of three to five years.  In exchange, you may keep your property (including your car and home), assuming you keep up with payments on any loans secured by the property -- and keep making your Chapter 13 plan payments.

A Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a liquidation bankruptcy, so it is important that you tell your attorney about everything you own.  In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you ask the bankruptcy court to discharge most of the debts you owe.  In exchange for this discharge, the bankruptcy trustee can take any property you own that is not exempt from collection, sell it, and distribute the proceeds to your creditors.  What property is exempt from collection depends primarily on state law.  Typically, exemptions include some equity in your home and car, retirement funds, public benefits, and most household goods, furniture, furnishings, clothing (other than furs), appliances, books, some jewelry, and musical instruments.

Most consumers who file bankruptcy under Chapter 7 are able to retain all of their assets.

Will I lose my house?

Whether or not you can keep your home in a Chapter 7 filing will depend on the amount of equity (equity is the fair market value of the home less the amount of outstanding debt against the property) you have in your home, and whether or not you are in default under your mortgage instruments. 

If you have no equity in your home, or if you are able to exempt all of your equity, your home will not be liquidated by the bankruptcy trustee to satisfy unsecured creditors.  And, if you are current on your monthly payments and not otherwise in default under your mortgage documents, your lender will not foreclose.  Therefore, if you have either no equity or your equity is exempt, and you are current on your monthly payments and not in default, you may generally retain your home in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Will I lose my car?

Similarly, in order to retain your car in a Chapter 7 filing you must not be in default (that is you must be current on monthly payments and have the required insurance in place) and you must be able to exempt the equity (if any) that you have in the vehicle.  In addition, if you wish to retain the car you are required to either reaffirm the debt with your lender or redeem the vehicle from your bankruptcy estate.  Reaffirmation means that you sign new documents promising to pay the vehicle debt after your bankruptcy closes.  Redemption is your right to redeem or purchase the vehicle from your bankruptcy estate at its fair market value.

Your Household Furnishings and Goods

Generally, your furnishings, household goods, and clothing are exempt from liquidation in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  There may be exceptions, however, if you have items of extraordinary value, such as antiques or valuable artwork.  Specific exemptions are available for jewelry; however, the exemption amount is limited.

California’s Property Exemptions

California’s exemption amounts are summarized below.  You must chose either exemption set 1 or set 2.  You cannot use both or mix and match.  Please note that generally, people who file bankruptcy in California will use one of California’s two exemption schemes; however, if you have lived in a state other than California during any part of the past two years you will need to consult an attorney to determine the state exemption scheme applicable to your situation.  You may be required to use the federal or your previous state’s exemptions even though you currently reside in California.

California Exemptions

(citations are to the California Code of Civil Procedure unless otherwise indicated)

System 1

System 2


704.730 - Real or personal property occupied at time of filing for bankruptcy, including mobile home, boat, stock cooperative, community apartment, planned development or condominium, up to the following limits: $75,000 if single and not disabled; $100,000 if family and no other member has homestead; $175,000 if 65 or older or if physically or mentally disabled; $175,000 if creditors are seeking to force sale of your home and you are either (a) 55 or older, single and earn under $15,000 per year, or (b) 55 or older, married and earn under $20,000 per year. Sale proceeds are exempt for up to 6 months after sale.

704.920 - Homestead declaration may be filed to protect the proceeds of a voluntary sale up to 6 months or to protect the exemption amount from a judicial lien.


703.140(b)(1) Real or personal property, including co-op, used as a residence up to $22,075.


Personal Property

704.010 - Motor vehicle or auto insurance if vehicle lost, destroyed or damaged up to $2,725 (spouses may not double).

704.020 - Food, clothing, appliances and furnishings.

704.030 - Building materials to repair or improve home up to $2,875 (spouses may not double).

704.040 - Jewelry, heirlooms and art up to $7,175 total (spouses may not double).

704.050 - Health aids.

704.080 - Bank deposits from Social Security Administration up to $2,875 for single payee ($4,300 for husband and wife payees) and unlimited if funds are not commingled; Bank deposits from other public benefits up to $1,425 ($2,150 for husband and wife).

704.140 & 704.150 - Personal injury causes of action and wrongful death causes of action. Wrongful death and personal injury recoveries that are needed for support.

704.200 - Burial plot.

Fin. 17410 - Funds held in escrow.

Personal Property

703.140(b)(1) - Burial plot up to $22,075, instead of homestead.

703.140(b)(2) - Motor vehicle up to $3,525.

703.140(b)(3) - Clothing, household goods, appliances, furnishings, animals, books, musical instruments and crops up to $550 per item.

703.140(b)(4) - Jewelry up to $1,425.

703.140(b)(9) - Health aids.

703.140(b)(11) - Wrongful death recoveries needed for support.

703.140(b) (11) - Personal injury recoveries up to $22,075, not to include pain, suffering or pecuniary loss.



704.070 - 75% of wages paid within 30 days prior to filing bankruptcy.

704.113 - Public employee vacation credits (75% minimum if receiving installment payments).



11 U.S.C. § 522 - Tax exempt retirement accounts (including 401(k)s, 403(b)s, profit-sharing and money purchase plans, SEP and SIMPLE IRAs, and defined benefit plans).

11 U.S.C. § 522(b)(3)(C)(n) - IRAS and Roth IRAs to $1,171,150.

704.110 - Public retirement benefits.

704.115 - Private retirements benefits, including IRA and Keogh.

Government 21255 - Public employees.

Government 31452 - County employees.

Government 31913 - County peace officers.

Government 32210 - County fire fighters.


11 U.S.C. § 522 - Tax exempt retirement accounts (including 401(k)s, 403(b)s, profit-sharing and money purchase plans, SEP and SIMPLE IRAs, and defined benefit plans).

11 U.S.C. § 522(b)(3)(C)(n) - IRAS and Roth IRAs to $1,171,150.

703.140(b)(10) - ERISA-qualified benefits needed for support.


Public Benefits

704.120 - Unemployment benefits and union benefits due to labor dispute.

704.160 - Workers' compensation.

704.170 - Aid to blind, aged and disabled or other public assistance.

704.180 – Certain relocation benefits.

704.190 - Financial aid to students.

Public Benefits

703.140(b)(10) - Unemployment compensation, Social Security, Veterans' benefits, and public assistance.

703.140 (b) (11) - Crime victims' compensation.


Tools of Trade

704.060 - Tools, implements, materials, books, uniforms, instruments, one commercial vehicle, equipment, and furnishings up to $7,175 total, or up to $14,350 if used by both spouses in the same occupation. Commercial vehicle up to $4,850, or $9,700 if used by both spouses in the same occupation.

Tools of Trade

703.140(b)(6) - Tools, books and implements of trade up to $2,200.



704.100 - Matured life insurance benefits needed for support of unlimited value, or unmatured life insurance policy up to $11,475 in value.

704.120 - Fraternal unemployment benefits.

704.130 - Disability or health benefits.

704.170 - Fraternal benefit society benefits.

704.720 - Homeowners' insurance proceeds for 6 months after received, up to amount of homestead.

Labor 404 - Fidelity bonds.

Ins. 10132, Ins. 10170, Ins. 10171 - Life insurance proceeds if policy prohibits use to pay creditors.


703.140(b)(7) - Unmatured life insurance policy, other than credit.

703.140(b)(8) - Unmatured life insurance contract accrued interest, dividends, loan, cash or surrender value up to $11,800.

703.140(b)(10) - Disability benefits.

703.140(b)(11) - Life insurance proceeds needed for support.



Alimony & Child Support

703.140(b)(10) - Alimony and child support needed for support.



703.140(b)(5) - $1,175 of any property plus any unused amount of burial or homestead exemption of any property.


695.060 - Business or professional licenses.

704.090 - Trust funds of inmates up to $1,425 (spouses may not double).

Corp. 16501 - Business partnership property.


Add any applicable Federal Nonbankruptcy Exemptions.


Add any applicable Federal Nonbankruptcy Exemptions.

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