Name That Exemption

Federal bankruptcy exemptions


OK, readers.  It’s time for a pop quiz.

How many non bankruptcy, federal exemptions can you name?




If you didn’t get past the exemption for Social Security, read on.

Section 522 (b)(3)(a) provides that a debtor who elects the applicable state law exemptions can also exempt property under  federal, non bankruptcy exemptions.  Inconveniently, those exemptions are scattered all over the  U.S. Code.

Here’s a list, culled from legal publications and annotated from input on the NACBA listserve

  • 75% of earned but unpaid wages – 15 USC 1673
  • CIA employees.  U.S.C. 50 § 403
  • Civil Service retirement benefits. 5 U.S.C.A. § 8346; 5 U.S.C. §§ 729 and 2265
  • Crop Insurance proceeds. 7 U.S.C. 1509.
  • Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996. 31 U.S.C.A. § 3716.
  • FEMA benefits 44 CFR s 206.110(g)
  • Benefits, annuities, or payments to survivors of foreign service employees. 22 U.S.C.A. § 4060(c).
  • GAO Service Annuity.  31 U.S.C. 776.
  • Federal homestead lands on debts contracted before issuance of the patent. 43 U.S.C. 175.
  • Indian tribe exemptions. 25 U.S.C.A. § 410.
  • Annuities paid to survivors of a Justice or judge of the United States, a Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, a Director of the Federal Judicial Center, or an administrative assistant to the Chief Justice of the United States. 28 U.S.C.A. § 376(n)
  • Klamath Indians Tribe – Oregon. U.S.C. 25 § 543, 25 § 545.
  • Benefits for surviving spouses of Lighthouse Service personnel. 33 U.S.C.A. § 775.
  • Death and disability benefits paid pursuant to the Longshoremen’s and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. 33 U.S.C.A. § 916.
  • Special pensions awarded to persons on the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard Medal of Honor roll. 38 U.S.C.A. § 1562(c).
  • Military survivor annuities paid pursuant to the Survivor Benefits Plan. 10 U.S.C.A. § 1450(i).
  • Public Safety Officer Death Benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 3796
  • Railroad Retirement Act annuities and pensions. 45 U.S.C.A. § 231m.
  • Railroad workers’ unemployment insurance benefits. 45 U.S.C.A. § 352(e).
  • Wages of fishermen, seamen, and apprentices. 46 U.S.C. 601; 46 U.S.C.A. § 11109(a).
  • Benefits due or to become due under servicemen’s groups life insurance or veteran’s group life insurance. 38 U.S.C.A. § 1970(g) and 38 U.S.C. § 770(g).
  • Social security benefits. 42 U.S.C.A. § 407. See also 42 U.S.C. § 659.
  • Student Loan Proceeds  20 U.S.C. 1095a(d)
  • Exempt benefits available under Supplemental Security insurance.  42 U.S.C. § 1383.
  • Annuities paid to members of the armed services, based on retirement or retainer pay. 10 U.S.C.A. § 1440.
  • United States service member’s deposits in a savings institution while the depositor is on permanent duty outside of the United States. 10 U.S.C.A. § 1035(d).
  • Veterans’ benefits. 38 U.S.C.A. § 5301(a).
  • Social Security Disability Benefits.  42 U.S.C. § 407.
  • War Compensation – Hazard, Death, Injury. U.S.C. 42 § 1717.

Do you know of others that should be added to this list?

Image courtesy of inju.



  1. I got a few of the more common ones here – wages, social security, FEMA benefits (we had a case around here) and VA benefits. The rest are rare.

  2. Did I miss – 29 U.S.C § 1056(d) ERISA.  But one of my favorites is that you can not take a Seaman’s clothes – 46 U.S.C. § 11110.

  3. I didn’t include ERISA since its effect to keep assets out of the estate, where they don’t have to be exempted to be retained.

  4. Thanks for the great tips.  What about a crypt?  

    • If you mean a burial plot, I don’t think the feds have an interest in your final resting place.

      I do wonder if there is a federal exemption for unemployment benefits, since it was in the next subchapter of the social security act, but since it’s paid to states in block grants, it may be a matter for the states to exempt.

      • Greenberg Fl says

        I guess my client has to go live in the crypt and exempt it as a homestead.   
        Thanks for your response anyway.  

  5. James Portman Webster says

    A couple of times I have needed to use the exemption for student loans and grants. This can be a life saver when your clients did not tell you they received the student loan disbursement prior to filing.

  6. Cate Eranthe says

    Nice list! I’ve used the military service survivor benefits exemptions several times.