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.


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  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. Greenberg says:

    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.