Postend on February 1, 2024

How Much Equity Can I Have in My Home and Still File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in New Jersey?

Understanding the specific laws and exemptions can be crucial in protecting your assets when filing for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In New Jersey, one of the most significant concerns for many individuals is retaining ownership of their home during the bankruptcy process. Fortunately, by familiarizing yourself with the Chapter 7 laws in New Jersey and the available exemptions, you can take proactive steps to safeguard your home and ensure a more stable financial future.

To protect your home and navigate the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process effectively, it’s essential to seek professional guidance from an experienced bankruptcy attorney who is well-versed in both New Jersey and federal laws. At Straffi & Straffi Attorneys at Law, our top-rated New Jersey bankruptcy attorneys can provide personalized advice tailored to your circumstances, assist in determining eligibility for exemptions, and guide you through the necessary steps to retain ownership of your home. Remember, time is of the essence in such situations. Take the first step towards securing your future by reaching out to a qualified attorney today. Call us at (732) 341-3800 to schedule a consultation.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Basics

Chapter 7 bankruptcy, also known as liquidation bankruptcy, is a process that allows individuals to eliminate most of their unsecured debts, such as credit card debt, medical bills, and personal loans. It is generally considered the quickest form of bankruptcy, with cases typically lasting four to six months from the filing date to discharge.

In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, a trustee is appointed to take control of the debtor’s non-exempt assets, sell them, and use the proceeds to pay off creditors. Some common exemptions include a portion of a debtor’s home equity, retirement accounts, personal belongings, and other property deemed essential for daily living.

Once the trustee has liquidated the non-exempt assets, the remaining unsecured debts are generally discharged, meaning the debtor is no longer legally obligated to repay them. However, some debts are ineligible for discharge, such as certain taxes, student loans, child support, and alimony.

New Jersey’s Bankruptcy Laws and Regulations

New Jersey, like all states, has its own set of bankruptcy laws and regulations, in addition to federal bankruptcy laws. 

In some states, filers may be required to only follow their state’s exemption criteria, making it potentially difficult for those filing to retain ownership of their possessions following a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Fortunately, New Jersey filers have the option to follow either the state’s or the federal government’s exemption list, which outlines the property and assets that can be protected from liquidation. It is important to remember that while New Jersey filers can opt to follow either the state or federal exemption list, they cannot mix and match the exemptions between the two systems.

New Jersey’s Homestead Exemption Limit

A homestead exemption helps protect your primary residence from creditors during a financial crisis. It is a legal provision that safeguards one’s home equity and prevents the forced sale of the property by creditors. Homestead exemptions differ from state to state in terms of the amount of home equity protected and eligibility criteria. Some states provide a limited exemption while others offer wider protection.

In New Jersey, there isn’t a specific homestead exemption law. However, the state allows its residents to use the federal exemptions provided by U.S. bankruptcy law. This amount doubles for married couples filing for bankruptcy jointly.

New Jersey exemptions include the following:

  • $1,000 in household goods and an additional $1,000 in personal property including stock and company interests
  • Burial allowance
  • Some insurance, life, and health benefits. Disability and death benefits for military and government workers.
  • Qualified pension exemptions
  • A percentage of wages depending on the percentage of income relative to the federal poverty level.
New Jersey’s Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Exemptions Description
Homestead Exemption New Jersey does not have a dedicated state homestead exemption.
Household Goods Up to $1,000 in value. Includes furniture, appliances, and other household items.
Personal Property Up to $1,000 in value. Includes stocks, bonds, and other personal assets.
Burial Allowance Amount designated for burial expenses.
Insurance Benefits Some insurance, life, and health benefits may be exempt.
Military and Government Benefits Disability and death benefits for military and government workers may be exempt.
Qualified Pensions Exemption for certain qualified pension plans.
Wages A percentage of wages may be exempt based on income relative to the federal poverty level.

Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions

For federal exemptions, state law allows for the following:

Homestead Exemption

Under 11 USC § 522(d)(1), individuals filing for bankruptcy have the opportunity to protect the equity in their primary residence using the homestead exemption. The homestead exemption allows you to safeguard up to $27,900 of equity in your home.

To qualify for the homestead exemption, it is crucial that you are actually residing in the home. The exemption is specifically intended for individuals who consider the property as their primary residence, and it provides a means to shield a certain amount of equity from being subject to seizure by creditors.

It’s important to note that the homestead exemption protects the equity in your residence. Equity is the value of your home minus any outstanding mortgage or liens. For example, if your home is valued at $200,000 and you have a mortgage of $150,000, your equity would be $50,000. In this case, if the equity is $27,900 or less, you may be able to retain your home during the bankruptcy process while safeguarding the protected amount from potential liquidation by creditors.

Additional Exemptions

Filers who opt to use the federal exemptions can also utilize the following:

  • Motor Vehicle Exemption: Under federal bankruptcy law, individuals can protect their motor vehicle up to a maximum exemption amount of $4,450, based on the equity in the vehicle.
  • Personal Property Exemption: Household goods, furnishings, appliances, clothing, books, animals, crops, and musical instruments can be exempted up to a maximum aggregate value of $14,875, with individual items within this category protected up to $700 in value. Jewelry can be exempted up to $1,875.
  • Insurance Policies: Certain financial assets related to life insurance policies, such as the loan value, accrued dividends, or interest, can be protected up to a maximum of $14,875 under federal bankruptcy law.
  • Benefits: Domestic Support Obligations (DSOs), including alimony, child support, and spousal maintenance payments, are generally non-dischargeable in bankruptcy, ensuring that individuals receive necessary financial support. Additionally, certain public benefits, such as Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and veterans’ benefits, are typically exempt from being included in the bankruptcy estate.
  • Personal Injury Recoveries: Federal exemptions allow for the protection of personal injury recoveries. A maximum exemption of $27,900 can be applied, except for pain and suffering or monetary loss. Additional exemptions cover loss of future earnings, recovery for the wrongful death of a support provider, and compensation received as a crime victim.
  • Tools of the Trade: Individuals filing for bankruptcy may be able to protect tools of the trade, including implements and books, up to a maximum exemption amount of $2,800. This provision recognizes the importance of safeguarding the essential tools and resources necessary for individuals to continue their profession or trade even during the bankruptcy process. 

These exemptions aim to safeguard essential assets and support systems for individuals going through bankruptcy, providing a level of financial protection and ensuring necessary resources are available during and after the bankruptcy process.

It is essential for debtors to consult with a bankruptcy attorney licensed in New Jersey to ensure they understand the state-specific laws and regulations and navigate the complex bankruptcy process properly. Our team at Straffi and Straffi Attorneys at Law can help you navigate the process and allow you to make informed decisions about your financial situation. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

Comparing New Jersey and Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions

When navigating through the complexities of Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey, understanding the distinctions between state and federal bankruptcy exemptions is crucial. New Jersey is unique in that it allows debtors to choose between New Jersey-specific exemptions or the federal exemption list, but not both. This choice can significantly impact which assets you can retain post-bankruptcy.

Federal exemptions offer a broad range of asset protections. Notable federal exemptions include a homestead exemption of up to $27,900 for individuals or $55,800 for co-owning spouses, a motor vehicle exemption capped at $4,450, and a wildcard exemption that can cover various assets up to $13,950. Federal exemptions also comprehensively cover retirement accounts, with IRA and Roth IRA protections up to $1,512,350.

In contrast, New Jersey exemptions are more limited. For instance, there is no specific homestead exemption under New Jersey law, although debtors with property held as tenancy by the entirety may find some protection. Personal property exemptions in New Jersey include clothing, $1,000 towards furniture and household goods, and a burial plot, but these are considerably less than federal allowances.

Choosing the correct exemption list depends on a debtor’s individual circumstances. In many cases, federal exemptions may provide more generous asset protection. However, for some, such as those with significant equity in real estate as tenancy by the entirety, New Jersey exemptions could offer better safeguards. It’s essential to consult with a New Jersey bankruptcy attorney to ensure that the most beneficial exemption list is selected for your situation.

Eligibility Criteria for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Eligibility for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is determined through a “means test.” The means test examines a debtor’s income and compares it to the median income for a similar-sized household in New Jersey. If the debtor’s income is below the median, they are generally eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

If the debtor’s income is above the median, the means test calculations become more intricate, considering allowable expenses and debt. Ultimately, if the debtor still has sufficient disposable income to repay a portion of their debts through a Chapter 13 repayment plan, they may not qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Consulting with a bankruptcy attorney can help individuals determine if they are eligible for Chapter 7 or if another bankruptcy option may be more appropriate.

NJ bankruptcy attorney

Equity in Home and Bankruptcy Laws

Home equity is the difference between the market value of a property and the outstanding balance of any loans secured by the property, such as a mortgage or home equity line of credit (HELOC). In simple terms, home equity represents the portion of a homeowner’s interest in their property that is free from any claims by creditors.

Calculating Home Equity

Calculating home equity is a straightforward process. Simply subtract the outstanding mortgage balance from the current market value of the property. For example, if the market value of a home is $300,000 and the outstanding mortgage balance is $200,000, the homeowner’s equity would be $100,000.

Impact of Home Equity on Bankruptcy Filings

In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, home equity becomes a crucial consideration for both debtors and trustees. If a debtor has significant equity in their home and cannot protect the entire amount through available exemptions, they risk losing their home during the process.

As previously mentioned, New Jersey does not have a homestead exemption under state law. Under federal exemptions, debtors can protect up to $27,900 of home equity. If a debtor’s home equity exceeds this exempt amount, the bankruptcy trustee may sell the property and use the non-exempt portion of the equity to pay off creditors. If this poses a significant risk, a debtor may choose to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy instead, which allows them to keep their property and repay debts through a court-approved plan. It is also important to remember that, only a debtor’s 

In any case, consulting with a bankruptcy attorney familiar with New Jersey law can help individuals determine the best course of action based on their home equity and other financial considerations.

Preparing to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in New Jersey

Before you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you will need to gather necessary financial documents and information such as: 

  • Recent tax returns
  • Income documentation (pay stubs, unemployment benefits, etc.) 
  • A list of your assets and liabilities 
  • Debt statements and collection notices 
  • Any legal judgments against you

Bankruptcy Means Test

To qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey, you must first pass the means test. The means test calculates your income, expenses, and disposable income, comparing your financial situation to the state’s median income threshold. If your household income is below the state’s median income, you qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If your income is above the median, you will undergo a further evaluation to determine your eligibility.

Bankruptcy Counseling and Education Requirements

Before filing for bankruptcy, you will need to complete credit counseling from an approved agency. Additionally, after you have filed, you will need to complete a debtor education course. These requirements aim to help debtors better manage their finances and prevent future financial crises.

Preparing to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy requires careful planning and preparation to maximize your chances of obtaining debt relief and securing a fresh financial start. By taking the necessary steps and seeking professional guidance, you can navigate the process more effectively and increase the likelihood of achieving the debt relief you need.

Working with an Experienced New Jersey Bankruptcy Attorney

If you are considering filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and want to retain ownership of your home in New Jersey, don’t navigate the process alone. Consult with a knowledgeable bankruptcy attorney who can guide you through the intricacies of the law, help you understand the exemptions available to you, and provide the necessary support to protect your home. With their support, you can embark on your bankruptcy journey with confidence, knowing that you have taken the necessary steps to increase your chances of obtaining the debt relief you seek. 

At Straffi & Straffi Attorneys at Law, our team of skilled bankruptcy attorneys in New Jersey can conduct a thorough analysis of your financial situation and assist you in exploring your legal options. We can also help you look into alternative measures of retaining ownership of your own depending on your circumstances. To schedule a consultation, contact us today at (732) 341-3800.

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