SB1099: New 2023 California Bankruptcy Exemptions Increase

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SB1099: New California Bankruptcy Exemptions Increase for 2023 | 5 Major Wins

SB1099, the new California exemptions increase which gives debtors in bankruptcy more protections, is now law.  The new California exemptions for 2023 help people in bankruptcy keep more of their assets, including their cars, their home, money, support pay, and sick leave. The bill was signed by the governor yesterday, and takes effect 1/1/2023.

Note that SB 1099 and the 2023 California exemptions are different from the California wild card exemption, and the 2021 increase in the California homestead exemption which is tied to Los Angeles County median home prices. The recent homestead exemption boost strictly involved homes. In contrast, the 2023 exemption hikes for California improves protections for homes, cars, savings, support, and accrued leave and wages.

Caution: as the new law has been in effect for just a few days, it’s likely that creditors and trustees will challenge key portions of it in court.  As such, reliance on it and its changes should be done with caution until it’s established with some history and caselaw.

While the changes in the new California exemptions of SB 1099 are many and wide-ranging, below are some key highlights.

Home equity appreciation now goes to debtor, not the estate

The provision

A key provision of the new California exemptions law is that postpetition appreciation in the home equity of debtors cannot be taken to repay debts.  Section 2 of the SB 1099 says:

[I]n a case where the debtor’s equity in a residence is less than or equal to the amount of the debtor’s allowed homestead exemption as of the date the bankruptcy petition is filed, any appreciation in the value of the debtor’s interest in the property during the pendency of the case is exempt.

This has the possibility to addressing the horrible, terrible, no-good decision of In re Jacobson, 676 F.3d 1193 (9th Cir, 2012)  which provided the perverse result that debtors had a contingent homestead exemption.

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New California exemptions provide more protection for home and appreciation
New California exemptions provide more protection for homes and their appreciation

There, the Ninth Circuit ruled, “That right was contingent on their reinvesting the proceeds in a new homestead within six months of receipt. Cal.Civ.Proc.Code § 704.720(b). The Jacobsons did not abide by that condition and thus forfeited the exemption.” Jacobson at 1199.

Now, with SB1099 becoming law, regardless which way the housing market goes after homeowners file bankruptcy, appreciation in their house is theirs, and not that of the trustee who previously could take it to pay their debts.  However, there is a countering argument that the legislature here says exemptions are not fixed on the filing date, which agrees with Jacobson, and thus, perhaps the case and its ruling are still valid. We’ll have to see how that plays out in the courts.

November 2022 update: Did the Ninth Circuit just chip into Jacobson, in a gradual erosion towards the ruling’s demise?

A Note on Preemption and SB1099

Section 541(a)(6) says that the estate is entitled to postpetition appreciation.  The Ninth Circuit BAP has held that to be the case, even if there is no equity on the date of filing. In re Viet Vu, 245 BR 644, 649 (9th Cir BAP, 2000). Creditors can challenge the new state law of SB1099  (or at least this portion of it) as being preempted by federal law, and even 9th Circuit authority on the point. It remains to be seen what courts would do.

Also, 11 USC 521(a)(2) says that a debtor must perform his or her stated intention about the collateral and secured debt with the filed petition. The options in the federal statute are: reaffirm, redeem, or surrender. Lenders can assert that state law SB1099 is preempted by federal law of Section 521. One counter to this is that, by and large, debtors in California have not been reaffirming mortgages, which are also secured debts that fall under 521. Perhaps treating vehicles the same way, pursuant to California statute, will be similarly allowed.

Ride-through for Cars is Back in California

Bankruptcy ride-through is where debtors can have their car loan “ride through” their bankruptcy without having to sign a new contact. In 2005, the bankruptcy reform known as BAPCPA required debtors in Chapter 7 bankruptcy to sign reaffirmation agreements if their lender provided one. This meant that the debtor owed the car loan, even if they lost the car to repossession after bankruptcy. With SB 1099, the debtor doesn’t need to sign the reaffirmation agreement, and the car loan can “ride-through” the bankruptcy case. Ridethrough was the norm before BAPCPA, and now in California, it has returned. The ride-through policy protects debtors from being liable for a big debt if they eventually default on the car loan.

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The “ride-through” bankruptcy part from the new CA law helps debtors. In short, no longer is the person in bankruptcy gambling that they won’t suffer some future hardship and lose the car, and still be stuck post-bankruptcy with thousands of dollars in a car loan they can’t afford. Ride-through in bankruptcy for cars is back in California.

Car Exemption is Increased to $7,500

The new SB1099 law also increases the car exemption amount to $7500, regardless of which exemption scheme is chosen. The California exemptions have two tracks: in the 703 and 704 sections of the California Code of Civil Procedure. Each section previously has a different amount for protecting equity in a vehicle. Now, regardless which scheme debtors choose, they can protect $7,500 of equity. This is crucially important in this era of record prices for used cars.

Sick leave & family leave time protected up to $7500

Family leave, sick leave, and vacation credits are now exempted up to $7,500, as these terms are defined in Section 200 of the Labor Code.

Alimony and support

Pre-existing law included an alternative exemption for the debtor’s right to receive alimony, support, or separate maintenance, to the extent reasonably necessary for the support of the debtor and any dependent of the debtor. This new California exemption adds a general exemption matching the existing alternative exemption.

And there are more.

New California Exemptions of SB1099 help debtors … a lot.

While the list goes on and on, these are the key provisions. It amends Section 2983.3 of the Civil Code, Sections 703.140, 704.010, 704.050, and 704.113 of, and to add Section 704.111 to, the Code of Civil Procedure, and amends Section 22329 of the Financial Code, which relates to bankruptcy. The bottom line is the newly-enacted SB 1099 California exemptions protect homeowners, car owners, people receiving support, and sick pay. It’s a win for Californians, and those who lose out are the credit card companies. Rejoice, California!