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Posted by: John O'Connor
Last updated July 31, 2017.
Home to Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona is known for its copper-mining towns, 11 species of rattlesnakes, and designated Native American lands. Arizona’s economy also is finding a second wind in recent years, though some residents may still be struggling with debt. One way to get out of debt is by filing bankruptcy.
Most of the bankruptcy information that consumers will find online is geared toward a national audience. In many ways, this makes sense, as the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process is somewhat similar throughout the country. The Bankruptcy Code is federal law, meaning that its important provisions such as the automatic stay and bankruptcy discharge operate in similar fashion nationwide.
However, each state has its own unique bankruptcy laws, and the state of Arizona is no exception. Debtors filing for bankruptcy in Arizona will have a different experience than debtors filing for bankruptcy in Texas, Ohio, or Connecticut, and the distinctions have nothing to do with the weather.
Arizona Bankruptcy Law: What exemptions can I claim?
Exemption laws have been enacted by every state as well as the federal government to protect the property of debtors against the claims of judgment creditors and, once a bankruptcy case is filed, the trustee. One of the primary ways that bankruptcy laws differ by state is in the extent of available exemptions. Property that is exempt in one state may not be exempt in another state. In Arizona, debtors must use the state exemptions. It’s considered an “opt out” state, and therefore, the federal exemptions are not available.
As a practical matter, Arizona exemption laws are fairly generous. Below are some of the most popular ones.
Arizona Bankruptcy ExemptionsThe top 5 exemptions under Arizona state law.
|Type of exemption||Arizona law|
|Personal property||$6,000 in household furnishings; double if married.|
|Vehicle||$6,000; $12,000 if the debtor is disabled|
|Wages||Up to 75% in disposable income|
|Pension/retirement||Exempt, with some limitations|
Arizona debtors can protect up to $150,000 of home equity through the bankruptcy process. Married couples filing jointly cannot double the Arizona homestead exemption. It is also important to keep in mind that homestead exemptions apply to your primary residence, not investment property. You cannot use the homestead exemption to shield real estate that you do not currently occupy from the bankruptcy trustee. A.R.S. § 33-1101.
In addition to the protection afforded to homestead property in Arizona, Debtors can exempt one car with $6,000 of equity or $12,000 of equity if the debtor is currently disabled. A.R.S. § 33-1125(8).
Arizona bankruptcy exemptions allow debtors to protect property beyond just their homes and cars. Debtors can exempt $6,000 of value in household furnishings and goods or $12,000 if a married couple filed a joint case. A.R.S. § 33-1123.
Other notable exemptions, which can also be doubled if filing jointly, include:
- All food, fuel, and provisions for the debtor and his or her family to last up to 6 months. A.R.S. § 33-1124.
- All wearing apparel up to $500 in value. A.R.S. § 33-1125(1).
- All musical instruments not to exceed $400 in value. A.R.S. § 33-1125(2).
- Domestic pets, horses, milk cows, and poultry with a fair market value not to exceed $500 in value. A.R.S. § 33-1125(3).
- All engagement and wedding rings with a fair market value not to exceed $2,000. A.R.S. § 33-1125(4).
- $5,000 in tools of the trade (does not include vehicle). A.R.S. § 33-1130(1).
Up to 75% of all disposable earnings are exempt. A.R.S. § 33-1131(B).
IRAs, in addition to public pensions and retirement payments, are exempt. Social Security payments also are exempt.
It’s important to note that these exemption amounts change periodically, so check in with a bankruptcy attorney to see how the exemptions may apply in your case.
Filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in Arizona: Will I qualify?
Thanks to the bankruptcy reforms of 2005, Arizona law will only apply to your bankruptcy case if you have lived in the state for the last two years. If you lived in Arizona for a shorter period of time, or recently moved, the state that you lived in for the 180-day period that preceded your move will likely apply to your Chapter 7 case.
Eligibility to file Chapter 7 is based on your income over the last six months. If you earn less than the median for a family of your size in Arizona, you have a green light to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
When your income is below the state median, you automatically qualify. In cases where your income exceeds the Arizona median, you will need to subject your income and expenses to the means test, a government-derived formula that analyzes your disposable income. For a single filer, the Arizona median income is currently $46,779. For the most up-to-date means test income information, click here.
The ostensible purpose of the means test is to force those with enough “disposable” income to repay something to their creditors into Chapter 13 bankruptcy rather than the faster Chapter 7 process. Unfortunately, only some of your actual expenses will be allowed as the adoptions under the means test. In some cases, national averages are supplied in place of your actual out-of-pocket expenses. For example, there are limits on the amount that can be deducted for private school tuition.
Needless to say, the means test can get quite complicated. To ensure accuracy, it is best to determine Chapter 7 eligibility with the help of a qualified Arizona bankruptcy attorney.
Will I be able to afford a bankruptcy attorney?
This is one of the biggest questions that consumers have these days. After all, if you are considering filing for bankruptcy, by definition you don’t have a lot of extra money lying around. If you did, you wouldn’t be filing for bankruptcy. So, how can you pay an attorney? How much does an attorney cost?
On average, the attorney’s fee to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is approximately $1,250 plus a filing fee of $335. The cost of bankruptcy in your location may be slightly lower or slightly higher. The important thing to keep in mind is that filing for bankruptcy is more than just filling out a few forms. The bankruptcy process has the potential to become quite litigious, and you want to make sure that your interests are protected by a competent attorney. The cheapest attorney is not always the best attorney.
Arizona Bankruptcy Court Locations
The District of Arizona United States Bankruptcy Court has five locations. The first two listed below are for hearings only, and not for in-person filings.