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WashingtonLawHelp.orgWashington LawHelp

How to Claim Personal Property Exemptions

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project

Information and sample forms to be used when claiming that some of your property is exempt (protected) from being taken to pay a debt. #0220EN

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Should I read this?

If you are sued on a debt and you lose, read this. The court will enter a money judgment against you.  The plaintiff (also known as the creditor or judgment creditor) can collect on the judgment. 

Even if there is a judgment against you, some or all of your personal property may be protected (exempt) from creditors. That means it cannot be taken to collect on a judgment (satisfy a judgment) against you.

These exemptions may not protect you from

  • Collection for child support debts.

  • Tax debts.

  • Certain types of insurance claims by the State.

  • Judgments for any part of the sale price of the personal property.

  • Collection for federal student loan debts.

 

What is “exempt property”?

Property (something you own) is exempt if a creditor cannot legally take it to collect on a judgment against you.

 

What property is exempt?

The main exemptions are:

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits

  • Social Security Disability, Retirement and Survivor benefits

  • Veterans benefits

  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits

  • Aged, Blind, or Disabled (ABD) benefits

  • Unemployment benefits

  • Child Support you receive

  • Federal student loans

  • Retirement pensions

  • HomeThe equity in your home is exempt up to $125,000 (equity is the amount you would keep after selling your home and paying off the mortgage and other liens)
  • Money in your bank account

    • $2,500 is exempt if your only judgment is for private student loan debt

    • $2,000 is exempt if the judgment you are being garnished for is consumer debt (see below)

    • $500 in your bank account is exempt for all other debts (plus $1,000 cash, for a total exemption of $1,500)

    • Any federal payments issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (including stimulus payments and child tax credit money) until the end of the emergency declared by the governor of the State of Washington

*Most garnishments of wages and bank accounts are judgments for consumer debt.  These include debts from credit cards, doctor and hospital bills, utility bills, phone bills, personal loans from a bank or credit union, debts owed to a landlord or former landlord, or any other debt for personal, family, or household purposes.

  • Wages (pay from your job)The amount of exempt wages depends on how much you earn and what the judgment was for.

  • Consumer judgments (for consumer debt):
    • If you earn less than any of these amounts, all of your wages are exempt
      • $479.15 weekly (35x the state minimum hourly wage)

      • $958.30 every 2 weeks

      • $1,030.18 twice a month

      • $2,060.35 monthly

      • Even if you earn more than these amounts, you may still keep 35x the state minimum hourly wage or 80% of your net pay, whichever is more.

*Net pay is your earnings after subtracting mandatory deductions.  Mandatory deductions include Social Security, Medicare, and federal income taxes.

  • Private student loan judgments
    • If you earn less than any of these amounts and your only judgment is for a private student loan, all of your wages are exempt.
      • $828.50 weekly (50x the highest minimum hourly wage in the state)

      • $1,657.00 every 2 weeks

      • $1,781.28 twice a month

      • $3,562.55 monthly

      • Even if you earn more than these amounts, you may still keep 50x the highest minimum hourly wage in the State or 85% of your net pay, whichever is more

  • Other judgments (not consumer or private loan judgments)
    • If you earn less than any of these amounts, all of your wages are exempt.
      • $253.75 weekly

      • $507.50 every 2 weeks

      • $549.79 twice a month

      • $1,099.58 monthly

      • Even if you earn more than these amounts, you may still keep 35x the federal minimum wage or 75% of your net pay, whichever is more.

  • Clothing and jewelry —up to $3,500 in value.

  • Books and digital media—up to $3,500 in value.

  • All “professionally prescribed health aids” for you and your dependents. Examples: wheelchairs and motorized scooters, if your doctor wrote a note or prescription for them.

  • Household goods, appliances, furniture,  food/groceries (provisions) and fuel, up to $6,500 in value for 1 person, and $13,000 for a married couple. (No one (1) thing can be more than $750.)

  • Equity in 1 motor vehicle used for personal transportation, valued at up to $3,250 for 1 person. For married couples, 2 such vehicles with a combined value up to $6,500.

  • Tools and instruments needed for your trade, up to $10,000 in value.

  • Money paid or owed to you for bodily injury (not including for pain & suffering or money you lost) of yourself or dependents, up to $20,000.

  • Compensation for lost future earnings, to the extent reasonably necessary to support you and your dependents.

 

What is the value of my exempt property?

Its value is what it would sell for (its fair market value) at the time you claim it as exempt.

 

How do I claim these exemptions?

If a third party, like a bank or employer, has your property (including money in a bank account), the creditor can go to court and get a “writ of garnishment” (formal written order of garnishment) that goes to the third party. The creditor must mail or serve on you both of these:

If you get the writ within 7 days of the date of its issuance, you must fill out form #2 or #3 and hand-deliver one (1) copy to the court clerk and mail or hand-deliver one (1) to the creditor or creditor’s lawyer (whoever signed the writ of garnishment), within 28 days after the date on the writ of garnishment.

*Use Sample #3 only if the writ went to your employer to garnish your pay. Otherwise, use Sample #2.

If the creditor serves the writ more than 7 days from the date of the writ’s issuance, you have 21 days to fill out form #2 or #3 and mail or hand-deliver one (1) copy to the court clerk and mail or hand-deliver one (1) to the creditor or their lawyer. RCW 6.27.160 (1).

 

I sent the creditor an exemption claim form. Now what?

The creditor has 7 days after getting your exemption claim form to object to it.

If the creditor does not object, the creditor must direct the garnishee to give back (release) the exempt property to you no more than 10 days after the creditor gets your claim form.

If the creditor objects, they must file a statement explaining why and schedule a court hearing within 14 days after getting your exemption claim form.

*The garnishee is the party who has your property, such as the bank holding your money.

If the judge at the hearing orders the release of your exempt property, or the creditor did not object, the creditor must deliver an order releasing the exempt property to the garnishee holding your property. If the creditor does not do this, see a lawyer. You can sue the creditor for any damages you suffer, plus a $50 penalty, if they do not take steps to timely release your exempt property.

*If you make an exemption claim that is not in good faith, you may be ordered to pay lawyer fees.

 

Get legal help

Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help. 

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Download Sample #1

Download Sample #2

Download Sample #3

Last Review and Update: Apr 16, 2021