In my bankruptcy alphabet, R stands for Retirement.
Retirement plans and IRA’s are safe in whatever chapter of bankruptcy you file.
Your rights in an employer’s pension plan or a union pension plan are not even part of the property of your bankruptcy estate. The Supreme Court held almost 20 years ago that ERISA qualified retirement plans are beyond the reach of bankruptcy trustees and of your creditors.
Perhaps the only good thing to come out of bankruptcy “reform” in 2005 was a provision that created an exemption available to everyone who files bankruptcy for up to a million dollars in an IRA. That’s found in 11 USC 522(n).
Note that whether retirement savings are excluded from the estate or included in the estate but exempt, the law protects savings that are formally dedicated to retirement.
But, you cannot simply earmark some asset or investment as your “retirement” savings and have it sail through bankruptcy. To be protected, the account needs to be part of a legally recognized, tax-deferred retirement vehicle.
Bankruptcy enables retirement savings
One of the most distressing fact patterns for me is the person who insists on paying minimum payments on credit card debt and has nothing left to save for retirement.
If you are both young and not too deep in debt, it may be doable to postpone retirement savings until the debt is gone.
But the older you are or the larger your debt, the more likely that you are creating a problem for yourself at retirement by lining the pocket of the banks today.
I may be like a broken record on this issue, but it is a theme that I pound on: personal responsibility involves not just paying your debts but also making provision for your old age so you are not dependent on family, friends or Uncle Sam.
A bankruptcy discharge can free up cash flow to make regular contributions to retirement savings. Think about it if you plan to live long enough to retire.
Image courtesy of Leo Reynolds.
My friend Jay Fleischman insists R is for Redemption.