The Political Economy of Property Exemption Laws
Exemption laws enable people who default on loans to protect certain assets from liquidation. Every state has its own set of exemption laws, and they vary widely. The 1978 federal bankruptcy law contains a set of national exemptions, which debtors in bankruptcy are permitted to use instead of their state's exemptions unless the state has formally "opted out" of the federal system. We contend that states' decisions to opt out shed light on their exemption levels. We find that states are more likely to opt out if their state exemption is lower than the federal exemption and that states are more likely to opt out if they also have a high bankruptcy filing rate and transfer little money to the poor. These latter findings suggest that studies that examine the impact of exemptions on, for example, the bankruptcy rate should not treat exemption levels as exogenous variables.
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