Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) play a crucial role in securing a stable financial future for retirees. These accounts, which include Traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, SEP IRAs, and SIMPLE IRAs, offer tax advantages that help individuals save for retirement.

However, an equally important aspect of retirement savings is the protection of these accounts from creditors. This article explores the specifics of IRA protections, providing a comprehensive understanding of the legal landscape, relevant laws, and practical implications.

The protection of retirement accounts from creditors varies across the United States. While federal laws provide a basic level of protection, individual states have the authority to offer additional safeguards.

In Colorado, state laws supplement federal protections, creating a strong basis to protect retirement assets. This article is based on Colorado law, however, many states have the same laws as Colorado for retirement protection.

Federal Protections

gavel in court room

Under federal law, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) provides protections for employer-sponsored retirement plans, such as 401(k)s. However, IRAs are not covered by ERISA. Instead, IRA protections primarily come from the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BAPCPA).

Traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs are currently protected to a value of more than $1.5 million. SEP IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs, and most rollover IRAs are fully protected from creditors in a bankruptcy, regardless of the dollar value.

State Protections Compared to Federal Protection

Colorado has enacted specific statutes to protect IRAs from creditors, both within and outside of bankruptcy contexts. These protections aim to preserve an individual’s retirement savings, ensuring that they remain intact for their intended purpose.

In Colorado, the state provides additional protections for IRAs beyond the federal exemptions. Colorado Revised Statutes § 13-54-102(1)(s) explicitly exempts IRAs from bankruptcy proceedings, regardless of their value.

This means that in Colorado, all funds in an IRA are protected from creditors during bankruptcy, not just up to the federal limit. This ample protection ensures that individuals filing for bankruptcy in Colorado can retain their entire IRA savings, providing significant peace of mind and financial security for retirees.

In the Bankruptcy context, Colorado is an “opt out” State, meaning that a debtor in Bankruptcy must use the Colorado state exemptions and is not required to use the Federal exemptions. The Federal exemptions are generally not as liberal as Colorado’s exemptions, so this is another favorable aspect of Colorado law.

Outside of bankruptcy, Colorado also offers substantial protections for IRAs. Under Colorado law, IRAs are generally exempt from attachment, garnishment, or levy to satisfy debts. This means that creditors cannot seize funds in an IRA to settle outstanding debts, with a few exceptions.

Exceptions to State Protections

safety deposit box overflowing with cash

Colorado remains a very debtor-friendly State when it comes to IRA protections. The instances in which a Colorado IRA will not be protected are limited, and they are not unique in terms of the public policy driving the result. The limited cases in which IRAs were not protected under Colorado law are as follows:

  • Distributions from Retirement Plans Are Not Protected. Although the funds within the plan are protected, once they are distributed (or “deemed” to be distributed by virtue of a Required Minimum Distribution), the distributed amounts are no longer exempt.
  • Contributions to Retirement Plans in Excess of Statutory Limits Are Not Protected. If you “overfund” your IRA, the overfunded amounts will not be protected.
  • Fraudulent Transfers to Retirement Plans are Not Protected. If an individual transfers assets to an IRA with the intent to defraud creditors, those funds may not be protected. Any time that assets are moved from a non-exempt environment to an exempt environment (e.g., cash to an IRA), the transaction should be tested for fraudulent transfer, which is any transfer made with the intent to hinder, delay, or defraud creditors. Certain “badges of fraud” will be scrutinized by Colorado courts when contributions are made to an IRA, such as the timing (e.g., on the eve of filing for bankruptcy) and the amount contributed (e.g., excess contributions discussed above, or contributions that render the debtor insolvent after the transfer). Courts can reverse such transfers and allow creditors to access the funds.

Furthermore, there are two statutory exceptions to the IRA exemption under the Colorado statutes. These exceptions are consistent with those found in nearly all States. These are:

  • Taxes: In general, Colorado’s exemption laws do not protect otherwise exempt property from sale for the payment of any legally assessed taxes. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can levy an IRA to satisfy federal tax debts. Similarly, state tax authorities can also pursue IRA funds for unpaid state taxes.
  • Domestic Support Obligations: IRAs may be subject to claims for alimony, child support, or other family support obligations. Courts can order the distribution of IRA funds to meet these obligations. Retirement benefits or payments are subject to attachment or levy in satisfaction of a judgment taken for arrearages for child support or for child support debt.

Practical Implications

Understanding the protections and exceptions is essential for individuals planning their retirement and for those facing financial difficulties. Given the robust protections in Colorado, individuals should consider maximizing their IRA contributions to shield more assets from potential creditors.

The annual contribution limits for IRAs are set by the IRS, and maximizing these contributions can provide significant long-term benefits.

When rolling over funds from an employer-sponsored plan (like a 401(k)) to an IRA, it is crucial to understand the difference in protections. While ERISA-protected plans have strong creditor protections, these may not always transfer to the IRA.

However, in Colorado, the state’s protections make this less of a concern, as IRAs are also well-protected.

Responding to Financial Distress

married couple meeting with a financial advisor

For individuals considering bankruptcy, understanding the full exemption of IRAs in Colorado can influence their decision-making process. Knowing that their retirement savings will remain intact can provide relief and assist in the formulation of a bankruptcy strategy.

Outside of bankruptcy, individuals should be aware of the limits of IRA protections. For example, those with significant domestic support obligations or tax debts need to understand that these debts can penetrate IRA protections. Proactively managing these obligations can help protect retirement savings.

While this article provides an overview of IRA protections in Colorado, it is essential for individuals to seek personalized legal and financial advice. Laws and regulations can change, and individual circumstances vary.

Consulting with an attorney specializing in bankruptcy and asset protection, as well as a financial advisor, can provide tailored strategies to safeguard retirement savings.


In Colorado and many other states, IRAs enjoy robust protections from creditors, providing significant security for individuals planning their retirement. These protections, encompassing both bankruptcy and non-bankruptcy contexts, help ensure that retirement savings remain intact for their intended purpose. However, understanding the exceptions to these protections is crucial for effective financial planning and asset management.

For Colorado residents, leveraging these protections involves strategic planning, informed decision-making, and professional guidance. By maximizing IRA contributions, understanding the legal landscape, and seeking personalized advice, individuals can safeguard their retirement savings against unforeseen financial challenges.

Whether facing bankruptcy, managing debts, or planning for the future, the protections afforded to IRAs in Colorado offer a valuable layer of security in the pursuit of financial stability and peace of mind in retirement. Contact our team at Blake Harris Law by filling out our online form to speak with an experienced asset protection planning attorney.