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Is my car protected from a debt collectors civil judgment in Pennsylvania?

Hamburg, PA |

If i get sued by a debt collector and they win the judgment , would my vehicle be protected from them taking it from me if the value of the vehicle falls below the exemption amounts that are allowed for PA residents ? To my understanding , in PA , you can use either PA or Federal Bankruptcy exemptions which also apply to civil judgments to protect property from creditors as well . The Federal vehicle exemption of $ 3450 plus the use of the " wild card " exemption of $ 1150 for personal property appear to protect vehicles in PA up to the total amount of $ 4600 . So if my vehicles blue book value is $ 4000 , does that mean a judgment creditor could NOT attempt to take my vehicle because then won a civil suit against me and I wouldn't have to file for bankruptcy to keep my vehicle ?

And yes, i own the vehicle out right. Im not making vehicle payments on any loans on it.

Attorney Answers 4

Posted

Federal bankruptcy exemptions do not apply to state court judgments in PA. There are no exemptions for a car for a state court judgment. The only exemptions to a PA state court judgment are: a Bible, clothes/uniforms and a sewing machine. You also can keep up to $300 in any one bank account. Things like Social Security, unemployment compensation, worker's compensation, pensions/retirement, insurance or IRAs are also exempt.

The ability of a creditor take your car does not mean that a creditor will take your car. Remember, it costs money to have the sheriff seize, store and sell your car. Sales have to be advertised. So if the car has a blue book value of $4,000 its not going to bring in that much at a sale.. It depends on the amount of the debt, but my guess is that the creditor might not bother if this is for a credit card or other unsecured debt.

I would take a wait and see approach and if the creditor would try to take your car in execution, then I would file bankruptcy as it would stop the execution in its tracks.

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Asker

Posted

See now ive visited quite a few websites that contradict that. They say that in PA, you can choose to use PA or Federal exemptions, but you cant use both or mix and match. They say ya gotta choose one. And ive even heard other attorneys say that this is true. If its not true, then why am i seeing so much different info? 1 attorney says its true, another says it isnt. I dont understand that?

Asker

Posted

AND my amount of debt is a little over $7000. So do you think its unlikely theyll want the car, since they wont get much after all the cost? And when i said its worth $4000, thats the higher end of the value, it could be about $3000 also.

Asker

Posted

And it is for an unsecured debt. Hospital bills.

Rachel Lea Hunter

Rachel Lea Hunter

Posted

First, I am not going to judge legal advice by websites. There is a lot of good and bad information out there. Nor am I going to contradict bankruptcy attorneys. I don't know what the attorney said or in what context. And I think you are misinterpreting the law to reach the result that you want to hear rather than the truth. But I am not a bankruptcy attorney (nor do I claim to be) and I suggest that you consult a real bankruptcy attorney who practices in PA and who can review your situation, your debts, assets and income and stop fishing for free advice online from people who do not know your situation really. I do have to counsel people as I help debtors resolve debts so I do need to know a little something about it. If you are filing bankruptcy, PA allows you to choose either the federal or PA state exemptions. So if you are planning to file bankruptcy, then you would want to choose the federal exemptions because there is no state law exemption for a car. Go look it up yourself. The PA statutes are freely accessible by anyone - 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 8124. However, you specifically said you were not filing bankruptcy. In such case, there is nothing to choose between. You get the state law exemptions and there is none for a car. You indicate this is for medical debt but you do not indicate who would be suing. Debt collection agencies may not own the debt. If the individual medical providers will be suing, its unlikely that they would go after the car. Junk debt buyers could, but I don't necessarily see this as likely either. The only time I have experienced a client's possessions being threatened was when a client of mine happened to owe money to a small community type of bank for an unsecured personal loan debt. The client was able to get things resolved and no sale occurred, but other than that one instance, my clients have not experienced it. However, the law does not provide any protections so it is possible that they could do it if they chose.

Asker

Posted

Ok, i do thank you very much for all your help and info and i didnt mean to offend you or sound like i was questioning your judgement or knowledge in any way. That was not my intention. I was just asking because from all the things ive heard and been told, theres just so many contradictions, if ya know what i mean. And the debt is to the original creditor (Hospital) that i owe the money, they have there own collections department to my understanding and they have involved and outside attorney to help them collect on me. I just dont wanna lose my car because i am looking for work but havent had much luck and if they were to take the car, i wouldnt be able to get a job at all.

Asker

Posted

Im also wondering if theres anything i could do to prevent the possiblilty from even having a chance to try to take it. Like put the car in a parents name as well as mine or something like that?

Charles Laputka

Charles Laputka

Posted

Your understanding of state and federal exemption is correct in the bankruptcy concept but these bankruptcy exemptions do not just randomly apply to other situations in life.....only in bankruptcy land. There is nothing you can do to protect your car other than titling it to someone else and even that is not guaranteed because it could be an avoidable transfer. You either need to make payment arrangements with these people, pay them off, or file BK to protect yourself. Otherwise all you can do is run and hide because you are exposed. Also, don't keep any money in the bank that you can't afford to lose.....that is where the collectors usually go first.....cars and other personal property are usually second.

Rachel Lea Hunter

Rachel Lea Hunter

Posted

I don't take offense. I am not perfect and while neither I or anyone else (especially a lawyer) likes to be told they are wrong it does happen and I or other lawyers don't always get it right. But one of my pet peeves is when a would be client says "I read ..." or "another attorney told me ..." and its different from what I am saying. How can I or anyone at Avvo for that matter compete and argue differently when we don't know what was said or read, the context or other details? And I understand you want to save your car. There, unfortunately is no good way to do that. Yes, you can title it in someone else's name but if you do that now, after a lawsuit is filed, and the creditor finds out, then the transaction can be undone if it is shown that the transfer was done to defraud a creditor. And if you are thinking about bankruptcy, the bankruptcy trustee can look back from the time you filed your petition over a 1-3 year period. Its one year for transfers to insiders (like a family member) and longer if there is fraud. And if the bankruptcy trustee gets a whiff of fraud, they can and will deny you a discharge and dismiss the bankruptcy petition. Maybe actual bankruptcy practitioners can speak to that as in PA - I had a client here in NC who had that happen. The only legit ways to save the car is either file for bankruptcy if the creditor does make a move to execute on your assets or negotiate some type of payment plan or settlement. Its hard to do the latter if you are unemployed though. What I said about the bank is correct - keep less than $300 in any one bank account unless you get exempt money like unemployment. And if you do get exempt money, its not a bad idea to put both your bank and counsel for the creditor/hospital on notice of that fact. I had a client in PA whose husband got unemployment and the bank messed up and allowed the creditor to levy on it. I was able to get the funds back and the hold released, but I had a very stressed out client. Its better to be proactive and not let the creditor get the money in the first place than to fight to get money back - unless its exempt, the money ain't coming back. Regarding your car, as I said, I understand. Neither I nor I think any of my responsible,competent and ethical colleagues would give you an unequivocal "yes its safe" answer. But know that creditors really want money, not your things. The easiest way to get money is wage garnishment in those states where it is allowed (thankfully, it is not available in PA for most kinds of debts). The next easiest place is your bank account. The third next easiest place is cars. As I might have stated, it costs money for the sheriff to haul off, store and sell your car. The sales of personal property like a car are not heavily advertised and do not bring in the same blue book value of a sale to a private party or even a dealer. So if the sale of a car is not going to produce enough to cover the costs of the sale and sheriffs' fees, the creditor just is not going to have the car seized as its not worth it. My rough ballpark is about $10,000 and up for newer cars. If you have a car older than 5 model years and worth less than $10,000 its probably safe, although nothing is guaranteed.

Asker

Posted

Well i thank you again for all your help and information. You have went more in depth on answering my questions than anyone else has. I really appreciate it. And i didnt know that i could keep $300 or less in my checking account that creditors can not touch. At least i wont have to close my bank account and can keep a few bucks in it safely. And with the car, i was thinking the same thing as you, i mean with my car being 10 years old and only having a book value of $3000 - $4000 (probly closer to $3000) since it has some minor body dents, scratches and some hail damage and me owing them more than $7000, it probly wouldnt be worth it to try to take it. Of course, as you said, that doesnt mean they wouldnt try, if they were really trying to be harsh about the whole thing. But i doubt theyed make too much after all the sheriffs fees and etc... that you mentioned. So im guessing its probly pretty safe. And again, i cant thank you enough for all your advice and time youve give to me and all the details you gone into to help andswer my question! :-)

Posted

I believe Ms. Hunter's statements to you are correct. If you have not filed for bankruptcy protection, you cannot use such exemptions. Ms. Hunter has given you an excellent statement of the law and has gone as far as anyone can on Avvo, This is better information than you will get on the internet anywhere else. Many lawyers will give you a free consultation regarding such issues to determine if their services are of use to you.

I suggest that you try speaking with someone in person if you want more information. However, unless you are being sued, you probably do not need to do this right away. If this is a local hospital, you might want to consider working out a payment plan that you can afford. This would keep your doctors happy. If it is a larger company, be careful that the debt has not been sold. This is common nowadays and creates a different situation for you.

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Posted

The answer of Ms. Hunter is correct. The exemptions that you mention apply in a bankruptcy case, but not outside of one.

This communication is intended as general information and not specific legal advice, and this communication does not create an attorney-client relationship. To get legal advice, consult an attorney in your local area or the area where the issue is located. It should not be relied upon as legal advice. The response is based on the limited facts provided, and without any independent investigation of the author. Given additional or different facts, the response would likely change. The attorney providing this response is only licensed in Pennsylvania, and you should contact an attorney in your jurisdiction if it is outside Pennsylvania.

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Posted

The information provided by the other attorneys is correct, but the real issue here is "who is the debt collector and who are they collecting for"? If the debt has been sold, then don't worry so much about losing. Worry more about finding the right consumer attorney who will beat that debt collector in court. When debt is sold, debt collectors are easily beaten in most instances by a good consumer attorney.

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