The laws that protect you from a creditor with a court judgment are called exemptions, and each state has different laws, some very different. Most states provide for some protection for a vehicle and I am posting a link to a description of these laws for all 50 states for you to review. I would urge you to take this information and research further at your state webpage to look at the actual law for yourself. Hope this perspective helps!
In theory, a judgment creditor can execute on real or personal property to satisfy a debt. A car is an example of personal property. On reality this does not commonly occur in part because finance companies often own the majority of the vehicle and in part because transfers of car ownership in this manner can be costly. Practicly speaking, the removal of a car can also interfere with the judgment debtors ability to maintain gainful employment to help satisfy the debt
You likely don't "owe" the collection agency, unless you are dealing with a debt buyer. It can get confusing, but a traditional collection agency does not own the debt on which it is trying to collect, but rather tries to collect on behalf of its client. A debt buyer (which can also use it own collection agents), owns their debt. Wage garnishment is generally not permitted in PA, except in very limited circumstances. Rarely would they go after a vehicle. They cannot do anything without first suing you, and winning, and getting a judgment. If you are sued, consult with a debt defense or consumer lawyer to protect your rights. A consultation is almost always free, and they can examine your situation to be sure the collector is not violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
Contact me at 610-353-0322. www.debtcollectorabuse.com. Legal disclaimer: The response given is not intended to create, nor does it create an ongoing duty to respond to questions. The response does not form an attorney-client relationship, nor is it intended to be anything other than the educated opinion of the author. It should not be relied upon as legal advice. The response given is based upon the limited facts provided by the person asking the question. To the extent additional or different facts exist, the response might possibly change. Attorney is licensed to practice law only in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
yes, if they file suit and get a judgment they can then try to get your assets levied for sheriff sale including car and household goods and bank accounts. If you live in Pa and are married and assets are held as tenants by the entirety and the debt is yours and not your spouses the asset is protected under Pa state law. Wages cannot be garnished in Pa but again bank accounts can be
There generally is no wage garnishment in PA for a debt of this type so it would not matter whether you worked or not. PA, for state judgment purposes, has damn few exemptions - a sewing machine, Bible and clothes/uniforms are about it. There are monetary exceptions - you can keep $300 or less in any one bank account unless you get unemployment compensation, Social Security, retirement or something like that all of which are exempt.
Can the creditor take your car? Yes, if you own it free and clear (no liens) and do not jointly own it with anyone else. Will the creditor take it is another issue. Doubtful given the age and circumstances you describe.
You do need to think about resolving the debt. I am not pushing bankruptcy - my ballpark rule of thumb is to ask yourself if you have at least $10,000 or more in dischargeable debt under the bankruptcy code. If the answer is yes and if you can qualify to file a chapter 7 bankruptcy, then it may be worth it. However, if you have less or if you are going to be accruing more medical debt, I would hold off. If you get a bankruptcy discharge under chapter 7, you cannot refile and get another discharge for 8 years. Bankruptcy has consequences, but does provide benefits, so its something you have to weigh against all your other circumstances. You also mention that you are unemployed. Is this temporary? Or permanent? If permanent, what will you do? When will you become eligible for Social Security? If temporary, then maybe you want to hold off and not file for bankruptcy and try to get this settled later.
Many attorneys give free bankruptcy consults. Take advantage of this and educate yourself about the different kinds of bankruptcy, what you can exempt for bankruptcy purposes (It differs from PA state law and you can exempt your car in bankruptcy) and what debts you can or cannot discharge (student loans are non-dischargeable absent hardship; some tax debt may also be non-dischargeable).