Lien Avoidance in Bankruptcy

July 14, 2010

Your bankruptcy attorney has many powerful methods to help you keep property while eliminating debt.  One tool is lien avoidance, which is available to both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 debtors.  The general rule in bankruptcy is that debts secured by a lien must be paid or the property must be surrendered to the creditor.  However, under certain circumstances, a lien can be legally avoided without losing the property. Free Consultation 

The Bankruptcy Code identifies two different types of liens that may be avoided during bankruptcy: (1) a judicial lien; and (2) a non-possessory, non-purchase money security interest in household goods or tools of the trade.  Furthermore, to qualify for avoidance the debtor must be able to apply a bankruptcy exemption (a legal allowance to the debtor to protect property from creditors) to the property securing the debt. 

Clear as mud, right? 

Let’s make it a little clearer: first, judicial liens are judgments and garnishments caused by a court order or judicial process.  If your property is subject to a debt imposed by a court order, it may be possible to avoid the lien during bankruptcy.  Statutory liens, like tax liens, are not avoidable in Chapter 7, but may be avoidable in Chapter 13. Free Consultation 

Second, a non-possessory, non-purchase money security interest is simply a lien that you gave a creditor against property that you owned prior to incurring the debt and did not acquire using money from the creditor.  A typical example is a personal bank loan secured by your television and/or other household items.

 

Finally, to qualify for lien avoidance, the debtor must be able to apply a legal exemption to the property.  For instance, if you own a television worth $500 used as collateral for a $1,000 personal loan, you may be able to apply a legal exemption to protect the television and avoid the lien against it.  Once the lien is avoided, the status of the debt changes from secured to unsecured and is likely discharged at the end of the bankruptcy case. Free Consultation 

Additionally, if the legal exemption does not protect all of the value of the property, the lien may be reduced to the extent the lien secures the property.  Using the above example, if the television is worth $500, but the debtor is only able to exempt $250 of its value, the creditor’s lien would be reduced in value from $1,000 to $250 (the amount of non-exempt equity in the television). 

To avoid a lien the debtor’s attorney files a motion with the bankruptcy court alleging that the creditor’s lien is impairing the debtor’s exemption.  Typically these motions are uncontested and are granted without hearing. 

It is important that you provide your bankruptcy attorney with documentation for all of your loans.  Your attorney can avoid certain liens during the bankruptcy that will safeguard your property after your bankruptcy discharge. Free Consultation

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