Is Filing for Bankruptcy A Solution to Stop a Judgment Lien Against Me?

Financial difficulties can be overwhelming, and being sued by creditors can make matters worse. If you fail to pay your debts and the court rules against you, a judgment lien may be issued, granting your creditors legal permission to collect the debt. That can also involve wage garnishment or placing liens on your property. But what if you’re already struggling and can’t afford to repay the judgment? Can you file bankruptcy on a judgment lien?

If you’re facing a judgment lien and wondering if bankruptcy can offer relief, you’re not alone. Many people find themselves in similar situations, seeking solutions to overwhelming debt. Let’s explore how you can file for bankruptcy on a judgment lien and how it can provide a path toward financial stability.

Quick Summary:

  • A judgment lien is a court order that a debtor owes money to a creditor following a lawsuit, allowing creditors to take actions like wage garnishment and asset liens to recover the debt.
  • In Washington, judgment liens only attach to real estate, not personal property. This lasts for ten years, with the possibility of renewal.
  • Creditors can collect debts through wage garnishment or bank account seizures. Collection agencies can also be used.
  • Bankruptcy can sometimes eliminate judgment liens through lien avoidance, depending on the dischargeability of the debt and the value of exempt property. Chapter 7 may permanently remove liens, while Chapter 13 helps manage debt.
  • Filing for bankruptcy before a judgment halts creditor actions, while filing after limits benefits and may not remove existing liens.
  • Certain debts, such as student loans, child support, criminal fines, and some taxes, cannot be discharged through bankruptcy.
  • Options to address judgment liens include paying the debt in full, negotiating settlements, claiming property exemptions, waiting for the statute of limitations to expire, or filing for bankruptcy.
  • Debt consolidation, negotiation, and understanding wage garnishment limits are alternative strategies for managing debts and judgments without filing for bankruptcy.

What is a Judgment Lien, and How Does It Affect Me?

A lien of judgment is a court order issued after a lawsuit, stating that you owe a debt to your creditor. That typically occurs when creditors have exhausted other avenues of collecting the debt, such as sending collection notices or attempting communication. Here’s a breakdown of the judgment process:

  • Lawsuit Filing: Your creditors file a lawsuit against you to recover the unpaid debt.
  • Court Response: You can respond to the lawsuit, contest the debt, or negotiate a settlement. Failing to respond can result in a default judgment being issued in favor of the creditor.
  • Judgment Issuance: If the court finds that it is in favor of your creditor, a judgment is issued, specifying the amount owed and granting the creditor legal means to collect the debt.

A judgment carries significant weight. It enables your creditors to take various actions to recoup their money, including:

  • Wage Garnishment: A part of your wages can be withheld from your paycheck and sent directly to your creditor.
  • Asset Liens: A legal claim can be placed on your property, potentially allowing the creditor to seize and sell it to meet the debt.

Note that a judgment lien can severely damage your credit score, affecting your ability to get future credit.

What Types Of Property Can Be Subject To A Judgment Lien Under Washington Law?

In Washington, unlike other states, a judgment lien can only be attached to real estate owned by the debtor. That means the creditor cannot use a judgment lien to seize personal property like jewelry, cars, or other valuables.

How Long Does A Judgment Lien Last in Washington State?

A judgment lien attaches to a debtor’s real property for ten years. This lien can be renewed for successive ten-year periods, ensuring the creditor’s claim remains attached to the property even in cases of ownership changes.

How To Collect On A Judgment in Washington State

Two popular ways to collect judgment from someone who owes you come after winning a court case. You can take it from their paycheck or bank account through garnishment. Or, a collection agency can chase them for payment.

Bankruptcy as a Solution for Judgment Lien 

Bankruptcy can be a solution for dealing with a judgment lien, but it’s important to understand its limitations and complexities. 

Can Bankruptcy Eliminate a Judgment Lien?

Yes. In some cases, bankruptcy can eliminate a judgment lien through lien avoidance. Your lawyer will file a motion arguing that the lien should be removed. However, this isn’t guaranteed and depends on several factors:

Debt Dischargeability

The underlying debt attached to the lien must be dischargeable in bankruptcy. That typically applies to money judgments from credit cards, medical bills, or personal loans. However, it won’t work for non-dischargeable debts like child support or alimony.

Exempt Property

The lien must be attached to a property you can claim an exemption for under bankruptcy law. That means a part of the property’s value is protected from creditors. Exemption laws vary by state, so get legal help first to understand what applies to you.

Lien Value vs. Exempt Amount

The value of the lien must exceed the amount of equity you can exempt in the property. In simpler terms, if the lien amount is less than the value you can protect under bankruptcy exemptions, it likely won’t be removed.

Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13 for Judgment Liens

Chapter 7

If you qualify for Chapter 7 and your motion to avoid the lien is successful, the lien is eliminated permanently after your bankruptcy discharge. 

Chapter 13

 In a Chapter 13 repayment plan, you typically cannot eliminate judgment liens. However, the plan can help you manage the debt and potentially prevent foreclosure if the lien is on your home. The plan allows you to repay the creditor over time, potentially at a reduced amount.

 

How Does Bankruptcy Affect a Judgment?

Filing for bankruptcy can offer relief from overwhelming debt, including judgments. However, the timing of your filing significantly impacts the outcome:

Filing Before a Judgment

If you file for bankruptcy before a judgment is issued, it can halt any ongoing lawsuits and prevent creditors from taking further legal action to collect the debt. Your bankruptcy petition essentially stops these efforts while your repayment plan is established.

Filing After a Judgment

While you can still file for bankruptcy after a judgment is issued, the benefits may be limited. Existing liens on your property might not be eliminated through bankruptcy. In this scenario, the judgment remains in effect, and your creditors may still pursue asset seizure to meet the debt.

Therefore, it’s generally advisable to file for bankruptcy as soon as possible to maximize its effectiveness in protecting you from judgments and creditor actions.

Debts That Cannot Be Discharged Through Bankruptcy

While bankruptcy offers a fresh start for many debts, it’s crucial to understand that not all debts can be eliminated. Here are some exceptions:

  • Student Loans
  • Child Support and Alimony
  • Criminal Fines and Restitution
  • Tax Debts

The type of bankruptcy you file (Chapter 7 or Chapter 13) can also influence which debts are eliminated. Having legal advice is crucial to determine the best course of action for your specific situation.

Steps to Stop a Judgment Lien Against Me

There are a few ways to address a judgment lien against you. Below are some options you can choose from:

Pay the Debt in Full

This is the most straightforward solution. Once the creditor receives full payment, they are legally obligated to release the lien. 

Negotiate a Settlement

You can try negotiating a settlement with the creditor for less than the full amount owed. If they agree, they will then release the lien upon receiving the agreed-upon payment.

Claim Property Exemption

You may claim an exemption for certain property, protecting it from the lien. Exemption laws vary by state, so researching your state’s specific exemptions is crucial.

Wait for the Statute of Limitations to Expire

Every state has a statute of limitations on how long a judgment lien can remain enforceable. Once this period expires, the lien will no longer be valid. However, this can take several years, depending on your state.

File for Bankruptcy

Filing for bankruptcy can discharge the debt and remove the judgment lien. This is a complex legal process with significant ramifications. 

 

Alternative Solutions to Judgments and Debt

Bankruptcy isn’t the only solution for managing judgments and debt. Here are some alternative strategies to judgments and debts you may want to consider.

Debt Consolidation

That involves combining multiple debts into a single loan with a lower interest rate. That can also simplify your repayment process and potentially save you money on interest.

 

Debt Negotiation

You or a credit counselor can attempt to negotiate with your creditors to lower your debt amount or create a more manageable repayment plan.

 

Wage Garnishment Limits

Federal law protects a part of your wages from garnishment. Explore these limitations to see if they can ease the burden of wage garnishment associated with the judgment.

These alternatives can provide solutions depending on your financial situation and the type of debt you’re facing.

Discover If You Can File Bankruptcy On A Judgment Lien in Washington

If you’re facing overwhelming debt and a judgment lien, don’t wait to seek help. Our bankruptcy attorneys at Robert Russell Law Office are here to guide you through bankruptcy. We will help you explore all options. We’ll help you answer the question: “Can you file bankruptcy on a judgment lien?” We’ll also help you know your rights, make a plan for you, and work for your best financial future.

Take the first step toward financial stability. Contact Robert Russell Law Office today to schedule a free initial bankruptcy consultation by video or phone and learn how we can assist you in navigating bankruptcy and managing your debts.

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