What is the Motor Vehicle Exemption in Bankruptcy?

Protecting your vehicle is one of the most important things that can be done within a bankruptcy. We understand your car is, in many ways, your livelihood. It helps you get to and from work, take your children to daycare and other events, get groceries as well as many of the other necessities of life.

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When you file a bankruptcy and we protect your personal property, we are able to do so based on exemptions.   Exemptions vary from state to state and in some cases, you may use Federal exemptions.  In North Carolina you are given an exemption of $3,500 per person for motor vehicles.  We can only use the exemption if the person’s name is on the title to the vehicle. For example, if a married couple has two vehicles but both vehicles are in the husband’s name then we can only use the husband’s one motor vehicle exemption on one of the vehicles. Even though the wife also has a $3,500 motor vehicle exemption we cannot use it on either of the vehicles since her name is not on the titles. If the vehicles were both jointly owned then we could use one motor vehicle exemption on one vehicle and one on the other.

The “motor vehicle” exemption is used to protect any equity in the car.  Equity is the difference between the amount that you owe on the vehicle and the value of the vehicle.  For example, you own a car that is worth $5,000 and you only owe $3,000; you will then have $2,000 of equity to protect.

If for some reason we cannot protect all of the equity with just your motor vehicle exemption, we can also combine that exemption with your miscellaneous “wild card” exemption.  This is called exemption stacking. If you have $8,000 of equity in a vehicle we could use your $3,500 motor vehicle exemption and the “stack” your “wild card” exemption on top of it to protect up to $8,500 in equity.

We try to use the lowest reasonable value that we can fairly use, but still in some cases, no matter what, we cannot protect all of the equity in a vehicle.  At that point, whatever amount is unprotected; the bankruptcy Trustee will have the right to ask you to compensate them for it.  We never like for this to happen, but just like life, it happens.  So it is very important to make sure you have an accurate value for the amount owed on the vehicle and the value of the car to determine the equity that needs to be protected for your vehicle.  We understand the importance of having your vehicle so we will do everything we can to protect it! It’s very important you discuss your situation with an experienced bankruptcy lawyer so they can explain your different options.