Can an auto lienholder still collect payment when the lien was mistakenly released?
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UPDATED: Nov 1, 2011
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If you received title to your car and the lien was released, but the lender then went back and changed his mind, the lender cannot get back the released lien. However, this doesn’t mean he has no way to recover the money you owe him. They still have a promissory note that you signed when you took the loan in which you promised to pay back the debt — that note is still enforceable. Essentially, then, all the lender has done is turned the debt from secured debt (for which the car was collateral) into unsecured debt.
A lien is a legal claim against the unpaid value of some piece of property that prevents the sale or transfer of that property until the unpaid value is satisfied with the lien holder. One common place where liens are made and released on a regular basis are with car loans – the title is issued to the buyer, or held by the bank until the lien is released, and then the car can be sold or traded, but not before.
If a car lien holder released a lien due to some mistake made by the company or by the lien holder, the lien holder cannot go back and reapply the released lien, because the release of the lien was a legal process that should have been correctly performed by the lien holder. By giving you the title and removing the lien, the lien holder released his or her legal ability to collect on the investment via the lien process.
This means if you default on the loan now, the lender is going to have to sue you in order to collect the debt; he can’t just repossess the car. Of course, if he sues you and then you don’t pay the judgment, one method the court may use to get you to pay is to put a lien on property you own…like your car.
For the most part, released lien mistakes do not happen because these contracts are carefully scrutinized by the lien holders prior to the lien being released. In your case, you may wish to consult with a lawyer to find out what your options are and to ensure you handle this situation in the best way possible.