Saturday, January 15, 2011

Texas Property Exemptions from Execution

Texas exemptions are very broad, as many Texas collection attorneys will tell you. As of 2011, Texas property in the following categories is exempt from execution, whether for a family or for a single adult:

1. The homestead (Texas Constitution);

2. Personal property up to the aggregate fair market value of $60,000.00 for a family or $30,000.00 for a single adult who is not a member of a family. The personal property must fit into categories as described in the statute (Tex. Prop. Code §42.001);

3. Current wages for personal service (except for payment of child support) and unpaid commissions for personal services not to exceed twenty-five percent (25%) of the $30/$60,000 aggregate limitations (Tex. Prop. Code §42.001);

4. Prescribed health aids (Tex. Prop. Code §42.001);

5. Worker's compensation payments (Tex. Labor Code §408.201);

6. Cemetery lots held (Tex. Prop. Code Ann. § 41.002);

7. Art held on consignment;

8. Assets in the hands of the trustee of a spendthrift trust for the benefit of the judgment debtor;

9. Certain types of insurance benefits;

10. Certain savings plans, including retirement benefits and health savings plans; and

11. College Savings Plans (Tex. Prop. Code Ann. § 42.0022).

There are others, but this is a basic list that should be reviewed before seeking to collect on any debt. Texas is obviously debtor friendly in its broad exemptions, so if you are an out of state collector, it would be important to discuss strategy before hiring local counsel for domestication of foreign judgments in Texas.

Austin Texas Lawyer Tip: Texas Collection Law Basics

Texas is an interesting state to attempt collection, and for our out of state readers, it is probably important to do a brief overview of collection in Texas. At the outset, collection in Texas is extremely difficult compared to other states, and activities that you may be used to doing in other states are very often not available in Texas. Although literally books could be written on this subject, I've compiled a list of the 10 things you need to know about Texas collection law.

1. There are large property exemptions -- The Texas homestead exemptions are more expansive than you might experience in states that do not begin with the letters "Florida". This makes turning judgments into cash difficult and futile. The good news is that, if you can prove it, debtors cannot convert non-exempt property into exempt property undert Tex. Prop. Code Section 42.004.

2. Texas allows non-judicial foreclosure. The creditor in Texas with a security interest very frequently can recover their collateral without involving the court system at all.

3. Texas bank garnishment allows banks to charge for their fees. No one says the bank lobby in Texas doesn't do its job. When a creditor attempts to seek a garnishment of a bank account, not only do they not have much ability to get access to the account balance without a voluntary statement from the debtor, often if a post judgment garnishment is filed, the already harmed creditor may have to pay the bank for its fees in filing answers to garnishment actions (often as much as $1500 just to file an answer and saying, "nope, he ain't got nothin'").

4. There is no wage garnishment in Texas. Yep, you read that right. Unless you are collecting for child support, wages are exempt, so attempting to garnish wages can make you a defendant in another action.

5. There is an excellent Turnover Statute. One good statute for collectors of unsecured claims is the turnover statute, which allows you to either set up a receiver to run businesses for the purpose of turning funds over, or to take assets that are not subject to execution and turn them into cash. And even better, the burden is on the debtor to show that the property is exempt.

6. There are no exempt assets for a business. Most businesses have lines of credit, so unsecured creditors are often unable to collect anyway, but businesses do not get the benefit of the vast exemptions. So if your debtor puts his car in the company's name and it doesn't have a lender? Have at it.

7. Texas follows the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act. So if you need a judgment domesticated in Texas, and you're familiar with UEFJA procedures, they will be very familiar to you.

8. The Texas Homestead Property Exemption is unlimited in value. Yep, if you have $10,000,000 in equity in your homestead, 100% of that is exempt from execution, and there is no forced sales of homestead by unsecured judgment creditors.

9. The Mechanics Lien Statutes are complicated. As a bonus, they are strictly interpreted, so if you don't do your notices correctly, you may very well be toast. However, you will always have that contract claim against the defunct general contractor and an unjust enrichment claim against the owner who doesn't pay for value.

10. Fraudulent Transfer Actions are often separate lawsuits. Unfortunately, there is often not a post judgment procedural remedy related to fraudulent transfers, and often involves filing suit after the judgment for such a determination. Texas has particularly weak successor liability statutes as well, determining that the buyer of the asset at an asset sale usually has no liability to the unsecured creditors of the asset seller (unless there was an insider relationship and/or less than reasonably equivalent value was given).

Thus, Texas is a challenging place to collect on a judgment, and the best place to be in most litigations is to be a secured lender. So if you are lending to a Texas debtor, it is very important to attempt to get a security interest in collateral since that is very often the only asset available for collection.