Restitution Liens


Most people know that when they’re buying a car they need to check the title for liens. What they don’t know is that not all liens are listed on the title.

Check out this nightmare that I wrote about in The Arizona Republic:

Kathi Halvorsen is stuck in car title purgatory. And it’s going to take someone in the court system who believes in fairness to rescue her.

It all started when Kathi bought a 2000 Pontiac for $1,800. It’s not much of a car, but it’s all the single mother of two could afford. When she went to register the car she found a major problem. Two years ago, the person who owned the car at the time had a DUI. Apparently he never paid his court fees, so the court placed a restitution lien on the car. The $1,500 lien has to be paid off before the car can be retitled.

But Kathi didn’t buy the car from that person. In fact, it’s possible the car has gone through several owners. Each one bought it, realized there was a problem, and then dumped it on someone else.

Why didn’t they know there was a lien? Turns out that restitution liens are not listed on the title. The only way to know it’s there is to call MVD before you buy and ask if there’s a problem with the title. Kathi also made a mistake by not noticing the name on the title was different from the seller.

Kathi appealed to the court system but has been told tough luck. Until the lien is paid, the car is in limbo. That means she owns a car that she can’t drive and she can’t sell.
It’s not right that the original owner skipped on his debt, but keeping Kathi in purgatory isn’t right either. 

This story does have a happy ending. Kathi found a sympathetic employee at MVD who worked long and hard to help resolve her problem. But the lesson here is simple. Make that phone call and ask whether the car has a restitution lien. It’s the only to way to know for sure you’re truly being a car with a clear title.


  1. This just happened to me on 10/24/2012. I bought 2003 motorcycle for $4500. The seller gave me a bill of sale and a title that showed no liens on it. I took title to dmv to get title transfer and registration, DMV told me there is a Lien on this title from speedy cash as the title I gave DMV was not the original current title but a old one that the seller must of had. DMV told me that this Lien has to be paid off before title transfer and that I need a power of attorney title transfer letter signed by the seller. I contacted the seller of this situation and the seller agreed to give me the power of attorney letter and pay off the lien from speedy cash in the amount of $1200. The seller gave me the signed power of attorney letter and told me he would pay off the speedy cash lien. “This is when it goes vary bad!”
    A week goes by and I can not get ahold of the seller and the lien was never paid off. I kept trying to get ahold of the seller to pay this lien and it has been over 3 weeks now. The sellers phone is now shut off and is no where to be found. I went back to DMV to see what I could do next. DMV told me you have the power of attorney letter signed by the seller your only option is to pay the lien or get your money back from the seller. I told DMV the seller is gone and no where to be found. DMV told me “buyer beware” that this happens all the time you should have checked the title with us before you bought. ” This is where it goes even worse!!” I told DMV that I would pay off the Lien of $1200 from speedy cash. I then asked DMV, this is all I have to do to get title in my name and there is no other Liens on this title.. they replied “yes” that’s all you have to do.
    I paid the Lien off from speedy cash, speedy cash gave me the pay off lien receipt to give to DMV. I went back to DMV with the lien receipt and they started the title transfer processing. DMV then told me we can not transfer title until emissions is done on the motorcycle. I took the motorcycle and got the emissions done and passed. I gave the DMV the emissions paper work and they started the title transfer and registration processing. Right when DMV asked for payment for registration the DMV teller says to me hold on something is not right… she walks away and comes back with a DMV supervisor. The Supervisor tells me we can not transfer title to you because there is a Restitution Lien on this title. I told DMV, you said there was only a lean on it from speedy cash…they said sorry there is nothing we can do. They gave me a number to call for the Restitution Lien. I called and the Restitution Lien and it is $3700 !! DMV is now telling me sorry there is nothing we can do about this until the Restitution Lien is paid off. I saw your story about Kathi Halvorsen and I don’t know what to do, I am at a stop. I thought I did the right thing when I asked DMV if there was any other liens on this title.


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