Understanding Liquidation: What Happens When There’s More Debt Than Assets?


When a company goes into liquidation, the ideal scenario is for its assets to cover all outstanding debts, but what happens when the debts far exceed the assets? This situation is unfortunately not uncommon and can lead to complex outcomes for creditors. In this blog, we will explore the liquidation process under these conditions, focusing particularly on the hierarchy of creditor claims and the stark realities faced by unsecured creditors.

The Liquidation Process Explained

Liquidation occurs when a company is insolvent and unable to meet its financial obligations. The process is initiated either voluntarily by the company’s directors or forced by its creditors through a court order. Once liquidation proceedings begin, a liquidator is appointed to oversee the dismantling of the company. Their role is to sell the company’s assets and distribute the proceeds among the creditors.

The Order of Creditor Payments

The order in which creditors are paid is crucial and is strictly governed by law. Here’s a typical hierarchy observed in most jurisdictions:

  1. Обеспеченные кредиторы: These creditors have loans backed by specific assets of the company, such as real estate or equipment. In a liquidation, secured creditors have the highest priority and are paid first from the proceeds of their collateral.
  2. Preferential Creditors: This group includes employees owed wages and certain small suppliers. Preferential creditors are paid after secured creditors but before unsecured creditors.
  3. Необеспеченные кредиторы: These are creditors who do not have collateral backing their claims. This group typically includes suppliers, customers, and certain lenders. They are paid after secured and preferential creditors, and only if funds remain.
  4. Shareholders: Any remaining assets after all creditors are satisfied (a rare occurrence in insolvent liquidations) would then be distributed to shareholders.

The Reality for Unsecured Creditors

In scenarios where a company’s debts surpass its assets, unsecured creditors face a high risk of receiving little to no payment. This is because, by the time the liquidator has sold all assets and paid secured and preferential creditors, there are often no funds left. The stark reality is that in the pecking order of liquidation, unsecured creditors are at the bottom and bear the highest risk of loss.

What Can Unsecured Creditors Do?

While the prospects can seem bleak, there are a few strategies unsecured creditors can pursue:

  • Monitor the Liquidation Process: Staying informed and involved can ensure that the liquidation is carried out fairly and that all possible assets are accounted for.
  • Challenge Disproportionate Payments: If it appears that secured or preferential creditors are being overpaid, unsecured creditors can challenge these distributions legally.
  • Look for Legal Oversights: Sometimes, assets are incorrectly categorized or overlooked. Creditors can hire legal help to scrutinize the liquidation process for such errors.
  • Pursue Director Guarantees: If directors of the insolvent company have made personal guarantees, unsecured creditors can seek to enforce these guarantees.


Understanding the liquidation process and where one stands as a creditor is crucial for navigating the complex landscape when a company fails. For unsecured creditors, while the outlook in asset-deficient liquidations can be discouraging, being proactive and informed can help in mitigating losses and, in some cases, improving recovery rates.

For personalized advice and detailed strategies tailored to your specific circumstances, contacting a legal professional здесь

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