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Qualify for a Vehicle Loan “Cramdown” by Filing Your Chapter 13 Case at the Right Time

Posted by Kevin on November 2, 2019 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

Potentially save thousands of dollars on your vehicle loan by filing bankruptcy when it qualifies for cramdown.

Chapter 13 Vehicle Loan Cramdown

What’s a “cramdown”? It’s an informal term—not found in the federal Bankruptcy Code—for a procedure provided under Chapter 13 law for legally rewriting the loan to reduce, usually, both the monthly payment and the total you pay for the vehicle. A cramdown, essentially reduces the amount you must pay to the fair market value of your vehicle, often also reducing the interest rate, and also often stretching out the payments over a longer period. These combine to result often in a significantly reduced monthly payment, and an overall savings of thousands of dollars.

Qualifying for Cramdown

First, this only works if your vehicle is worth less than the balance on the loan.

Second, emphasizing again, it is ONLY available in a Chapter 13 case, not Chapter 7.

And third, your vehicle loan must have been entered into more than 910 days (slightly less than two and a half years) before your Chapter 13 case is filed.

Vehicle Cramdown

It’s of course that last condition that creates the timing opportunity. When you first go in to see your attorney, bring your loan vehicle paperwork (or as much information you have) to see if and when you qualify for cramdown, and whether and how much difference it can make for you.

Here’s an example of the dollar difference that a difference in timing can make.

How Good Timing Can Work for You

Let’s say you bought and financed your car 890 days ago—that’s almost two and a half years. The new car cost $21,500. You did not get a very good deal; your previous car had died and cost way too much to repair, and you had to quickly get another car to commute to work. You put down $500 (from a credit card cash advance), then financed the vehicle for $21,000 at 8% over a term of 5 years, with monthly payments of $425.

Now almost two and a half years later you owe about $11,500. If you wanted to keep the car, and filed either a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 case before the 910-day mark, you would have to pay the regular monthly payments for the rest of the contract term. With interest, that would cost a total of about $12,650 more.

Consider if instead you waited until just past that 910-day mark and filed a Chapter 13 case then, and could “cram down” the car loan. Assume that your car is now worth $7,500, and again you owe $11,500. The loan is said to be secured to the extent of $7,500. The remaining $4,000 of the loan is not secured by anything. So the $7,500 secured portion would be paid through monthly payments in your Chapter 13 plan. The $4,000 unsecured portion is treated as general unsecured debt and paid prorata with the rest of those creditors.  It does not constitute extra money paid into the plan.

Under cramdown, you pay the $7,500 secured portion at an interest rate which is often lower than your contract rate. Paying a reduced amount—$7,500 instead of $11,500—at a lower interest rate results in a lower monthly payment. That payment is often reduced substantially further by extending the repayment term further out than what the contract had provided, up to a maximum of five years (from the date of filing the Chapter 13 case).

In this example, assuming an interest rate of 5% and a repayment term of five years, the payment on the $7,500 would be less than $142 per month. The total remaining payments on the loan, with interest, would be about $8,492, in contrast to paying $12,650 under the contract. That is a savings of $4,158.

Note that under cramdown, even though the repayment term stretches the payments about two and a half years longer than under the contract, the amount of interest to be paid is often less. That’s both because the interest rate is often lower, and it’s being applied to a lower principal amount (here 5% interest instead of 8%, and $7,500 instead of $11,500).

So, by tactically holding off from filing a Chapter 13 case until after the 910-day period expires, in this example you would reduce the monthly payment from $425 to $141.50, and save more than $4,000 before owning the vehicle free and clear.

Easily Preventable Mistakes to Avoid While Considering Bankruptcy

Posted by on August 10, 2016 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

Words I hate to tell new clients: “If only you’d come to talk with me sooner.”

Consumer bankruptcy attorneys are in the business of  helping people put back in order their financial lives.   Many times we succeed which makes the practice personally gratifying.  However, life is not perfect and some situations are beyond reach even with the strong medicine of bankruptcy. Difficult choices sometimes have to be made.

But the toughest situations are those in which the person took some action—usually not long before seeing me—which may have made some sense at the time but ended up being a mistake, a self-inflicted wound.

The goal of my next few blogs is to help you avoid these.

Here’s what we will be covering.

1) Preferences:  If within a certain amount of time before filing bankruptcy, a debtor pays any significant amount of money (or anything else of value) to someone she owes, the bankruptcy trustee could under certain conditions force that creditor to pay to the trustee whatever amount the debtor paid to the creditor. That creditor could be a relative or friend who had lent the debtor money, and the debtor felt a deep obligation to repay it before filing bankruptcy. This relative or friend could be sued by the trustee to make him or her “return” the money (but to the trustee, not to the debtor).

2) Wasting exempt assets:  New clients constantly tell me how they’ve borrowed against or cashed in their retirement funds in a desperate effort to pay their debts. Or they’ve sold a vehicle or some other precious asset. Then they learn that whatever they’ve sold or borrowed against would have been completely protected in their subsequent bankruptcy case. And the debts they paid with the proceeds would simply have been “discharged” (legally written off) in that bankruptcy. They have lost something of significant value in effect for no real benefit.

3) Surrendering a vehicle that could have been saved:  People often really need a vehicle but owe on it more than it is worth and can’t afford the payments. So they either voluntarily surrender it to the creditor, or wait to file bankruptcy until after it gets repossessed. Instead with a “cramdown,” they could well have been able to keep that vehicle by paying much lower monthly payments and paying much less for it overall.

4) Letting a creditor sue and take a judgment: If a debtor is sued by a creditor and waits until after a judgment is entered, in some situations, that judgment could make the debt harder to discharge in a subsequent bankruptcy case.

5) Selling a home out of desperation:  Bankruptcy—and especially Chapter 13—provides some amazing tools for dealing with debts related to a home, including  the first mortgage arrearage, the second mortgage lien, judgment liens, income tax and child support liens, and other liens of all sorts. Homeowners may hurriedly sell their home because of pressure from any of these kinds of creditors. But if they do so, they could lose out on the opportunity to hold onto their home by saving tens of thousands—or possibly even hundreds of thousands—of dollars. Or at least they could likely sell it at a higher price with more market exposure and/or sell it when the timing is better for their family.

As you can see, doing what seems right and sensible can really backfire if you don’t get legal advice about these kinds of unexpected consequences. In the next few blogs I explain these in more detail so that these mistakes will make sense to you and you can avoid them.  

Advantages of Chapter 13 After Stopping Repossession of Your Car or Truck

Posted by Kevin on August 28, 2013 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

Straight Chapter 7 bankruptcy gives very limited help if you’re behind on your vehicle and need to keep it. And Chapter 13? Provides much more help.

The last blog was about what happens after preventing your vehicle from getting repossessed by filing a Chapter 7 case. Today’s blog is about what happens if instead you file a Chapter 13 case, the payment plan type of bankruptcy.

Back Payments

If you are worried about a vehicle repossession, you are likely a month or two behind on your loan payments. Assuming you need to keep the vehicle, if you were to file a straight Chapter 7 case you would very likely be required to catch up on your back payments within a month or two after filing the bankruptcy case. Since you also need to resume making the regular monthly payments and keep current on them, catching up on the back payments at the same time and this quickly is impossible for many people.

With Chapter 13, in contrast, you either don’t have to catch up on the back payments at all or at least would likely have many months to do so.


If your loan is more than two and a half years old, and you owe more on the loan than the value of your vehicle, you can do a “cram down”—re-write the loan to reduce the portion of the loan that must be paid in full down to the value of the vehicle. The remaining amount of the loan—the unsecured portion above the value of your vehicle—is then paid the same as the rest of your unsecured creditors, often at a steep discount in your favor. In some jurisdictions, you may pay little or nothing on this unsecured portion.

As part of the re-writing of the loan in a “cram down,” you can often also lower the interest rate and/or stretch out the payments for a longer term, all of this usually resulting in a significantly reduced monthly payment.

Option to Surrender, Now or Later

Under Chapter 7, you must pretty much know at the time your case is filed whether you want to keep or surrender the vehicle. You sign a document called “statement of intent” which is filed at court usually at the start of your case. And then very quickly after that you need to put that intention into action. If you are surrendering the vehicle, you would need to do so within about a month after filing the case.

In Chapter 13 as well, your court-filed documents indicate your intentions, most directly in your formal plan. The plan states how much you intend to pay, and which creditors are to receive how much, including the vehicle loan creditor(s). It is prepared by your attorney, approved and signed by you, and presented to the court for the judge’s “confirmation.”

If you decide through the advice of your attorney that it’s in your best interest to surrender the vehicle, then your Chapter 13 plan will not propose to pay anything to the secured portion of the debt. Instead after you surrender the vehicle, the creditor will sell it, credit the sale proceeds to the balance, and report to the bankruptcy court how much it is still owed. Just as stated above, that unsecured amount will be added to the rest of your unsecured debt, and paid whatever percentage the rest are being paid. But in most cases the dollar amount being paid by the debtor towards the pool of unsecured debt does not increase. Instead that amount is just divided differently among all the unsecured creditors.  For example, if your monthly payment to the trustee is $110 and you have 9 unsecured creditors with $10 going to the trustee, then each unsecured creditor would get a little over $11 per month.  If you add a creditor, the payment is still $100.  So, after trustee fee, each unsecured creditor now gets $10 per month.

Unlike Chapter 7, Chapter 13 gives you some flexibility if you decide later that you can’t or chose not to maintain the payments on the vehicle. You can change your mind a year or two into the Chapter 13 case, deciding to surrender your vehicle after all.

What Can I Do If I’m Behind on My Vehicle Loan?

Posted by Kevin on June 29, 2012 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

A previous blog focused on ways in which Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy each make it possible for you to keep your vehicle by keeping your vehicle lender satisfied.  But to be very practical, today let’s hone in on one very common scenario: you’ve fallen behind on your vehicle loan, but need to keep that vehicle. What are your options?

Saved by the Automatic Stay

As you probably already feel in your gut, you’ve got to accept right away that you are in a very precarious situation. Vehicle loans are very dangerous because of how quickly the collateral—your car or truck—can be repossessed. Realistically, most repossessions do not happen until you’re about 2 months late. But that depends on your payment history, the overall aggressiveness of the creditor, and, frankly, how the repo manager happens to be feeling that day. If you’re not current, you’re in danger.

Once a repossession happens, that does not always mean that your vehicle is gone for good. But in many situations that IS the practical result. To get a vehicle back after a repo usually takes serious money. Money you don’t likely have hanging around if you’re behind on your car payments.

And once the repo happens, thing’s often just get worse—your vehicle is sold at an auction, and you often end up owing thousands of dollars for the “deficiency balance,” the difference between what the vehicle was auctioned off for and the amount you owed on the loan (plus repo and sale costs). Next thing you know, you’re being sued for those thousands of dollars.

All that is preventable, IF you file either a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy BEFORE the repossession. The “automatic stay”— a legal injunction against repossession—goes into effect instantaneously upon the filing of bankruptcy. Even if the repo man is already looking for your vehicle to repo, once you file that gets you off his list. At least for the moment.

Dealing with Missed Payments under Chapter 7

As stated in the last blog, most vehicle lenders play a “take it or leave it” game if you file a Chapter 7 case. If you want to keep the vehicle, you must bring the loan current quickly—usually within about two months after filing.  Unless your lender is one of the relatively few  that are more flexible, you need to figure out if not paying your other creditors is going to free up enough cash to catch up on your missed payments within that short time. If not, the lender will have the right to repossess your vehicle if you are not current the minute the Chapter 7 case is completed, usually about 3 months after it is filed. In fact, you may have even less time if the lender asks the bankruptcy court for permission to repossess earlier.

Dealing with Missed Payments under Chapter 13

You have much more flexibility about missed payments under Chapter 13. In fact, you do not need to catch up on them at all.

There are two scenarios, alluded to in the last blog.

If your vehicle is worth at least as much as your loan balance OR if you entered into your vehicle loan two and a half years or less before filing the case, than you will have to pay the entire loan off within the 3-to-5-year Chapter 13 plan period. However, you can reduce interest payments to what is known as the Till rate.  That is prime plus a factor for the risk involved in your situation.  For all intents and purposes, while interest rates stay low, you should be able to reduce interest to 4.5-5%.  Depending on the amount of the loan balance, that can mean a reduction in monthly payments.

If your vehicle is worth less than your loan balance AND you entered into your vehicle loan more than two and a half years before filing the case, then you can reduce the total amount to be paid down to the value of the vehicle. With this so-called “cramdown,” you still must pay that reduced amount within the life of the Chapter 13 plan. And you can reduce interest to the Till rate.  Now,  you may need to pay a portion of the remaining balance, primarily based on whether you have extra money in your budget to do so. But the savings in terms of both the monthly payments and the total amount to be paid are often huge.


Bankruptcy stops your vehicle from being repossessed, and gives you options for dealing with previously missed payments. Chapter 7 may work if you can pay off the entire arrearage fast enough. Otherwise you may need the extra help Chapter 13 provides. Or you might want to file Chapter 13 to take advantage of the “cramdown” option and reducing interest to the Till rate.