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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.

Understanding Debts- Part 1

Posted by Kevin on October 21, 2018 under Bankruptcy Blog | Comments are off for this article

 Debts in Bankruptcy

If you are thinking about bankruptcy there’s no more basic question than what it will do to each of your debts. Will it wipe away all your debts or will you still owe anybody? What about debts you would like to keep like your car or truck loan or your home mortgage? What help does bankruptcy give for unusual debts like taxes, or child and spousal support?

The Three Categories of Debts

At the heart of bankruptcy is the basic rule of treating all creditors within the same legal category the same. So we need to understand the three main categories of debts. You may not have debts in all three of these categories, but lots of people do. A basic understanding of these three categories will help make sense of bankruptcy, and make sense of how it treats each of your creditors.

The three categories of debts are “secured,” “general unsecured,” and “priority.”

Secured Debts

Every single debt is either “secured” by something you own or it is not. A secured debt is secured by a lien—a legal right against that property.

Most of the time you know whether or not a debt is secured because you voluntarily gave collateral to secure the debt. When you buy a car, you know that you are signing on to a vehicle loan in which the lender is put onto your car’s title as its lienholder. That lien on the title gives that lender certain rights, such as to repossess it if you don’t make the agreed payments.

But debts can also be secured as a matter of law without you voluntarily agreeing to it. For example, if you own a home and an unsecured creditor sues you and gets a judgment against you that usually creates a judgment lien against the title of your home. Or if you don’t pay federal income taxes you owe, the IRS may put a tax lien on all your personal property.

For a debt to become effectively secured, for purposes of bankruptcy, certain steps have to be taken to accomplish that. Otherwise the debt is not secured, and the creditor does not have rights against the property or possession that was supposed to secure the debt.

In the case of a vehicle loan, the lender and you have to go through certain paperwork for the lender to become a lienholder on the vehicle’s title. If those aren’t done right, the vehicle will not attach as collateral to the loan. That could totally change how that debt is treated in bankruptcy.

Finally, it’s important to see that debts can be fully secured or only partly secured. This depends on the amount of the debt compared to the value of the collateral securing it. If you owe $15,000 on a vehicle worth only $10,000, the debt is only partly secured—secured as to $10,000, and unsecured as to the remaining $5,000 of the debt. A partly secured debt may be treated differently in bankruptcy than a fully secured one.

In the next blog we will be reviewing general unsecured debts and priority debts.


Major Advantages of Chapter 13 “Adjustment of Debts”

Posted by Kevin on July 2, 2017 under Bankruptcy Blog | Comments are off for this article

Here are some of the other main advantages of Chapter 13:

1. You can keep your possessions that are not protected by property “exemptions,” preventing a Chapter 7 trustee from taking them from you. Thus you retain much more control over the process of saving your assets, avoiding the unknowns of negotiating payment terms with a Chapter 7 trustee in order to keep your non-exempt possessions. Also, in a Chapter 13 case, you have 3 to 5 years to pay to protect such possessions, instead of the few months that Chapter 7 trustees generally allow.

2. Similarly, if you fell behind in payments on your home’s first mortgage, you have the length of your plan—the same 3 to 5 years–to catch up. That’s in contrast to the few months of payments that a mortgage lender would generally allow if you negotiated directly with it after filing a Chapter 7 case.

3. You may be able to “strip” a second (or third) mortgage from your home’s title, and avoid paying all or most of that mortgage. This can happen if the value of your home is less than the balance of your first mortgage. Mortgage “stripping” may save you hundreds of dollars per month. This is completely unavailable in a Chapter 7 case.

4. You may be eligible for “cramdown” of your vehicle loan. If you purchased and financed your vehicle more than two and a half years before filing your Chapter 13 case, and the vehicle is worth less than the balance on the loan, your monthly payments and the total amount you pay for your vehicle can be significantly reduced.  In contrast, in a Chapter 7 straight bankruptcy case you are usually almost always stuck with the monthly payment and loan balance dictated by the vehicle loan contract.

5. In that same situation, if you are behind on the vehicle loan payments you don’t have to catch up those back payments over a few months. In a Chapter 7 case, almost always you must quickly pay off any arrearage if you want to keep the vehicle.

6. If you owe an ex-spouse non-support obligations, you can discharge (write-off) them under Chapter 13—not under Chapter 7. Non-support obligations include requirements in a divorce decree to pay off a joint marital debt or to pay the ex-spouse in return for getting more of the marital property. Discharging such debts can make a huge difference, often making Chapter 13 well worthwhile.

7. If you have any student loans, under Chapter 13, you can apply for an income driven repayment plan for federal loans and reduce payment on private loans.  In most cases, you are not going to discharge those loans, but you will be able to make affordable payments while in the Chapter 13 plan.   Also, you can use the payment history in Chapter 13 as a basis to qualify for a “hardship discharge” of your student loans.  For more information on student loan debt, please join us on

People often assume they need and want a regular Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and it’s often exactly what they do need. But the above short list gives you some idea of the benefits of Chapter 13 that may make it a much better option. That’s one of the reasons you should talk with an experienced bankruptcy attorney, and do so with an open mind. That’s because sometimes Chapter 13 can give you a huge unexpected advantage, or a series of smaller advantages, which may swing your decision in that direction.


Keeping a Vehicle with a Debt under Chapter 7 “Straight Bankruptcy”

Posted by Kevin on May 27, 2017 under Bankruptcy Blog | Comments are off for this article

If you borrowed money to purchase your motor vehicle, you have signed a promissory note which is an obligation to pay the loan debt.  You also gave to the lender a lien of your vehicle.   In bankruptcy, your lender is known as a secured creditor.  Although the underlying debt may be discharged in bankruptcy, the lien passes through the bankruptcy because it is a property right.  That means that the lender can always foreclose on the lien if you do not make payments.

The Bankruptcy Trustee Only Cares about Equity Beyond Any Exemption

In a Chapter 7 case you have two people besides you who could be interested in your vehicle. Clearly, the lender is interested.  But also, the  bankruptcy trustee will become interested if there is equity in the vehicle that exceeds the amount of the exemption.  In New Jersey, the vast majority of debtors use the federal exemption which is $3775.   There is seldom too much equity if you owe on a vehicle, but check with your attorney to make sure this is not an issue in your case.

Dealing with the Lender-


You may not want to keep your vehicle for a multitude of reasons.  Or you may not be in a position to make the vehicle loan current within a short time after the bankruptcy filing.  If you just surrendered your vehicle without a bankruptcy, you’ll very likely owe and be sued for the “deficiency balance” (amount of loan plus all repo and sale costs minus the sales price).  Especially in auction situations, that deficiency balance is often much higher than you expect.  Surrendering the vehicle in your Chapter 7 bankruptcy eliminates the deficiency scenario. Indeed, that is a common purpose for filing bankruptcy.


If you want to keep your vehicle, generally you must be either current on your loan or able to get current within about 30 to 60 days after filing the Chapter 7 case.  In New Jersey, you are required to sign a reaffirmation agreement, which legally excludes the vehicle loan from the discharge (the legal write-off) of the rest of your debts. Then you have to stay current if you want to keep the car.  Remember, because the vehicle loan was not discharged in the bankruptcy, if you miss payments, the lender can repossess the car, sell it at auction and come after you for any deficiency.  So talk to your attorney and think carefully about the risks before reaffirming your vehicle loan.


You can keep your vehicle if you redeem  by paying to the secured creditor the vehicle’s current replacement value (what you would pay a retail dealer for a vehicle of comparable age and condition).  I mention this in passing because in over 30 years of  filing Chapter 7’s, I have never had a client who redeemed a motor vehicle.  Why?  Given the price of motor vehicles these days, it takes thousands of dollars to redeem and most of my clients would not have filed bankruptcy if they had a spare $5-10,000 of cash laying around.  But, in theory, you could do it.


Usually “straight bankruptcy”—Chapter 7—works best way if your vehicle situation is pretty straightforward: you either want to surrender a vehicle, or else you want to hang onto it.  Chapter 7 gives you these options.


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.

Worried about Getting Your Car or Truck Repo’d? How Bankruptcy Could Help

Posted by Kevin on August 26, 2013 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

Bankruptcy stops a vehicle repo from happening. But what then?

Vehicle loan creditors can be very aggressive about repossessing their collateral—that vehicle which happens to be your crucial means of transportation. They are probably so impatient because this kind of collateral is so mobile and easy to hide. Plus the creditors’ decades of experience probably tell them the longer they wait the less likely they’ll be able to find the vehicle, and have it still be in decent condition.

So, most vehicle loan contracts give the creditors the right to repossess as soon as you’re in default on your agreement, which means as soon as you miss a single monthly payment. But for a variety of practical reasons, they don’t tend to pop cars that fast, usually letting you get 30 or maybe 60 or even more days late, depending on a bunch of factors such as your payment history, whether and what you’re communicating with them, and the value and condition of the vehicle.

In your own circumstances you probably have a decent feel for when you should be getting worried about a possible car or truck repo. If you are concerned, you may feel better that one of the most powerful tools of bankruptcy—the “automatic stay”—can stop the repo man in his tracks. That’s the law that automatically goes into effect the moment your bankruptcy case is filed at court to stay—or stop—all collection activity against you or your property, including the repossession of collateral.

But assuming you file a bankruptcy and stop a repo before it happens, what happens next? The two different consumer bankruptcy options each help in different ways. The rest of today’s blog is about how Chapter 7 helps in this situation, and the next blog will be how Chapter 13 does.

Right after filing a Chapter 7 case you have to decide whether you want to and can afford to keep the vehicle, or instead will surrender it. (This is part of what we would discuss with you before your case is filed.)

If you want to keep your car or truck you will likely need to catch up on any late payments very quickly–within a month or two after your Chapter 7 was filed. The vast majority of vehicle loan creditors will only give you that much time. (The exceptions tend to be local lenders, perhaps with less expensive vehicles for which the debt is much higher than the value of the vehicle, so they have more reason to be flexible.)

Part of the reason the creditors are in a hurry to get you current is that this reduces their financial exposure compared to the value of the vehicle.

There is also a very practical bit of timing involved. To keep the vehicle, you will be required to sign a “reaffirmation agreement,” which is filed at the bankruptcy court. That agreement formally excludes the vehicle loan from the discharge of your debts. So understandably bankruptcy law requires the “reaffirmation agreement” to be filed at court before your debts are discharged. And the court order discharging all your debts is entered most of the time about three months after your case is filed. So you can see why your creditor wants you to be current on your loan before that “reaffirmation agreement” is prepared and filed at court.

If you don’t anticipate being able to bring the vehicle loan current that quickly—either with the Chapter 7 filing gaining you enough additional cash flow or from some other source—but you still need to keep the vehicle, Chapter 13 is often an excellent solution, as will be discussed in the next blog.

Assuming for the moment that Chapter 13 is not a viable option, and that you can’t pay the back payment(s) in time, you need to consider surrendering the vehicle. There are certain advantages to surrender—especially in the midst of your Chapter 7 case—that you should fully understand even if at first it doesn’t sound like a good idea.

Surrendering the vehicle:

  • gets you out of the monthly payments (and also the cost of the insurance premiums)
  • avoids needing to find the money to pay the accrued late payments and related late fees and other possible charges
  • discharges any “deficiency balance,” the amount that you would owe if you had surrendered  the vehicle without bankruptcy—after the creditor sold it, credited the sale proceeds to the balance, and came after you for the remaining balance.

Please return here in a couple days to read how Chapter 13 can help you keep your vehicle.

The “Automatic Stay” in Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13

Posted by Kevin on November 12, 2012 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

Chapter 7 often protects you from creditors well enough. But if need be, Chapter 13 protects you longer.

The “Automatic Stay” in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy”

The automatic stay is the power given to you through federal law to stop virtually all attempts by creditors to collect their debts against you and your property as of the moment you file a bankruptcy case. It stops creditors the same at the beginning of your case whether you file a Chapter 7 case or a Chapter 13 payment plan.

The benefits of the automatic stay last as long as your Chapter 7 case lasts—usually about three months or so. In many situations, that’s just long enough. The bankruptcy judge generally signs the discharge order just before the end of the case, writing off all or most of your debts. After that point those creditors can no longer pursue you or your assets, so you no longer NEED the automatic stay for your protection.

However, you may have some debts which you will continue to owe after the completion of your case, either 1) voluntarily, such as a vehicle loan on a vehicle you are keeping, or 2) as a matter of law, such as a recent unpaid income tax obligation.

In either of these situations you may well not need protection from these kinds of creditors beyond the length of a Chapter 7 case. You will likely enter into a reaffirmation agreement with the vehicle creditor, purposely excluding its debt from the discharge of your other debts so that you can keep the vehicle and continue making the payments. If you owe for last year’s income taxes, then before your Chapter 7 case is finished you could enter into a reasonable monthly installment payment plan with the IRS—if the amount is not too large and your cash flow has improved because of your bankruptcy case.

The “Automatic Stay” under the Chapter 13 Payment Plan

Simply stated, the automatic stay protection under Chapter 13 potentially lasts so much longer than under Chapter 7 because a Chapter 13 case lasts so much longer—3 to 5 years instead of 3 months. This can create some significant advantages with certain kinds of debts where you need more time, and need protection during that extended time.

Take the two examples above—the vehicle loan and the recent tax debt.

If you had fallen significantly behind on the vehicle loan and had no way to bring it current within a month or two after filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, most creditors would not allow you to keep the vehicle. In contrast, under Chapter 13 you’d likely have several years to bring the account current, regardless of the creditor’s objection. In fact in some situations you would not need to catch up the missed payments at all. And as long as you made your payments as required by your court-approved plan, you would be protected from the creditor throughout this time.

In the case of the recent income taxes, if you owed more than what you could pay in an installment plan set up with the IRS, Chapter 13 would likely give you more time and more flexibility. For example, you would likely be able to delay paying the IRS anything for a number of months while paying debts that were even more important—say, arrearage on a house mortgage or back child support—as long as you paid the taxes off within 5 years. Plus most of the time you would not need to pay any ongoing tax penalties or interest, saving you a lot of money. Again, throughout this time you’d be protected from any collection action by the IRS through the continuous automatic stay.


So, the automatic stay stops creditors in their tracks when either a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 case is filed. The relatively short life of the automatic stay in Chapter 7 will do the trick either if you don’t still owe any debts when the case is done, or if you will be able to make workable arrangements on any that you do still owe. But if you need automatic stay protection to last longer, then Chapter 13 may well be able to give you that along with much more time and more flexibility in dealing with special creditors.

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.

Keeping Your Wheels in Bankruptcy

Posted by Kevin on June 27, 2012 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

Under Chapter 7, you can pay your vehicle loan mostly by getting rid of all or most of your other debts. Under Chapter 13, you can pay your vehicle loan ahead of most of your other creditors.

Bankruptcy law is about balancing the rights of debtors and creditors. When you file bankruptcy you gain some leverage against most of your creditors. But exactly how much leverage depends on the kind of debt. With a vehicle loan, you get much less leverage than with some other types of debts because the lender has a right to its collateral–your car or truck. But if you want to keep your vehicle (and you need a vehicle in Northern New Jersey), you may be able to use the lender’s rights over your collateral to your advantage.

Let’s see how this works under Chapter 7 and then under Chapter 13.

Favoring your vehicle loan in a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy”

Between you and the vehicle lender, your leverage is that you have the right to simply surrender your vehicle to the creditor and pay nothing. The bankruptcy discharges (writes off) any remaining debt. Usually the lender does not get paid enough from selling the vehicle to cover the full balance on the debt.

This means that sometimes we can use the threat of surrender to improve the vehicle loan’s terms, maybe even reduce the balance to an amount closer to the current fair market value of the vehicle.

But unfortunately, many major vehicle lenders don’t see it that way. They made a decision at some point that they make more money by requiring all their Chapter 7 customers to pay the full balance on the vehicle loans, and then take losses on those who aren’t willing to do that and instead surrender their vehicles.  But it may be worth a try.

Favoring your vehicle loan in a Chapter 13 “payment plan”

Between you and the vehicle lender, your leverage is both lesser and greater under Chapter 13 than under Chapter 7.

You have less leverage in threatening surrender if your Chapter 13 plan is paying anything to your unsecured creditors. That’s because the vehicle lender would recoup from you at least some of its losses upon surrender, instead of none.

And if your vehicle loan is two and a half years old or less, if you want to keep the vehicle you must pay the full balance of the loan, regardless of the value of the vehicle compared to the loan balance.

But you have more leverage in two ways. With any vehicle loan, including those two and a half years old or less, you do not have to cure any arrearage, and can change the monthly payment, as long as the balance is paid in full by the end of the case.

And if the loan is more than two and a half years old, you can do a “cramdown”—reduce the amount you pay to the fair market value of the vehicle, plus whatever percentage you’re paying to the pool of unsecured debt, if any.

Clearly, Chapter 13 gives the debtor more leverage, if not more options, when it comes to a vehicle.