Can I keep my car in bankruptcy?
One of the most common questions potential clients ask us is if they can keep a car in bankruptcy. During a Chapter 13, there is rarely an issue with a car. The question really comes up in a Chapter 7, since the court is looking at all your assets; a trustee will sell any non-exempt assets. But, the good news is that most of the time cars are not an issue in a Chapter 7.
The exemption, or protections under the law, in Virginia is fairly high; Virginia residents are allowed a $6,000.00 exemption for vehicles. If the car is owned by two individuals, the exemption is allowed for each person. Additionally, if your car has a high value, you can apply your $5,000.00 wildcard/homestead deed to help protect the car. The exemption only applies to equity in your car; so if you have a car worth $20,000.00 but you owe $16,000.00, you only need $4,000.00 in exemptions to protect the car.
A lot of debtors also say they want to keep their car out of bankruptcy. In bankruptcy you are required to list all assets and all debts. The bankruptcy will discharge the debt on the car, but the lien on the car remains. This means that the contract between you and the bank is gone, but the lender can still repossess the vehicle if payments are not made. So there is no free car, but the car company cannot make you pay for the balance of the loan if you do not want. For most of our clients, if they agree to keep paying on the debt, they can keep the car and will get the title at the end of the payments. But it also allows you the option to give up an underwater car without potential issues.
A reaffirmation is basically signing the same contract over again after filing bankruptcy. The creditor will report new payment history to the creditor reporting agencies. However, it also re-obligates you on the entire debt; so, if you fail to pay the entire loan and the car is repossessed, then the creditor can come after you for the deficiency. Additionally, a judge must sign off on the agreement; the court will likely require a hearing to prove that you can pay the debt going forward.
We rarely ever recommend the debtor sign a reaffirmation; on rare occasions there are reasons to sign them. Some creditors require a reaffirmation because they will repossess, even if you are current on your payments. Currently, the only creditor that takes this action is Ford. However, this could change at any moment. It is important to be sure you attorney is up to date about changing policies with varying lenders.
Should you keep your car?
For some of my clients, there is the question of whether you should keep the car. Chapter 7 allows a debtor to surrender the car in bankruptcy without issue of a deficiency or a repossession being reported on your credit report. For many people who have only made one or two years worth of payments on a car purchased new, you likely have negative equity in the car. Additionally, if your car was in an accident or two, there is likely a significant depreciation in value from that damage. Other individuals who find negative equity in a car are those who traded in a car with a large loss on a new car purchase.
Many people love their cars; but, we want to remind them that cars are a depreciating asset and it really is a financial decision that you are making. If you owe $25,000.00 on a car only worth $15,000.00, it is not likely to be a good financial decision to keep that vehicle. Continuing to pay on the car means you will be paying more for the vehicle than it is worth. After bankruptcy, most people’s credit increase. Additionally, many car lenders are willing to give you a car loan since you must wait at least 8 years between bankruptcy court filings (and most car loans are less than 8 years). Now if you owe $10,000.00 on a car worth $16,000.00, it is a lot easier of a decision to keep the car. You can keep that car, trade it in or sell it after the bankruptcy is over.
One issue that most debtors do not know about is cross collateralization. This is a right that only credit unions have. Basically, if the credit union gives you a loan for a car, that lender has a lien against the car to secure the payment. The lien allows the creditor to repossess the car if the borrower does not make all of the payments. The cross-collateralization agreement allows the lien against the car (or any other collateral) to secure additional debts other than the car loan. This means that if you don’t pay a credit card, then the creditor can repossess your car.
Cross collateralization is something very few people know about. Most people understand that when finances get tight, you make sure you pay your car payment, even if you cannot pay your credit cards. But, if you aren’t paying on a credit card or personal loan, the credit union can repossess your car even if you are current on your car payments. This is important to understand when taking out car loans or opening new unsecured credit accounts.
When you file bankruptcy, your obligation to pay on all the debts is discharged, but car loan and cross-collateralized debts all remain with the car lien. This means that you may owe more on your car than you believe. Some lenders may allow you to only pay the car loan amount if you reaffirm the debt, but this policy varies from creditor to creditor. Experienced bankruptcy attorneys will usually have an idea how major lenders deal with your car in bankruptcy.
Bankruptcy provides a debtor with various options he/she do not have outside of bankruptcy.
One option debtors can do during you Chapter 7 is to “redeem” the car. This means during your case, you purchase the car back from the lender for the value of the car, not the total debt.
Under Section 722 of the bankruptcy code, a debtor in Chapter 7 has the right to force the lender to release its lien in exchange for a onetime payment in the value of the collateral. This can be a great way to keep your car and save money. The most difficult part of this option is coming up with the funds. There are certain lenders and programs that work with debtors on financing this payment. When making a decision about a redemption, you should consider the total amount that would be paid (principal and interest). Additionally, there sometimes is the option of talking directly to your credit union or bank for a new car loan; this option works best if you have high income or a cosigner. But, if you want to redeem your vehicle, you should consider all possible options; some debtors are able to find the funds from family or friends, selling exempt that you kept during your bankruptcy.
The decision about keeping the car does not have to happen immediately in the bankruptcy, unless a reaffirmation or a redemption is needed. Sometimes you want to take more time to make the decision. You do not immediately need to make the decision of whether to surrendering your car back to the lender. You can surrender the car during the bankruptcy or much later, as long as you do not reaffirm the debt. Some of my clients continue to make payments for 3 to 6 months after the bankruptcy. After their credit has bounced back, they apply for a new car payment and surrender their old vehicle then.
You have options
It is important to understand you have a lot of options. Additionally, you must take important steps to protect your assets. Talk to an experienced bankruptcy attorney about all the options that apply to your specific case and your options to handle your car in bankruptcy.
It is important to understand all your options and rights during a bankruptcy. Having an experienced bankruptcy attorney can help ensure your case goes smoothly and you come out with a fresh start. Ashley F. Morgan Law, PC helps many individuals manage their debts every month. Attorney Ashley Morgan has experience dealing with all the above issues. She understands good credit is important, and she wants her clients to completely understand all the tools at their disposal before taking action.