You can usually keep collateral you need to keep by entering into a “reaffirmation agreement” with the creditor during your Chapter 7 case.
Last time we got into debts that you might voluntarily pay after a Chapter 7 case out of personal obligation. Today we cover debts voluntarily paid but for the purpose of keeping the collateral that’s securing the debt. This is usually done by “reaffirming” the secured debt.
There can be lots of important side issues with “reaffirmations.” For example, do you always have to reaffirm a debt in order to keep the collateral? What happens if you’re not current on the debt you want to reaffirm? Can you reaffirm a debt when it’s unsecured—when there is no collateral to retain? When is reaffirming a debt dangerous?
We’ll get to those and other side issues next time. But today we’re introducing reaffirmations in their most straightforward form.
The Straightforward Scenario
Let’s say you’re current on a debt that’s secured by something you definitely want to keep. It could be a home mortgage, a vehicle loan, or a furniture contract—or just about any secured debt. We’ll focus on vehicle loans, since they’re likely the most commonly reaffirmed.
You want and need to keep the vehicle, and maybe have had to work hard to keep the loan current. In fact one of your legitimate reasons for doing bankruptcy is to get rid of other debts so that you CAN keep current on your vehicle loan.
You may even be wonder whether filing bankruptcy might mean you wouldn’t be allowed to keep paying your vehicle loan. Rest assured that’s virtually never a problem. Your creditor wants to be paid, and paid in full. Having you reaffirm the debt makes that much more likely.
The bankruptcy court will generally not have any issue with you reaffirming a secured debt. Assuming your bankruptcy lawyer agrees that it’s in your best interest to keep your vehicle and remain liable on the loan, he or she will sign off on it and the court will allow the reaffirmation to go through.
The Chapter 7 Reaffirmation Agreement
You reaffirm a debt by signing a reaffirmation agreement. This paperwork is usually prepared by the creditor and presented to you through your lawyer. You review it carefully, get fully informed about its effects by your lawyer, have him or her sign it, you sign it, and then it’s filed at the bankruptcy court. It must be filed before the time the court grants you a discharge of your debts. That usually happens about 60 days after your “meeting of creditors,” or about 3 months after your Chapter 7 filing.
The main consequence of a reaffirmation agreement is that it excludes that particular debt from the discharge of your debts. You would owe that single debt as if you hadn’t filed the Chapter 7 bankruptcy case at all. See Section 524(c) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code about the effect of a reaffirmation agreement.
Rescinding a Reaffirmation Agreement
Even after getting well informed by your lawyer and signing the agreement you might change your mind. Your vehicle may all of a sudden need an expensive repair. You may get access to a less expensive vehicle. Or you might get another job enabling you to use public transit and no longer need the vehicle.
Reaffirmation law gives you a SHORT rescission period to change your mind. Your deadline to rescind is either at the time the court discharges your other debts or 60 days after the reaffirmation agreement is filed at court, whichever is later. You rescind by simply telling the creditor that you are doing so. You don’t need to give any reason. See Section 524(c)(4) of the Bankruptcy Code about rescinding a reaffirmation agreement.
Benefit to Your Credit Record
Reaffirming a debt is one of the quickest ways to improve your credit record after bankruptcy. Assuming you want to keep your vehicle (or whatever collateral is on the debt), and it’s in your interest to do so, you can start putting your positive payment history into your credit record the first month after completing your case (if not even a bit sooner). Assuming you’re acting responsibly otherwise your on-time payments should have a positive effect on your credit.
Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13
Reaffirmations happen in Chapter 7; technically not in Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” cases. That’s because under Chapter 13 you generally get to retain your assets in return for working out a repayment plan.
Even without “reaffirmation,” in Chapter 13 if you are current on a secured debt and want to keep the collateral it’s usually just as easy as under Chapter 7.
Chapter 13 can even be a safer way to keep your vehicle. We’ll get into this in an upcoming blog post. For now, be aware that usually keeping a needed, paid-current vehicle works under both options. It’s not likely going to swing your choice towards either Chapter 7 or 13.