Surrendering Your Vehicle in a Chapter 7 Case
If you’re buying a vehicle, sometimes getting out of the contract is your best option. Chapter 7 lets you do that, owing nothing.
“Reaffirming” Your Vehicle Loan
Our last blog post was about keeping your vehicle in a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” by reaffirming the vehicle loan. If you are current on the loan/lease and can afford the payments after bankruptcy, reaffirming may make sense.
But sometimes it isn’t your best option. Bankruptcy also gives you an extraordinary opportunity to get out of your vehicle contract and its debt.
Even if you think you should keep your vehicle, consider the advantages of surrendering your vehicle during a Chapter 7 case.
Your Opportunity to Escape the Debt on the Vehicle Loan
Consider 3 scenarios:
- You may regret having made the purchase. You might have been talked into it by a pushy salesperson. You may have been surprised when you qualified for the credit and figured that you should grab the opportunity. But you’ve known for a while that it was a mistake. Bankruptcy is your chance to undo the mistake.
- Maybe instead the purchase really did make sense at the time but doesn’t anymore. The vehicle may have turned out to be unreliable and costs too much to repair and maintain. Your financial situation may have changed so you can no longer afford its monthly payments and other costs. Because of the vehicle’s fast depreciation, you may also owe well more than it’s worth. You wish you could turn back the clock and get out of the deal.
- Or you think you will be able to afford to pay your vehicle loan payments after filing bankruptcy, but it’s going to be tight. You need transportation but have a way of getting another less expensive vehicle or can do without. You want to know your options under bankruptcy.
The “Deficiency Balance”
It’s normally very expensive and dangerous getting out of a car or truck purchase. You can’t just give the vehicle back, give them the key, and call it even. Usually it’ll cost you, and a lot.
Usually when you surrender your vehicle to the creditor you end up owing a “deficiency balance.” This is the difference between what you owe on the contract and what your creditor would get if it sold your vehicle. Returned and repossessed vehicles are usually sold at auto auctions, where the purchasers are mostly used car dealers. They need to make a profit when re-selling the vehicles so they don’t pay much for them. So the amount your vehicle is sold for and credited to your account is usually shocking small.
At the same time the amount you owe is often much more than you expected. Your contract almost always lets the lender add onto your account a variety of additional costs. Besides late fees, all of the lender’s costs of surrender or repossession and the auction are piled on. Each one adds to the amount you owe.
As a result, in the end the amount of the “deficiency balance” that you owe is often amazingly high.
Lenders Usually Chase Deficiency Balances Fast
Usually your lender will file a lawsuit pretty quickly to try to make you pay off that deficiency balance.
It’s now a debt not secured by any collateral. The lender recognizes that paying this debt is not likely your highest priority. Sometimes the law gives the lender a relatively short time to sue or forever lose its ability to do so. So the lender has multiple reasons to sue you on the deficiency balance. Very likely you’ll be forced to deal with the debt sooner rather than later.
The Results of Chapter 7
Almost always, Chapter 7 results in the “discharge” of a deficiency balance. That is, the debt is permanently, legally written off, without you having to pay anything.
This is true whether the vehicle has been surrendered or repossessed before you file bankruptcy, or after.
There are very rare exceptions. If you purposely cheated this creditor in getting the loan, the creditor could object to the discharge of the debt. Examples include intentionally lying on the loan application, or some other kind of fraud. Even then, the creditor would have to formally accuse you of this within about 3 months after your Chapter 7 case was filed or else the debt would be discharged anyway.
So, a Chapter 7 bankruptcy would almost always discharge whatever you owed on your surrendered car or truck. Within 3 or 4 months after filing the case this debt would be gone.