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

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.

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