How a cramdown saves money

Here’s an example of how a cramdown saves you money by reducing  your vehicle payments and being free and clear after paying less. 

Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

Our last three blog posts have been about Chapter 13 cramdown of a vehicle loan. Cramdown can save money by reducing your loan’s monthly payments, its interest rate, and the total you pay for your vehicle. Often you end up saving a lot both monthly and on the total paid.

The last three blog posts introduced how cramdown works, how to qualify for it, and how you don’t have to catch up on late payments. But like anything, explaining a bunch of rules only goes so far. Showing how the rules actually get applied can be the best way to make sense of a complicated concept like cramdown. A good example is like a picture: it’s worth a thousand words.

So today, how does cramdown work in real life?

The Facts of Our Example

Let’s say you are a payment behind on your vehicle loan. You’re about to miss a second payment, and you’re feeling desperate. You have made making your vehicle payments a priority but you have other debts that are putting intense pressure on you. Your vehicle is absolutely essential in your life so you know you have to do something.

You know that to keep your vehicle you have to either get rid of or greatly reduce your other debts. Those other debts are medical bills and unsecured credit cards, all together totaling $75,000. You’re considering either Chapter 7 to write off those other debts or Chapter 13 to greatly reduce those debts.

Assume you bought your vehicle 3 years ago, it’s worth $9,000, but you still owe $15,000 on it. The contractual monthly payments are $550. Your budget, allowing for reasonable amounts for your living expenses, shows that you can afford to pay a total of $350 per month on all of your debts, including the vehicle loan.

Chapter 7 Doesn’t Help Enough Here

You understand that a Chapter 7 case would most likely write off (“discharge”) your entire $75,000 of unsecured debts. But even after that you’d really struggle to pay the $550 monthly vehicle payments. Plus you’d almost for sure have to catch up quickly on the $1,100 in late payments (2 times $550).

How Chapter 13 Cramdown Helps More

A cramdown saves you money by essentially allowing you to re-write your vehicle loan based on the fair market value of your vehicle.

Cramdown helps you more financially the more that you owe on your vehicle than it’s worth. Plus it’s usually available only if your loan is more than 910 days old—about 2 and half years. (See the unnumbered “hanging paragraph” right after Section 1325(a)(9) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.) You qualify in our example because you bought your vehicle 3 years ago. (See exceptions to the 910-day qualification rule in our second-to-last blog post.)

Cramdown would rewrite your vehicle loan based on the $9,000 your vehicle is worth. The term of cramdown payments lasts between 36 to 60 months. Your interest rate is often reduced as well, depending on your contract interest rate. Plus, you don’t have to catch up on any missed payment.

This is contrast to Chapter 7, where almost always you have to accept all the contractual terms of the loan if you want to keep your vehicle. That includes catching up very quickly on any missed payments.

A cramdown saves you money by allowing you to pay less

What would be your monthly payment to pay off the $9,000 value of your car?  (That’s the secured portion of the $15,000 total vehicle debt.) Assume a 36-month Chapter 13 payment plan—the usual minimum length. Amortizing $9,000 over 36 months at 5% interest yields a monthly payment of about $270.

We said earlier that you can afford to pay all your debts $350 per month. (That includes the vehicle loan.) So your monthly Chapter 13 plan payment would be $350.  That would cover all your debts.

$350 monthly payments times 36 months equals $12,600 total paid. The vehicle lender would receive $9,000 of that, plus about $700 of interest over the 36 months. The Chapter 13 trustee gets a percentage—let’s say 4% of the total, so $504. Add up those amounts and we’ve accounted for $10,204 of the $12,600 total you’re paying. This leaves $2,396 remaining.

Assume in this example that you paid your bankruptcy lawyer up front. Otherwise part of his or her fee would be paid out of that remaining $2,396. But here all of that $2,396 would go to your pool of general unsecured debts. That includes the $75,000 of medical and credit card debts, plus the $6,000 unsecured portion of the vehicle loan. (That’s the part of the $15,000 total not covered by the vehicle’s value–$15,000 minus $9,000 = $6,000.)  $75,000 + this $6,000 = $81,000 in general unsecured debts.

The $2,396 left over is spread out pro rata to the $81,000 in general unsecured debts. This means that these debts will receive about 3% of the amount due. The unsecured $6,000 portion of the vehicle loan would thus get only about $180 of it paid.

The Final Numbers

Through the Chapter 13 vehicle cramdown in this example, you would pay to your vehicle lender the $9,000 vehicle value, plus about $700 in interest, plus the above $180, a total of about $9,880. You would not have to catch up on the $1,100 in late payments. This is in contrast to paying the $15,000 loan balance, plus likely about $2,000 in interest, or about $17,000. That’s what you would have to do to keep the car outside bankruptcy or under Chapter 7.

Under Chapter 13 your monthly payments on the vehicle would be $270 instead of $550. Your monthly plan payment would be $350—which includes the $270 to your vehicle lender. After 36 months of paying $200 less than you would have paid on your vehicle alone ($350 vs. $550), you would own your vehicle free and clear and would nothing to any of your other creditors.

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