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Archive for the ‘vehicle surrender’ tag

The Surprising Benefits: Ending Your Vehicle Lease under Chapter 13

October 24th, 2018 at 7:00 am

Chapter 7 gets you out of a vehicle lease owing nothing. Chapter 13 is more complicated but can give you pretty much the same good result.

 

Ending a Vehicle Lease in Chapter 7

Our last blog post was about how a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” can get you out of a vehicle lease. You can “reject” a financially bad lease, and then discharge (permanently write off) whatever you’d owe after surrendering the vehicle. Otherwise you could owe a lot of money when you get out of the lease.

So if you decide that you don’t want to keep your leased vehicle, and need bankruptcy relief, Chapter 7 is likely the cleanest solution.

Ending a Vehicle Lease in Chapter 13

But what if you have other reasons to file a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case instead? Chapter 13 can be a great way to save your home, catch up on child or spousal support, deal with income tax debt, and solve many other big financial problems, much better than under Chapter 7.

So it’s good news that you can surrender your leased vehicle through Chapter 13 just like under Chapter 7. However, discharging any resulting debt from the lease contract is not as straightforward as in a Chapter 7 case. Here’s how it works.

Possible Debts from Surrendering a Leased Vehicle

First be aware that you could owe various kinds of debts when you surrender a leased vehicle. Surrendering before lease end could make you liable for contractual penalties and/or all the remaining unpaid lease payments. Surrendering the vehicle at the end of the lease could make you liable for high mileage, excessive wear and tear, and the difference between the vehicle’s originally anticipated value at the end of the lease and the actual “realized value” then. Either way the amount you would owe could be thousands of dollars.  

Rejecting the Lease under Chapter 13

Under Chapter 13 you have the options of either rejecting the lease and returning the car, or continuing the lease. For today we’re assuming you no longer need or want to keep and pay for the vehicle.

The immediate benefits of rejecting the lease are just like under Chapter 7. You immediately stop paying the monthly lease payments, and then return the vehicle to the lessor after filing the case. If you’re behind on payments, you don’t have to pay them.

But under Chapter 13 there’s a complication. Your lessor can file a “proof of claim” reflecting whatever amount you would owe under the lease contract. The lessor does so in order to try to get paid part of any remaining debt. This debt is then added to the pile of all your other “general unsecured” debts.

The Category of “General Unsecured” Debts in Chapter 13

In a Chapter 13 case, your debts are divided into categories, one being your “general unsecured” debts. These are the debts that are 1) not secured by any of your property or possessions, and are also 2) not a “priority” debt (various specially-treated ones).

Often you have to pay all or most of what you owe on your secured and priority debts. But this is seldom true with general unsecured debts. Often you pay little or even nothing on your general unsecured debts in a Chapter 13 case. Whether or how much you pay depends on a lot of factors. The main factors are the amount of your secured and priority debts, and how much you can afford to pay to all of your creditors after expenses.

Often Vehicle Lease Debt Does Not Increase What You Pay

In most Chapter 13 cases a debt from surrendering your leased vehicle does not increase what pay in your case. That is, adding what you owe on the lease to your other general unsecured debts does not increase the amount that you pay into your pool of general unsecured debts.

There are two circumstances where that happens, one less common and other very common.

First, in some parts of the country you are allowed to pay 0% of your “general unsecured” debts. This happens if all you can afford to pay during your 3-to-5-year payment plan goes to your secured and priority debts. This leaves no money for the general unsecured debts. Paying 0% of the general unsecured debts means paying 0% on any vehicle lease debt.

Second, in most situations you end up paying the pool of general unsecured debts a specific amount of money. That amount is what you can afford to pay through the plan minus what goes to secured and priority debts. That specific amount gets divided up among the general unsecured debts. This amount being paid to the general unsecured debts does not increase if there is more of those debts. Adding the debt from the surrendered leased vehicle just reduces the amount other general unsecured debts receive. It does not increase how much you pay.  

For example, assume that after you pay all your secured and priority debts you have $2,000 left over to pay all your general unsecured debts over the life of your Chapter 13 plan. Your vehicle lessor files a claim saying you owe $3,000 after surrendering the vehicle. You owe $30,000 to all your other general unsecured debts. Adding the $3,000 lease debt to the other $30,000 means you owe a total of $33,000 of general unsecured debts. But you pay only the $2,000 that is available (over the life of the plan) either way. Having the $3,000 lease debt just means that the other general unsecured debts receive that much less.

 

The Surprising Benefits: Saving Your Vehicle through Bankruptcy

September 17th, 2018 at 7:00 am

Bankruptcy can get you out of the dilemma that a vehicle loan can put you in. Chapter 7 works if you can afford the loan payments afterwards.  


Here’s the Problem

You’re paying on a car or truck. You absolutely need this vehicle for getting to work, and to keep your life going. You can’t do without it.

But you’re having trouble keeping up on the loan payments. You owe lots of other debts, so keeping current on the vehicle loan is a big challenge. It’s a big stressor every month.

On top of that there’s a good chance that you owe more on your vehicle than it is worth. You know that if you somehow found other reliable transportation and surrendered your present vehicle—or if it was repossessed—you could easily still owe thousands of dollars of “deficiency balance.” That’s the amount you would owe on the loan after the surrender or repossession.

The amount you’d owe would very likely be much more than you expect. That’s because repossessed vehicles are usually sold at auto auctions, resulting in less credit to your account than you’d expect. Plus the costs of repossession/surrender and sale, and late charges and such would all be added to the balance. So giving up the vehicle doesn’t seem to make any sense.

As a result you feel stuck. You really need the vehicle but you can’t afford pay for it. And even if you could somehow do without it, you’d likely still owe thousands of dollars from letting it go.

Chapter 7 Regular Bankruptcy Gives Limited Help

Chapter 7 bankruptcy accomplishes two things regarding your vehicle loan. First, if you want to keep the vehicle, Chapter 7 would likely get rid of most of your other debts. Maybe then you could afford the vehicle payments. Or second, if you surrendered the vehicle, Chapter 7 would likely discharge (legally write off) the deficiency balance. If you had a way to get another reliable vehicle, or could do without, this might solve your problem.

What Chapter 7 doesn’t do is give you the power to change the terms of your vehicle loan. It’s “take it or leave it.” If you want to keep your vehicle, you’re virtually always stuck with the contract terms. That includes the monthly payment amount, the interest rate, etc.

Plus, you’re almost always required to “reaffirm” the debt. This legally excludes the vehicle loan from the discharge of your debts. You continue to owe it in full in exchange for keeping the vehicle.

This is economically risky. You’re paying for something that isn’t worth what you’re paying. And if you later surrender the vehicle or it’s repossessed, you would owe a deficiency balance. You’d owe it in spite of your prior Chapter 7 case because you reaffirmed the debt.

If You’re Behind on Your Vehicle Loan, or on Insurance

It’s worse if you aren’t current on your loan payments at the time of your Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing. Almost always your vehicle lender would require you to quickly catch up—within a month or two of filing. This would be on top of keeping current on the ongoing monthly payments. Or else you’d lose the vehicle in spite of filing bankruptcy.

If you’ve also let your insurance lapse, it’s even more problematic.  Your lender knows how dangerous lack of insurance is for itself, so it would “force-place” insurance on your vehicle. Your contract almost certainly allows it to do this. Force-placed insurance tends to be very expensive while at the same time provides you very little coverage. Under Chapter 7 you would likely have to pay for any such insurance, plus reinstate your own insurance. And you’d likely have to do this very quickly, not long after filing your Chapter 7 case.  

Chapter 13 Can Solve These Problems

Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” can solve these problems that Chapter 7 can’t.

First, Chapter 13 can buy you much more time. A Chapter 13 payment plan would likely give you much more time to catch up on any missed loan payments. It would also likely give you lots more time to pay for any force-placed insurance.

Second, if you qualify for “cramdown” you would likely pay less on the vehicle loan—possibly much less. Cramdown is an informal term for the Chapter 13 procedure for legally re-writing the loan in situations in which the vehicle is worth less than you owe. With cramdown you could both pay less monthly and pay less overall before the vehicle became yours free and clear. And if you’re behind on loan payments, you would not need to catch up at all on any of those missed payments.

Next week we’ll tell you how Chapter 13 could both buy you time and save you money on your vehicle loan(s).

 

The Surprising Benefits: Getting Back Your Repossessed Vehicle

May 28th, 2018 at 7:00 am

It’s much easier to prevent repossession by filing bankruptcy beforehand. But if you’ve already been repo’d, you now have to act very fast. 

 

When Does a Lender Repossess a Vehicle?

When CAN a vehicle lender repossess your vehicle? Just about all vehicle loan contracts let the lender repossess the minute you are late on a payment. There may be a legal grace period, but not usually. This is also true for other breaches of the contract, such as if you let the vehicle insurance lapse.  So usually a lender can repossess, without warning, when you are not in fully compliance with any contract obligations.

But most lenders don’t repossess right away. They’d usually rather have you make the payments so that they earn the interest on the contract. But they have the legal right to repossess, and sometimes act very fast.

So how much time do you have before your lender would actually repossess? That depends on your payment history and the repossession practices of the lender. It’s truly hard to tell how many days you  can be late, or how long your insurance can be lapsed, before repossession.

Much Better to File BEFORE Repossession

Filing bankruptcy stops repossession from happening immediately. It literally stops the repo agent from taking your vehicle even if he or she has already started to do so.

The moment your bankruptcy lawyer electronically files your case the “automatic stay” goes into effect. This “stays,” or legally stops, virtually all collection efforts against you and your property. Specifically, filing bankruptcy stops the enforcement of lender’s liens against your property. A vehicle repossession is an enforcement of a lender’s lien on your vehicle, and so it is stopped. See Subsections 362(a)(4) and (5) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code about the “stay… of… any act to… enforce any lien” against your property.                                                                                                          

Filing a Chapter 7 vs. 13 Case to Stop Repossession

A Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” will stop a pending repossession. It will give you a bit of time to bring your loan current. Usually you’ll have no more than about 2 months, sometime less, seldom more. If your insurance has lapsed you’ll have to reinstate it pretty much right away.

Stopping repossession by filing a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” gives you lots more time to catch up on the late payments. Instead of a couple months under Chapter 7, under Chapter 13 you get as much as a few years to catch up. Also you may qualify for “cramdown” of the vehicle loan. If so, after stopping the repo you may not need to catch up at all. Plus you may be able to reduce your monthly payments and pay less overall for the vehicle than you would have under the contract. “Cramdown” is not available in Chapter 7. But even under Chapter 13, you still need to pay to reinstate any lapsed insurance quickly to be able to keep your vehicle.

Getting Back Possession AFTER Repossession

Whether you can get your vehicle back after it’s already been repossessed depends on timing and the bankruptcy Chapter you file under.

As for timing, you DO have to act fast. Otherwise it will be too late to get it back, even through bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy’s “automatic stay” stops the lender, at least temporarily, from taking the next steps after the repossession. That’s because those next steps are at least arguably part of the lender’s enforcing its lien on the vehicle, which bankruptcy stops. This may depend on your state’s laws and local interpretations of bankruptcy law. Your bankruptcy lawyer will talk with you about this in your conversation about the repossession.

The next steps after repossession usually involve selling the vehicle, often in an auto auction. Once your lender sells the vehicle, it’s too late to get back your vehicle through bankruptcy.

Chapter 7 vs. 13 in Getting Back Possession

Assuming you file fast enough, whether you actually getting your vehicle back often depends on whether you file under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13.

A Chapter 7 case will work only if you have a fair amount of money immediately available. You’d have to pay the repossession costs (of likely hundreds of dollars) plus bring the account fully current. If you’re not current on insurance you’ll also have to pay to reinstate it.

Even all that may not be enough. If your lender still doesn’t want to cooperate, it may be able to avoid giving back your vehicle.  Whether or not it can be forced to depends on how your local bankruptcy court interprets the law.

Filing Chapter 13 is much more likely to be effective. That’s because it provides a legal mechanism for you to catch up on the back payments over a much longer period of time. This is done through monthly payments in your court-approved Chapter 13 plan. You will still likely have to pay the repossession costs up front. Plus you’ll have to be current on insurance. Then if your plan shows that you’ll catch up on the back payments, most lenders will voluntarily return your vehicle. If not, the bankruptcy court would likely order the lender to do so.

 

Be Cautious about Reaffirming a Debt

December 22nd, 2017 at 8:00 am

Reaffirming a debt, including a vehicle loan, can be a very sensible choice. But be fully aware of the risks and possible other options. 

 

Last time we introduced reaffirmation agreements as a good way to keep collateral like a vehicle under Chapter 7. Essentially, you get to keep the vehicle or other collateral in return for agreeing to remain liable on the debt. Plus this enables you to put positive information on your credit report as you make each monthly payment.

But reaffirming a debt comes with risks. You need to be clear about those risks as you consider whether to sign a reaffirmation agreement.

We’ll focus again today on vehicle loan reaffirmations because they are common, and a handy way to explain the issues.

Passing up Your One Opportunity to Escape the Debt

Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” gives you the near-lifetime opportunity to get out from under your debts. Don’t pass up on this opportunity as to any of your debts unless you do so with your eyes wide open.

Be especially careful with relatively large debts, such as a car or truck loan.

Are you are simply assuming that you want your present vehicle and its debt, without seriously considering other alternatives?  Stop and think about whether you have ANY alternatives. Do you have a friend or relative who’d sell (or maybe even give) you another, cheaper, but reasonably reliable vehicle? Does public or other alternate transportation make sense considering how much money you’d save, on monthly payments AND the other many costs of vehicle ownership? What other transportation could you get with the money you’d save without a vehicle payment and the other costs?

Sometimes it absolutely makes sense to get rid of all of your other debts and just reaffirm one. But think long and hard about whether it might be better for you—on the short run and long—to not reaffirm and thus get rid of ALL your debts.

Reaffirmation Risk

The big risk when you reaffirm a debt is having to pay it later when you wished you didn’t. 

Circumstances change. In the context of a vehicle loan, you might not be able to afford the payments like you expected. The vehicle may cost lots more in repairs. A much less expensive vehicle may come your way and you wish you weren’t stuck with the reaffirmed one.  Your job or other life circumstances may change so you don’t need the vehicle so much.

If your vehicle gets repossessed at some point after you’ve reaffirmed the debt you’ll very likely owe a substantial balance. That’s because the creditor will likely sell the repossessed vehicle at an auto auction for very little proceeds. It will apply those modest sale proceeds to the debt, but after likely adding large fees related to the repossession. The creditor will then demand payment of this “deficiency balance” in a lump sum. If you don’t pay it quickly vehicle creditors usually don’t hesitate to sue for that balance.

So after having gone through bankruptcy months or years later you end up with a new serious debt problem. You’d also significantly hurt your credit record just when you’d hoped to make progress after your bankruptcy filing.

Avoiding this Risk

Of course you can avoid this risk by surrendering your vehicle or other collateral and not reaffirming the debt. Any potential deficiency balance or other obligation would then be discharged—permanently written off. This would happen within 3 or 4 months after your bankruptcy filing, and you’d be completely free of the debt.

You MIGHT be able to keep the collateral WITHOUT reaffirming the debt. In SOME circumstances you could just keep current on the payments, fulfill any other obligations on the debt (such as maintaining the required insurance on the vehicle), but NOT enter into a reaffirmation agreement. Under some state laws the creditor could not or would not repossess the vehicle. Then if your circumstances later changed you could surrender the vehicle without owing anything. Because you had not reaffirmed the debt the creditor would only have rights to the collateral itself. It would have no further rights on the debt, including to any deficiency balance.

Talk with your bankruptcy lawyer about whether this “pass-through” option is available on your vehicle or other secured loan. It depends on your state’s laws, the practices of your lender, and sometimes your specific circumstances.

Choosing to Accept the Risk

Reaffirming a debt may be completely sensible. If you definitely need or even strongly want your vehicle (or other collateral), can afford both the monthly payment and other costs of ownership, can do so long-term, reaffirming the debt can be a prudent choice. Just do it only after getting fully informed of the risks and seriously considering the alternatives.

 

Chapter 7 Buys Time to Change to Another Vehicle

November 8th, 2017 at 8:00 am

Filing a Chapter 7 case stops repossession of your vehicle temporarily. If you are getting another vehicle, that can be valuable time. 

 

A week ago we went through a list of ways Chapter 7 buys you time with your vehicle lender. Included was that it “gains you some time to get another vehicle before surrendering your present one.” We’ll show you how this works.

Transitioning to Another Vehicle

The two different types of consumer bankruptcy give you a number of ways to keep a vehicle that you’re having a hard time making the payment on.

Chapter 7 stops a repossession if you’re behind on payments or insurance. It discharges all or most of your other debts so that you can better afford your vehicle payments. This can also help you afford insurance, vehicle repairs and maintenance, and the other costs of ownership. If you’re a little behind on payments it gives you a month or two to catch up.

Chapter 13 does most of these and more. If you’re behind on payments you get many months to catch up. You can fit that in with other urgent debts—such as child/spousal support and income taxes—on  a flexible schedule. If you qualify for “cramdown” you can even lower your monthly payment and significantly reduce the total you pay for the vehicle before it’s yours free and clear.

But what if AFTER getting well informed about these options you still want to surrender your vehicle and get another one? Real life situations in which this might happen include:

  • You’ve learned that the vehicle you’re paying for is a lemon, unreliable, and will cost too much to keep repaired.
  • Your life circumstances have changed and you don’t want or need a vehicle that’s so expensive.
  • You simply have a way to get another cheaper vehicle, and need to get out of your vehicle loan obligation.

Buying Time by Stopping a Repossession

If you behind on your vehicle loan at all, your vehicle is at risk of repossession. How fast your lender will repossess depends on its policies and on the history of your relationship. Usually you have to be a full month late, sometimes even two months. But you can’t assume this—it can happen whenever you are behind.

If you let the vehicle’s insurance lapse—even without being late on loan payments—that’s separate grounds for repossession. Lenders can be very aggressive about this, because they risk losing their entire collateral. And you are showing yourself to be irresponsible in their eyes.

In these situations your Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing will not buy you much time, but the time it buys could be extremely helpful. A repossession is often very, very disruptive. One minute you have your car or truck and the next it’s gone. You have no transportation to work and to everywhere else you need to go. Preventing that huge disruptive surprise is a big benefit.

Buying Time Even If You’re Current

Even if you’re not behind on vehicle loan payments or insurance, Chapter 7 gives you an orderly process for surrendering your vehicle.

It also gives you a chance to calmly consider whether you should or shouldn’t keep your vehicle and its debt. You sit down with a bankruptcy lawyer who has only one job: to help you decide what is best for you and your future. You look at what your budget will look like after filing the Chapter 7 case. You think about whether there’s room for that vehicle payment. You have a bit of time to figure out whether and how you could get ahold of replacement transportation.

Procedure and Timing

Whether you’re current or behind, how much time will filing Chapter 7 buy? Partly it depends on the aggressiveness of your lender, especially if you’re behind.

In every Chapter 7 case you have to specifically state what you intend to do with collateral on all secured debts. You do so with a document called a “Statement of Intention.” This is usually filed at the bankruptcy court along with the rest of your Chapter 7 documents. But for tactical or other reasons it can be filed later. The document itself states:

You must file this form with the court within 30 days after you file your bankruptcy petition or by the date set for the meeting of creditors, whichever is earlier, unless the court extends the time for cause. You must also send copies to the creditors and lessors you list on the form.

(See also Section 521(a)(2) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code about this.)

On the Statement of Intention you declare, under penalty of perjury, your “intention about any property… that secures a debt…  .” You declare whether you want surrender or retain the vehicle. If you want to retain it you say whether you want to redeem the vehicle or reaffirm the debt. (These two options are discussed in recent blog posts.)

Practically speaking you usually have to surrender your vehicle between about 30 and 45 days after your Chapter 7 filing. If your lender is unusually lax you may get a little more time than that.

The Surrender Itself

Arrangements for the surrender itself are made between your lawyer and the lender or its lawyer. The surrender is almost always done in a way that’s convenient to you. Usually you either drive the vehicle to an agreed location or give the keys to the lender whose representative picks up the vehicle from wherever you agree to leave it.  This in infinitely better than a repossession. 

 

Many Ways to Buy Time for Your Vehicle and Home through Chapter 7

November 1st, 2017 at 7:00 am

Chapter 7 buys you the crucial time you need in many situations when falling behind in your obligations related to your vehicle or your home.

 

In the last several weeks of blog posts we’ve given many examples of how bankruptcy can buy you time for your vehicle and for your home. Here’s a summary how a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” can do so.

1. Chapter 7 Buys Time for Your Vehicle

  • Stops your vehicle from being repossessed, at least temporarily
  • Gives you a some limited amount of time to catch up if you’re behind on payments
  • Gives a very limited time to reinstate required vehicle insurance
  • Gains you some time to get another vehicle before surrendering your present one
  • Buys time to gather funds to redeem your vehicle for less than you owe on it
  • Buys time to enter into a redemption loan to lower your debt on the vehicle

2. Chapter 7 Buys Time for Your Home

  • Stops your immediate home foreclosure sale, at least temporarily
  • Gives you limited time to catch up on your mortgage through a lump sum payment or in monthly “forbearance” payments
  • A delay in foreclosure usually gives you a few more months to sell your home
  • This delay can give you time to surrender your home while saving up for moving expenses
  • Stops  a lawsuit from turning into a judgment lien, creating a debt that can’t be discharged written off in bankruptcy
  • Stops an income tax lien recording on your home’s title, potentially turning that tax into one that can’t be written off

 

Reducing the Cost of Your Vehicle Loan through Cramdown

July 28th, 2017 at 7:00 am

Chapter 13 vehicle loan cramdown solves a number of serious practical problems that even Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” can’t.

 

Chapter 13 REALLY Helps with Vehicle Loans

If you want to keep a vehicle with a debt against it, Chapter 13 can really help.

It’s almost as if the more worse off you are with this kind of debt, the more Chapter 13 can help:

  • If you’re behind on payments, you’ll be given a long time to catch up, and may not even need to
  • If the car or truck is not worth as much as you owe, “cramdown” can lower your monthly payments, the interest rate, and reduce the total amount you pay for it
  • If you fall behind later, you’re protected from repossession

Chapter 13 also generally allows you to favor your vehicle loan above most other debts.

Today we’ll show you how this works with a hypothetical example.

The Facts

Emily got laid off and it took her a couple months to find another job, which she just started. She’s now a few days away from being 2 months late on her vehicle loan. She absolutely needs her vehicle to get to and from her new job. She has no way to get a reliable replacement vehicle.

Her first paycheck doesn’t arrive for 2 weeks, and she has to use it to pay rent, utilities, and groceries. Her car payments are $450 per month, so she’s about to be $900 behind. Emily has absolutely no savings, nothing worth selling to raise money, and no one to borrow from. She knows her car’s on the brink of being repossessed, but sees no way to catch up. She’s really scared.

She owes $13,500 on her car, which is worth only $8,000. It’s a relatively high interest loan, because her credit was not great when she bought the car. She wishes the monthly payments weren’t so large.

Emily also owes $80,000 in a combination of credit cards and medical bills, most of which are past due.

So she goes to see a bankruptcy lawyer to see if she has any sensible options.

Chapter 7’s Shortcomings Here

The lawyer tells Emily that a Chapter 7 case would very likely discharge—permanently write off—her $80,000 in other debts. But it wouldn’t provide much concrete help with the vehicle loan.

She could surrender the car to her lender, and she’d owe nothing. But she’s committed to keeping the car. To do so in a Chapter 7 case she’d have to “reaffirm” the debt—agree to remain liable on it.

The immediate problem with that is that Emily would have to catch up on the late payments. And do so pretty fast—within a month or two after filing her bankruptcy case. Even after not having to pay her other debts, she just doesn’t have the cash flow to scrape together the money that fast.

The other problem is that reaffirming the car loan would be risky for Emily. The payments are too high for her. She owes substantially more than it’s worth. If a year or two down the line she couldn’t make the payments and the car would get repossessed, she would almost for sure still owe a lot to the vehicle lender. She’d owe the balance owed at the time minus whatever the lender would sell the car for at an auto auction. So Emily would have no car but would still owe a substantial debt.

The Chapter 13 Solution

Emily’s lawyer advises her to file a Chapter 13 case instead. Because the car is worth less than its debt, she can do a “cramdown” on the loan. As a result:

  • She doesn’t have to catch up on the missed payments at all.
  • The loan is effectively rewritten based on the value of the car at the time, $8,000.
  • Her monthly payment is reduced from $450 to $295.
  • The interest rate is reduced.
  • The unsecured part of the debt—$13,500 minus the $8,000 car value, or $5,500—is lumped in with the $80,000 of credit card and medical debts, and Emily pays these “general unsecured” debts only to the extent that her budget allows. Whatever remains unpaid at the end of the Chapter 13 case is discharged, written off.

So, Chapter 13 solved all of Emily’s concerns: she avoids repossession, gets to keep her car without having to come up with the missed payments, and reduces both the monthly payments and the total paid for the vehicle before it’s hers free and clear.

 

Surrendering Your Vehicle in a Chapter 7 Case

July 14th, 2017 at 7:00 am

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.  

 

Keeping Your Vehicle by Reaffirming the Vehicle Loan

July 12th, 2017 at 7:00 am

In a Chapter 7 case you “reaffirm” your vehicle loan if you want to keep your vehicle. This means you keep paying it.

 

Most debts that you owe are discharged in a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy.” That means that they are legally, permanently written off.

That includes your vehicle loan. But with a vehicle loan the lender has a lien on your vehicle. So if you don’t pay on it the lender has a right to take your vehicle. A Chapter 7 filing would usually just delay that by a few weeks.

So if you want to keep your vehicle, you have to voluntarily exclude the vehicle loan from the discharge of debts. You have to agree to reaffirm the debt.

The term makes sense. You originally agreed to pay the vehicle loan when you bought the vehicle. Then you file the bankruptcy case in which that loan would be discharged. But instead you reaffirm the loan obligation, saying you want to owe it after all, by excluding it from the discharge.

The Reaffirmation Agreement

A reaffirmation agreement is the document through which you exclude your vehicle loan from the debt discharge. It’s generally prepared by your vehicle lender and sent to your bankruptcy lawyer. You review it with him or her, if you agree you sign it, and then it’s filed at the bankruptcy court. The reaffirmation agreement must be filed at court before the court grants the discharge of debts, and it must meet some other conditions. See Section 524(c) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

You Are Not Required to Reaffirm the Vehicle Loan

It’s crucial to understand that you do not have to reaffirm the debt. Bankruptcy gives you a one-time opportunity to get out of a bad vehicle purchase. It gives you the opportunity to owe nothing on the contract, if you so choose, for whatever reason. The vehicle may have turned out not be reliable. You may not be able to afford its monthly payments and other costs. You may owe more than the vehicle is worth.

So instead of reaffirming the vehicle loan, you have the unique opportunity to surrender the vehicle and discharge whatever remaining debt there would be.

Most of the time when you surrendered a vehicle you would still owe the creditor thousands of dollars. This is called the deficiency balance—the amount of debt you owe, plus usually substantial fees, minus a credit for the proceeds of the sale of your sold vehicle. Think seriously about taking advantage of the option of surrendering your vehicle and then owing nothing.

The Risk of Repossession if You Reaffirm

If you reaffirm a vehicle loan and then later can’t make the payments, your vehicle will get repossessed. And then you’ll likely owe a deficiency balance. That’s because the reaffirmation agreement reinstates all of the lender’s rights. That’s another reason to consider very seriously, and discuss with your lawyer, about whether it’s truly wise to keep the vehicle and reaffirm the loan.

 

Escaping a Vehicle Lease in Chapter 13

February 3rd, 2017 at 8:00 am

Getting out of a vehicle lease by “rejecting” it in Chapter 13 isn’t quite as quick as in Chapter 7 but has about the same practical effect.

 

Getting out of Your Lease in Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13

Two days ago we discussed how a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” gets you out of a car or truck lease. It discharges (permanently writes off) whatever debt you’d have from surrendering that car or truck.

When you get out of a vehicle lease you often owe money to the lessor; sometimes a lot of money. That can be true whether you break the lease early or get to the end. Either way you could owe the lessor thousands of dollars in contractual fees.

Once you’ve decided that you need to file bankruptcy, and that you want to get out of the vehicle lease, as long as you qualify for Chapter 7 and it’s the best option overall, you can almost always discharge all the debts arising from the lease. A Chapter 7 case is likely the easiest and quickest option.

But for many reasons a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case may be the better way to go.

First, you may not qualify for Chapter 7 based on your income and expenses under the “means” test.

Second, more likely you’re filing under Chapter 13 because it’s simply be the better option. It gives you tools to meet important financial goals, tools unavailable under Chapter 7.  You can often protect an asset that would be at risk of being taken by a Chapter 7 trustee. Chapter 13 provides numerous ways to preserve precious collateral on your secured debts, such as your home or vehicle (beyond the leased one). Sometimes you can keep your home/vehicle while paying less than you’d pay under Chapter 7. Chapter 13 can also protect you while you catch up on child or spousal support arrearage, or on income taxes. You pay or catch up on these special debts while making payments based on your realistic budget.  These are just some of the good reasons to file a Chapter 13 case, unrelated to your vehicle lease.

The Chapter 13 Option

Whether you’re filing a Chapter 13 case because you don’t qualify under Chapter 7 or because Chapter 13 is better all around, you can surrender your leased vehicle and discharge the debt. Discharging—legally writing off—that debt is not as straightforward as under Chapter 7. But it almost always leaves you with the same result. You would owe nothing at all on the vehicle lease once your bankruptcy case is finished.

“Rejecting” Your Vehicle Lease

Under Chapter 13 you can either “assume” (continue with) the lease or “reject” it and return the vehicle. Two blog posts we explained how to “assume” your lease and keep your leased vehicle.

But to instead get out of your lease through your bankruptcy lawyer you simply state in your Chapter 13 that you are “rejecting” the lease. Arrangements are made to return the vehicle to the lessor.  You don’t make any more monthly lease payments, and if you’re behind you don’t have to catch up.

Whatever you owe on the contract—which may be a substantial amount—is then treated as a “general unsecured” debt.

Treatment of “General Unsecured” Debts

Debts are either “secured,” “priority,” or “general unsecured.” Your remaining lease debt fits in the third category. It is “unsecured” in that it’s no long secured by anything since you’ve surrendered the vehicle. It’s “general” in that it’s not a “priority” debt, which are favored ones (like child support and certain income taxes).

Your lessor would likely file a “proof of claim” with the bankruptcy court. That’s a statement asserting how much you contractually owe on the lease. Assuming it’s accurate and you don’t object to it, its amount is lumped in with all your other “general unsecured” debts.

In your Chapter 13 plan, usually you pay all or most of your secured and “priority” debts. But that’s very seldom true for the “general unsecured” ones. How much, if any, you pay on this category of debts depends on a lot of factors. Mostly it depends on your income and expenses, how much you have in secured and “priority” debts, and what, if anything, is left over for “general unsecured” debts in the period of time you’re in the Chapter 13 case.

Often the Lease Debt Has No Financial Effect

In many situations the existence of the lease surrender debt does not increase what you pay into your Chapter 13 payment plan.

How could that be? It happens in two circumstances, one less common, the other much more so.

1. You may be allowed to pay nothing at all to your “general unsecured” debts, a “0% plan.” This happens when all of your available “disposable income” during your 3-to-5-year Chapter 13 case get paid on secured debts (such as a home mortgage, or vehicle or furniture loans) and/or “priority” debts (such as income taxes and child or spousal support arrearage). If you pay 0% of your “general unsecured” debts, that means that you’re paying 0% of your vehicle lease debt.

2. The more common Chapter 13 plans are those in which you pay the “general unsecured” debts something instead of nothing, Still, the existence of the leased vehicle debt very often does not increase how much you pay into your plan. That’s because most of the time you pay a fixed amount on all of your “general unsecured” debts. That amount is essentially what your budget says you can afford to pay over the life of your case. So, as a result, adding more debt to that pool—the debt from the surrendered leased vehicle—simply reduces the money that would otherwise have gone to other “general unsecured” debts. You pay no more; the money going to the “general unsecured” debts just gets divided differently.

 

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