Vehicles in Bankruptcy


We all love our cars and, more importantly, we need our cars. A common question for those considering bankruptcy is can I keep my car, and if I have a payment, how do I pay for it?

The answer depends on several factors.

In a Chapter 7 liquidation case, cars used for personal and household purposes are exempt from the claims of creditors — you can keep them. This exemption is usually limited to one vehicle per driving-age member of the household. Keeping the vehicle is subject to any valid financing agreements, however — there are no free cars in bankruptcy! If you choose to keep the vehicle and have a car note, you can reaffirm (retain) the debt and it will survive the bankruptcy, and you will be bound to the original terms of the note.

In a Chapter 13 case, cars are also exempt as in Chapter 7. However, a Chapter 13 payment plan can be used to pay the car note under different terms than under the original contract. If you have owned a vehicle for 910 days (two and a half years), then you can pay the value of the vehicle through your bankruptcy rather than the amount of the debt. Due to the depreciation of cars, this can be a substantial savings. In most cases we can also alter the interest rate paid to the creditor, another source of savings. Lastly, the payment itself can be stretched over a 60-month term. You can see how in Chapter 13, we can essentially “refinance” the car note to reduce your payment — and at the end of the case, you get clear title to the vehicle!

It should be pointed out that, in either type of bankruptcy, if you would like to be free from your car note, you can surrender the vehicle to the creditor and discharge (eliminate) the debt.

Lastly, note that motorcycles “count” as vehicles in all respects. If you have two driving-age members in your household and own two cars and a motorcycle, the motorcycle would typically not be an exempt asset and the creditors would be entitled to the net value of the motorcycle.

As in all legal matters, it is important that you get legal advice specific to your situation. Give us a call at your convenience to set up a free appointment to discuss your legal situation.