One of the most common fears of people considering a bankruptcy filing is that they will lose their car. For many of my clients, this is absolutely not an option, as they need their car to get to work, pick up their kids, and run errands.
Well, good news... as long as you can afford to keep it, you will NOT lose your car! The bankruptcy code recognizes the importance of cars in everyday life, and has accounted for it. You can absolutely file bankruptcy AND keep your car.
First, Federal bankruptcy exemption law provide an exemption of $3,675.00 for each bankruptcy filer (both husband and wife in a joint filing). This protects the value in your car(s) from creditors you owe money to. If property is exempt, they can't touch it. Now, there is a very good possibility your car is worth more than $3,675.00; however, the exemption need only be used towards the equity you have in the car. Equity is the value of the car MINUS what you owe. This amount is often less than the exemption amount, as cars lose value very quickly. In addition, there is an additional "wild card" exemption that normally covers any equity above the $3,675.00 limit.
Chapter 13 bankruptcy will even allow you to keep a car that you are behind payments on. You can catch up significant arrears through a 3-5 year Chapter 13 plan, and it is quite often used to help individuals who fell behind on a car payment due to temporary loss of job or other financial issue. The arrears are caught up over the course of the plan, with is normally quite affordable, while allowing continuing use of the car.
I did mention earlier that you can only keep a car you can "afford". There are some limitations on keeping your car in bankruptcy. The greatest limitation involves Chapter 7 and delinquent car payments. You can NOT keep a car you are behind payments on in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. I will often advise clients who qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, yet owe back payments on a car, to catch up with the payment before filing the Chapter 7. If this is not possible, we will consider filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy reorganization. Either way, I always tell my clients I am not in the business of having them lose their car... if there is a way to keep your car (no matter how desperate your situation), I will figure it out.
All this being said, through the exemption rules and general policy, bankruptcy law is designed for you to keep your car. People often erroneously believe they will lose their car, and refuse to consider a bankruptcy that could be hugely beneficial. Don't let this misplaced belief limit your financial options.
Contact us if you are having issue with a car payment or wish to discuss your financial issues in a free consultation.