The housing crisis has led to plenty of attention for homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages – that is, who owe more on their homes than the properties’ current value. Less press time has been devoted to other types of underwater loans, particularly those for cars.
Underwater Car Loans in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
Those who file Chapter 7 bankruptcy may handle an underwater car loan in one of three ways:
- Surrender the car. This option means giving up the vehicle and eliminating the debt connected to it. While this isn’t a practical option for those who need a vehicle, it may be useful for folks who have other transportation options.
- Redeem the car. This option lets filers repay creditors the remainder of the car’s fair market value in a lump sum. In other words, you pay your lender the car’s current value minus whatever amount you’ve already paid. This tends to benefit those with underwater loans and enough cash on hand.
- Renew the loan. This choice may work for those who do not have the cash to redeem their cars and who need them for transportation. Loan renewal equals an agreement to continue making payments as outlined in the original loan papers. Chapter 7 bankruptcy may make these more manageable by discharging other debts and thus freeing up enough money to allow for car payments.
Underwater Car Loans in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy
The other common form of personal bankruptcy, Chapter 13 requires filers to make monthly payments to their creditors over a three- to five-year period. In Chapter 13, car loans:
- Older than 910 days may be eligible for “cramming down.” This requires filers to continue making car payments, but only for the vehicle’s fair market value (not for the entire loan amount).
- Less than 910 days old generally require full repayment. However, some Chapter 13 filers are able to repay their car loans at lower interest rates than those outlined in their original loan agreements.
Determining a Car’s Real Value
If you plan on including an underwater car loan in your bankruptcy filing, it’s important to make sure you understand how car values are assessed for the court’s purposes. You have to provide a value for your car as part of your bankruptcy petition and you must swear to the accuracy of that value as part of your case.