What if you really need to hang on to your car or truck, but can’t afford the monthly payments? Or if you’ve fallen behind and just can’t catch up?
“Straight bankruptcy”—Chapter 7—won’t help you here. Most of the time, you have to either quickly catch up or you lose the vehicle. And very few vehicle lenders will negotiate about the payment amount in a Chapter 7 case. With rare exceptions, it’s take it or leave it.
BUT, if you meet two conditions, you may have the option to KEEP your car or truck, NOT make up any missed payments, all while LOWER your monthly payments. This even REDUCES the total amount you must pay before the vehicle is yours free and clear.
The two conditions you must meet:
1. You got your vehicle loan at least two and a half years ago.
2. You owe more on the vehicle than it’s worth.
If so, through a Chapter 13 vehicle loan “cram-down,” we can re-write the terms of that vehicle loan. First, we can reduce the balance down to the fair market value of the vehicle. This can sometimes shave thousands of dollars off the balance. That in itself would reduce the monthly payment. But then also, depending on how many months of payments remained on the vehicle loan compared to the projected length of your Chapter 13 Plan, we may be able to stretch out the term of the loan. If so, that would lower the monthly payment even further.
An example will make this clearer. Say you were 4 years into a 6-year vehicle loan (meeting the 2-and-a-half-year condition), with a balance of $11,000 but the vehicle worth only $7,000 (meeting the owe-more-than-it’s-worth condition). Further, say the regular monthly payments were $498, with 24 months of them to go. Under a cram-down rewriting of the loan under a 3-year Chapter 13 Plan, the balance to be repaid would reduced to $7,000, and the term stretched to the 36 months of the Chapter 13 case. So now the monthly payment would be reduced to about $220, less than half the $498 regular monthly payment. Even though in this example it’s taking three years instead of two to pay it off, you’re saving close to $4,000. Plus we’re reducing the monthly payment to something much more affordable.
The difference in the balance on your vehicle loan contract and the reduced amount you would pay through your Chapter 13 Plan (the $4,000 or so in the example) would be treated as unsecured debt. It would be lumped in with the rest of your unsecured debts, and would be paid through your Plan at whatever percentage all your unsecured creditors were being paid. This can be a low percentage and sometimes even nothing. It would usually be determined by how much your budget says you can afford after living expenses.
So if your vehicle loan meets the two conditions above, you will likely be able to reduce both your monthly payment and the total amount needed to pay off your vehicle. All without having to cure any previously missed payments, and without risk of repossession as long as you fulfill the terms of your Chapter 13 Plan.