Saving the vehicle sometimes is not the best option, so Chapter 7 bankruptcy gives you a safe way out.
Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” and Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” each provide ways for you to catch up on and keep your vehicle if you’re struggling to keep up on the payments. But in spite of these options, it may simply be the best for you to surrender the vehicle and write off what you still owe along with the rest of your debts. You should hear about your options for keeping the vehicle to have your bases covered, but then sometimes for your financial and life circumstances it’s most important to retrench and get a full fresh start, with the absolute least financial burdens going forward. Surrendering your vehicle while filing a Chapter 7 case will often be the cleanest way to accomplish this.
Bankruptcy gives you a variety of options to deal with a vehicle that you’ve fallen behind on but need to keep. If you’re only a payment or two behind, under a straight Chapter 7 bankruptcy you would likely be given about two months to catch up and then thereafter keep up on the regular payments once you’ve written off the rest of your debts so that you can better afford to do so. Or if you’re further behind, a Chapter 13 payment plan would give you much longer to catch up, and if the loan is more than two and a half years old may even allow you to both make smaller monthly payments and lower the balance through a “cramdown.” Bankruptcy can usually give you a good way to keep a needed vehicle.
Understandably the focus in bankruptcy is usually on how to save your home, or vehicle, or something else of importance. But one of the advantages of bankruptcy is that it can free you from some of your assumptions. One such assumption is the usually accurate one that if you surrender a vehicle to its creditor you will continue to owe a lot of money. This is usually true because 1) vehicles tend to depreciate faster than their loan balances are paid down, 2) once they are surrendered they are usually sold at auto auctions at bargain basement prices, and 3) your account is charged all the surrender and sale costs, all of which usually leave you owing a shockingly high “deficiency balance” after the surrender. The fact that you would continue to owe a lot on a vehicle you no longer have is obviously a big disincentive to surrender it in the first place. But since a Chapter 7 bankruptcy will reliably discharge (legally write-off) any such deficiency balance, that disincentive can go out the window. You can ask plainly: is it better to hang onto this vehicle with the options that Chapter 7 and 13 provides you, or is it just better to walk away owing nothing. Bankruptcy opens you up to both sets of possibilities.