Unexpected Benefit: Vehicle Loan Cramdown, Illustrated

Wasson and ThornhillVehicles & Bankruptcy

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Chapter 13 can often give you the ability to reduce both your monthly payment and the total you pay on your vehicle loan. Here’s how it works.

 

Cramdown in Chapter 13

Last week we introduced cramdown as an extremely helpful tool for reducing the cost of your vehicle loan. Cramdown can often:

  1. Reduce your monthly payments—sometimes significantly.
  2. Reduce the amount you pay on your vehicle contract altogether—often by thousands of dollars.
  3. Excuse you from catching up on any back payments on your vehicle.

Here’s an example to illustrate just how good cramdown can be.

The Facts in Our Example

Assume you are making payments on a 2015 Ford Fusion SE that you bought new more than three years ago. You bought it from a dealer for $27,000. After adding the various fees and taxes, and subtracting your modest down payment, you financed $27,000. Because your credit was iffy your loan was at the high interest rate of 8.9% on a 84-month loan.

The monthly payment of $433 has been tough to keep up on. You’re now a month late and your next payment is due in a week. You know that you’re close to getting your vehicle repossessed.

After 34 monthly payments of $433 you’d normally owe about $18,000 but with a bunch of late fees and other charges you owe around $19,000. Your vehicle is currently worth $13,000, with 55,000 miles (average for a 2015 vehicle).

Under Chapter 7 “Straight Bankruptcy”

If you filed a Chapter 7 case you’d basically have a choice between keeping the car with its present loan terms or surrendering it and writing off the loan.

Assuming that you absolutely need the transportation, you’d have to “reaffirm” the loan. That means that you’d have to catch up on the missed payments and agree to keep it current. You’d be stuck with the current monthly payment amount. You’d be stuck with the high interest rate (costing you more than $9,000 over the length of the contract). If you ever failed to keep current and the vehicle got repossessed, you’d likely owe a large “deficiency balance.” And your vehicle would be gone.

Savings through Cramdown

In contrast, under Chapter 13 cramdown both your monthly payment and the total amount paid would be reduced.

In our example, you and your Louisville bankruptcy lawyer reduce the monthly payment as follows. The $19,000 balance on the contract gets divided into the secured and unsecured portions.

The secured portion is based on the current value of the vehicle: $13,000. You have 3 to 5 years to pay that amount. Depending on all the circumstances you should be able to reduce the interest rate—assume down to 4%. $13,000 amortized at 4% over the maximum 60 months works out to only about $239 per month.

What about the Unsecured Part of the Vehicle Loan?

What happens to the remaining unsecured portion in the amount of $6,000? (That’s the $19,000 current loan balance minus the above $13,000 secured portion.) It gets lumped into the pool of your other “general unsecured” debts. So what happens to that $6,000 debt?

It depends. In most situations you effectively pay nothing more during your Chapter 13 case as a result of this $6,000 debt. This would happen for two potential reasons.

0% Chapter 13 Plans

First, after paying allowed living expenses and higher priority debt—including the monthly $239 vehicle payments, and also recent income taxes, home mortgage and support arrearage, and such—you may have nothing left over for the general unsecured debts. Under these circumstances you’d be paying 0% on these debts during your Chapter 13 payment plan. Then at the end of the 3-to-5-year plan those general unsecured debts would be discharged—completely written off. This would include the $6,000 unsecured part of the vehicle loan. You’d pay nothing on it (and still keep your vehicle).

Partial Payment Chapter 13 Plans

Second, you may instead have some money during your plan to pay towards your general unsecured debts. But even then, in most Chapter 13 cases the existence of the unsecured part of your vehicle loan does not increase how much you pay into your plan over the life of the plan.

Let’s add a few more facts to our example. Assume that you have $40,000 in other general unsecured debts (credit cards, medical bills, old income taxes, and such). Add the $6,000 unsecured part of your vehicle loan, for a total of $46,000 of general unsecured debts. Assume also that over the course of your Chapter 13 plan you have disposable income (after allowed expenses and higher priority debts) totaling $4,000. You pay that $4,000 over time through your monthly plan payments.

If you didn’t owe the $6,000 unsecured part of your vehicle loan, that $4,000 would result in you paying 10% of your general unsecured debts ($4,000 out of $40,000 owed). When you include the $6,000 unsecured part, the $4,000 paid would result in you paying about 8.7% of your general unsecured debts ($4,000 out of $46,000 owed). But either way you’re paying what you can afford to pay—$4,000 over the life of your case. The existence of the $6,000 unsecured part of the vehicle loan has no effect on how much you pay. What you pay just gets distributed a little differently. The other general unsecured debts get pay a little less so that the $6,000 debt receives a small part of the $4,000.

Most Plans Do Not Pay More Resulting from the Unsecured Part of the Vehicle Loan

This happens in most cases that are not 0% plans (discussed above). The only way that an unsecured part of a vehicle loan would increase the amount you pay in your plan is if you have disposable income larger than your other general unsecured debts. In the example, you’d have to have more than $40,000 of disposable income during your plan. Only then would the addition of the $6,000 unsecured part of your vehicle loan to the general unsecured pool increase what you’d pay. That situation is rare. Most people don’t have disposable income during their case larger than their non-vehicle general unsecured debts.

Qualifying for Cramdown

Remember that cramdown is only available in Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts.” Not Chapter 7. Also, to qualify the vehicle loan must be at least 910 days old (about 2 and a half years) when filing the Chapter 13 case.  And finally, cramdown is beneficial for most purposes only when the vehicle is worth less than the balance on the loan. The more it’s worth less, the greater the likely benefit of the cramdown.