If an individual filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy owns an automobile, that vehicle may become the property of the bankruptcy estate used for the purpose of making creditors whole. If the car has a lean on it from the lending institution, the loan must be reaffirmed or redeemed, or the vehicle must be surrendered. If the loan is reaffirmed, the individual who took out the loan must sign a contract agreeing to continue making payments to the lender. The car loan will be unaffected by the bankruptcy, and the debt will not be discharged. An individual in bankruptcy may use the opportunity to renegotiate the terms of the loan for his or her benefit, though the new agreement must be approved by the bankruptcy court.
When an individual chooses to satisfy a car loan through redemption, that person must work with the lender to determine the current value of the automobile. The individual must pay the lender that amount, thereby settling the debt for less than its full value. If a person is not able to meet either of these sets of conditions, the car must be surrendered to the bankruptcy estate and the debt associated with it will be discharged. The creditor cannot take the car until after the bankruptcy is completed unless it files a motion with the court to repossess the vehicle earlier.
If there is no loan on the car, a bankruptcy petitioner still has options available. Both federal and state rules allow individuals to exempt personal possessions and motor vehicles up to a maximum value from the bankruptcy estate. If a bankruptcy petitioner is able to declare the entire value off the car as exempt or if the non-exempt value is negligible, the bankruptcy trustee will allow the petitioner to keep the car. If an automobile in bankruptcy is worth significantly more than the amount allowed by the exemption, the petitioner may pay the trustee the balance between the value of the car and the exempt portion. Althernatively, the petitioner may surrender the automobile to the bankruptcy trustee who will sell it and return the exempt portion to the petitioner. In any case, the petitioner has the right to decide what should happen to his or her car.