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The reaffirmation agreement and keeping your car after bankruptcy.

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Despite the rumors, stigmas and innuendo, there are a number of things you can keep after filing bankruptcy. Your car, for example, is something that you may be able to keep, provided your debt issues running up to your bankruptcy did not result in a repossession and the equity in your car can be protected with available exemptions.

If you were financing (purchasing) a car when you filed Chapter 7 but did not plan to surrender the vehicle in your bankruptcy, and you continued to keep current on the debt through filing your case and afterwards, you will need to fill out and sign something called a "reaffirmation agreement." This legal document certifies that you will agree to repay all or a portion of that particular auto loan debt since it would otherwise be discharged along with your other debt. Confusing? A little.

Basically, the reaffirmation says that you agree to re-assume the balance still owed on your vehicle.  The reaffirmation is necessary because most auto financing contracts have a clause that enables the creditor to repossess the vehicle because filing for bankruptcy is considered a default on your loan.  Reaffirmation stops the creditor from asking the court to lift the automatic stay in order to repossess your vehicle prior to your discharge in bankruptcy.

Granted, it seems odd that in the midst of filing bankruptcy that you would want to keep some of your debt, but there are a few good reasons, especially when it comes to you car. Primarily, you may need it to get to your job. Sure, public transportation is cheaper but what if you drive a lot for your job? Sales professionals, consultants and real estate agents often need a personal vehicle as much as an accountant needs a calculator. Construction professionals often conduct all of their business out of their truck and need it to visit sites and haul equipment. So, the affirmation agreement allows you to keep the collateral that secures the specific debt you want to keep.

However, reaffirmation is not always a beneficial process. Some lenders get pretty huffy about it. It's possible that even though you move forward with your payments, they won't be reported to the credit agencies. Plus, you walk quite a tight rope with the lender.  Fail to make a payment, and that car may end up repossessed before you can get your favorite CD out of the player.  In addition, the creditor almost always has the upper hand in proposing the terms of the reaffirmation agreement.  There is no real negotiation of the terms between the creditor and the debtor, and often creditors demand payment at the original contract terms when the loan balance may far exceed the present value of the vehicle.  The debtor often feels they have no choice but to agree to the creditor's terms.

One reason to reaffirm a car loan or lease is to help your credit standing with that particular lender. It demonstrates a tremendous amount of good faith on your part to move forward with your obligations with a particular lender who down the road may be much more willing to extend you another loan. Keep in mind that this doesn't mean you should jump at the first chance to get a new car or accept credit from that particular lender. The fact is you filed bankruptcy. Thus, you are still not going to get the same type of loan terms as someone who hasn't, despite your reaffirmation.

Ultimately, after your complete and sign the reaffirmation agreement, the court must also decide if the reaffirmation would result in an undue hardship and that it's in your best interest to reaffirm the debt.

In the Bankruptcy Court in the Eastern District of North Carolina, which includes the cities of Raleigh, Wilson and Fayetteville, the court sometimes will disapprove reaffirmation agreements on the basis that reaffirming the debt would impose an undue hardship on the debtor.  Often, even though the debtor has remained current up to the point of the reaffirmation hearing in court, the debtor really can barely afford to maintain the monthly vehicle payment, and has often squeezed his/her budget to great extremes just to make the car payment.  Under these circumstances, if the debtor and the debtor's attorney can demonstrate undue hardship to the court, the judge will often allow the debtor to keep the car and continue to pay for it as long as they can afford to do so, and allow the underlying balance of the loan to be discharged with the rest of their debt.  Under this scenario, if something unfortunate were to befall the debtor or the debtor's vehicle, they would be able to surrender the car to the lender with no consequences.  However, if the court approves the reaffirmation agreement, based upon a finding that the reaffirmation is NOT an undue hardship - that the debtor can afford the liability on the full balance of the auto loan, the debtor will be able to keep the vehicle and continue to make payments, but would owe a deficiency to the creditor if the car were repossessed, damaged, or otherwise surrendered to the creditor.  This is because the creditor sells the vehicle, usually at auction, for a price that is less than what is owed on it.  Whatever the difference between the balance owed on your auto loan and the amount the creditor gets when they sell your repossessed vehicle is called the deficiency.

Navigating the reaffirmation process requires a skilled bankruptcy attorney.  The Law Offices of John T. Orcutt offers FREE initial consultations to North Carolinians living in the Raleigh, Durham, Wilson, Rocky Mount, Fayetteville and Lumberton areas.  Call 1-888-234-4181 to schedule your free consultation now.  One of their experienced bankruptcy attorneys will review your information to decide whether bankruptcy is the right option for  you.

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