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Monday, April 18, 2016

Do I Need to Reaffirm my Car Loan if I File Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in Connecticut?

       In 2005 in an attempt to favor auto loan lenders Section 362 of  the bankruptcy code was amended to make redemption or reaffirmation of auto loans a necessary requirement for debtors filing Chapter 7 for those debtors that want to retain their cars. Suffice it to say redemption which means payment in full of the auto loan at time of filing is not a realistic option so the focus of this post is on the reaffirmation requirement. Before this amendment the preferred and common approach to auto loans for cars intended to be kept post-filing was the retain and pay approach. In order to discuss this approach I need to first make the distinction between the effect of the discharge of a secured debt versus an unsecured debt. It is relatively easy to understand the discharge of an unsecured debt like a credit card. Upon the successful completion of the Chapter 7 the debtor's obligation to pay this credit card debt is terminated. For a secured debt like a car loan it is not as simple to understand. It is true that the actual debt is discharged, but the security agreement survives the bankruptcy requiring the debtor to continue to pay the monthly payment in order to keep the car. If the debtor takes the retain and pay approach without reaffirmation they continue to pay, but can stop paying at any time and surrender the car without any deficiency due. This is clearly the preferred approach in most cases where debtors' budgets are tight if not negative at  the time of filing and the fact that cars generally after a few years depreciate quickly resulting in loan balances in excess of these cars' values. This is especially the case with debtors who have high interest rate car loans when they file bankruptcy which is quite common. Reaffirmation of an auto loan leaves the debtor in the same position prior to filing with the auto loan debt not discharged and reported on their credit report. In order to reaffirm under the current code the auto loan payment cannot impose an undue hardship on the debtor. In other words the debtor's budget must show they can afford it at time of filing and debtor's bankruptcy counsel must affirm this fact with the filing of the reaffirmation agreement for court approval. Herein lies the problem of this requirement as indicated above many debtors' budgets do not show they can afford their car payments not to mention the fact many of their cars are not worth what they owe. They're not eligible to reaffirm due to the code's hardship requirement. Also it is clearly not in their best interests anyways to reaffirm a debt on a car that is currently underwater. In Connecticut as well as other states throughout the country this placed debtors in a very difficult position since in almost all cases debtors at the time of filing do not want to surrender their cars that they need to get to work and live their lives. Despite the fact their budgets may show they may not be able to afford their auto loans they do what they have to do to keep their cars.
       I am pleased to tell Connecticut debtors that our legislature enacted a solution to the problem created by the 2005 amendment to Section 362 of the Bankruptcy Code which allows debtors to continue to use the preferred retain and pay approach and still keep their cars. In 2009  the Connecticut legislature repealed and replaced Section 36a-785 of the Connecticut General Statutes with a provision that specifically states the filing of bankruptcy in itself does not constitute a default under the terms of an auto loan security agreement. The practical effect of this new statute was that car loan lenders could not refuse to continue to receive loan payments from Chapter 7 debtors despite the fact they did not reaffirm their car loans. Therefore, the loans that are being paid are not in default and auto loan lenders are not able to take any action to repossess these vehicles. This change essentially restored the right to retain and pay without reaffirmation for Connecticut Chapter 7 debtors and was accepted by auto loan lenders once they were educated by debtors' attorneys like myself as to this new Connecticut statute. In conclusion, the answer to the question posed as the title to this post is no! Furthermore, when considering reaffirmation of a car loan where you may have equity in your car you need to review in depth with your attorney the advantages and disadvantages before going forward with reaffirmation.