Would you like to negotiate a reaffirmation agreement in Chapter 7 bankruptcy so you can keep secured personal property for less? Below are my tips for getting a great deal when reaffirming car loans and debts for jewelry, furniture, major appliances, and electronics.
What Is a Reaffirmation Agreement in Bankruptcy?
Most folks who file Chapter 7 bankruptcy have secured personal property debts they want to reaffirm. (Personal property is anything that is not real estate.) Secured debts are those for which you pledge an item of property to guarantee payment of the debt. If you don’t make the loan payments, the creditor can repossess the property. Common examples include car loans, and loans money you owe for the purchase of furniture, large appliances, expensive electronics, and jewelry. (Here’s a more detailed definition of what secured debts are and how they work.)
In bankruptcy, if you have a debt that is secured by personal property you must either give up the property, redeem the property (pay market value for it), or reaffirm the debt (that is, agree to be responsible for the debt even after you get the bankruptcy discharge). (Learn more about options for dealing with secured debts in bankruptcy.)
Reaffirming a debt is not to be taken lightly, so be sure you understand what it is and why you might want to do it. You can learn about the pros, cons, procedures, and reasons for making a reaffirmation agreement here.
If you decide you do want to reaffirm a debt in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you may be able to get a better deal by negotiating with the creditor. Here’s how.
Negotiating the Reaffirmation of a Car Loan
When you reaffirm a car loan in order to keep your car, you might be able to get loan terms than the ones you currently have. First, you need to know what kind of loan you have. Money you owe on a motor vehicle will fall into one of two categories: “purchase money” loan or “non-purchase money loan.” If you have a purchase money loan, you have a slim chance to get only a slightly better deal than you already have. If you have a non-purchase money loan, your chances of saving a bucket of money are quite good.
Purchase Money Car Loans
With a purchase money car loan, the debt is the original financing you obtained when you first bought the vehicle (you used the loan money to buy the car). Typical purchase money lenders include Ford Motor Credit, GMAC, Toyota Motor Credit, etc. It doesn’t matter if you bought your vehicle new or used – the loan is a purchase money loan if the vehicle was new to you, and the same, original financing is still in place.
Lenders holding a purchase money loan rarely offer you better terms in a reaffirmation agreement.
- Loans offered by vehicle manufacturers. If the lender is connected to a vehicle manufacturer like GM or Ford, I find they will not budge. You can ask, but it will probably tell you to keep the original contract terms or else surrender the vehicle.
- Major bank loans. Major banks rarely drop the amount you owe, but sometimes will agree to cut the interest rate which will, in turn, reduce your payment amount. According to recent experiences, if you have a vehicle loan with Wells Fargo Bank you stand a great chance of getting a decent reduction in the rate of interest. Other major banks may give you little or no relief.
- Loans by small banks. The smaller the bank, the better your chances are to save money (the exception being Wells Fargo).
Keep in mind with all of these lenders: It costs nothing to ask.
Non-Purchase Money Vehicle Loans
Any other vehicle loan is a non-purchase money loan. A person might take out a non-purchase money loan if he or she owns the vehicle “free and clear” (meaning the person doesn’t have a car loan). If you need fast money, you can take a loan out against your car. Typical non-purchase money lenders include companies that offer “title loans,” credit unions, small finance companies, and loan sharks.
Lenders with a non-purchase money agreement are likely to give you a good deal. This is because such loans are usually on older vehicles. The older the car and the higher the mileage, the better will be your chance to save a lot of money. It just makes sense. The lenders know they can’t sell an old car for very much money.
What to Ask For
When making an offer on a reaffirmation agreement, ask the lender to reduce the loan balance and the interest rate. Remember, this is a negotiation. You can expect the lender to come back with a counter offer. So, make your starting offer lower than the amount you are really willing to pay.
Tips for Getting What You Want
Now, here’s the inside super tip you have been waiting for. The non-purchase money lender does not want to repo your car unless you leave it with no other reasonable choice. When I negotiate, I like to tell the lender that the car is an awful mess. I say I am doing the lender a big favor by advising my client to pay something for it instead of giving it up. If my client has young kids, I tell the lender there are Cheerios jammed into all the seats, the kids have vomited or urinated on the upholstery, and that the interior does not smell “fresh as a daisy.” I remind the lender that my client will get a ton of new car offers from every new car dealer in the county as soon as the discharge is granted. And, to persuade my client to reaffirm the loan, I have to bring to my client a very good offer. I think you get the idea.
⇒⇒⇒ TIP: One more big tip: The more willing you are to surrender the item, the better deal you’ll get. This is true for cars, jewelry, and any other kind of personal property. It is especially effective on electronics and furniture, which have virtually no used resale value in the hands of a lender.)
Negotiating a Good Deal When Reaffirming Jewelry Debts
You can get great reaffirmation deals on jewelry. Did you buy your jewelry from a store in big shopping mall? If so, the $4,000 diamond you bought will probably only fetch around $500 at a pawn shop. (Don’t believe me? Take your jewelry to a pawn shop or two, and see what they offer. This will give you a starting point for negotiating with the lender.) Armed with knowledge of the street value of your jewelry, you should have no trouble getting a reaffirmation agreement for about half the amount you still owe on it.
Negotiating Reaffirmation Agreements on Furniture
To get a great reaffirmation deal on furniture, use the same negotiating tactics described above for non-purchase money car loans. The older the furniture, the cheaper you can get it for.
Would you like to keep your furniture for free? Here’s how. Tell the lender you are willing to surrender it because it’s not in good condition. (If you have kids who have beaten up your furniture, don’t be shy about revealing the details.) If you can tolerate the risk of actually losing the stuff, you will probably get to keep it. It has been decades since I have seen a lender repossess household furniture. It has no street value to the lender, and it actually will cost the lender money to haul it away. What if the lender schedules a time to pick the stuff up? Don’t panic – it doesn’t mean it actually will show up. More likely, the lender is just trying to scare you into paying for it.
Negotiating Reaffirmation Agreements on Major Appliances
Major appliances do have some street value, unlike furniture. You should expect to get your stuff for about half the amount you still owe. The older your items are, the more you will save. If you have an appliance that is more than three years old, there is a good likelihood the lender won’t ever pick it up, even if it schedules a pick-up date.
Negotiating Reaffirmation Agreements on Electronics
You can often get good reaffirmation agreements on electronics. Old computer equipment is worth nothing. However, if your items are less than one year old, the lender probably does want them.
As with other types of items though, you can take a chance and tell the lender to come pick the stuff up. The lender will tell you (or order you) to bring the electronics back to the store. Nope. Tell them “no.” Bankruptcy requires you to offer to surrender the secured item to the lender if you don’t work out a reaffirmation agreement. But it does not require you to bring the items to the lender. If the lender wants it, it has to come get it. And, like anything else, it costs the lender money to come to your home and haul the item away. Chances are, the lender won’t show up — unless you recently bought the items.
by Leon Bayer
Leon Bayer is a Los Angeles bankruptcy attorney. He is a partner at Bayer, Wishman & Leotta, a California law firm specializing in bankruptcy. The opinions and advice in this blog post are from Mr. Bayer alone, and should not be attributed to Nolo. By answering a question on this blog, Mr. Bayer does not become your lawyer.