Article by Jonathan Ginsberg, Attorney Bankruptcy Law Network
Last year, a potential client called me to say that her automobile had been repossessed and that she needed help. I explained that one option would be to file a Chapter 13, then a Complaint about Turnover as a means to get the vehicle back.
We would argue to the bankruptcy judge that my client’s vehicle was necessary for her to fulfill the terms of her plan, and thus the judge should order the lender to “turn over” the vehicle immediately.
In this case, however, I felt that Chapter 13 might be premature. Instead, I called the lender’s customer service number and after being transferred from department to department, I finally spoke to someone in the default department. I explained that I was an attorney who was prepared to file Chapter 13 on behalf of my client and I suggested that everyone might be better off if the bank returned the vehicle voluntarily in exchange for my client’s payment of all missed payments + finance charges.
The default department representative agreed and within a matter of days, my client tendered certified funds for the outstanding balance and she got her car back.
Now, fast forward to this past week. My client called again, reporting that she was 3 days late in making her payment and the bank has repossessed her vehicle. Again, I called the default department to try to work out a deal, but this time, the bank’s representative would not agree to a non-bankruptcy workout. Instead, he advised me that the bank’s policy was to refuse to voluntarily return a vehicle if it had been repossessed more than one time in any 12 month period of time.
Our only choice, as a result, is to pursue Chapter 13/Complaint for the Turnover route, which hopefully will result in the return of my client’s vehicle.
What can you take away from this story? First, recognize that every bank or lending institution has its own policy about returning a repossessed vehicle voluntarily. Second, recognize that what they do the first time you fall delinquent may be very different than what they do the second time. In this case, repossession #1 did not happen until my client was more than 30 days overdue, while repossession #2 occurred when she was 3 days past due. Third, banks will sometimes negotiate, but you have to ask. Fourth, you should not jump into bankruptcy until you have eliminated all other options.
Contact an attorney that can help you through this type of situation if one should arise.
Carolyn Secor is a Clearwater bankruptcy attorney and Clearwater foreclosure attorney serving Palm Harbor, New Port Richey, Oldsmar, Tarpon Springs, Seminole, St. Petersburg, and the Tampa Bay area.