Can I Keep My Car if I file for Bankruptcy?

The law permits you to keep one vehicle whose value or equity after reducing any lien for financing is equal to $3,675.00 or less. You can determine the general value of your car by Googling NADA or Kelly’s Blue Book and checking it out there. The trustee may valuate your car differently than that amount, but it gives you a general idea as to the value. You should also reduce the value based on the number of miles driven and the condition of your vehicle. The vehicle exemption under Ohio law protects a vehicle with a value up to $3,675.00; you will be able to add onto that another exemption, called, “wild” car of up to $1,225.00.

If the equity in your car as discussed above is less than the combined exemptions listed, you will be able to keep your car. But if the equity in your is over that amount, and you still want to keep your car, then you may have to pay to the trustee the difference between the value and your exemptions. So, for example, if after your car is paid off in full from financing, it is worth $6,000.00; and you apply the car exemption of $3,675.00 and the wild card of $1,225.00, the total value of the car that will be protected totals $4,900.00. Subtract that amount from $6,000.00, the Blue Book value of your car. So in order to keep your vehicle, you will have to pay approximately $1,100.00. However, that amount may vary depending on how much the trustee has valuated your car. Usually the trustee allows installment payments to be made. If you do not pay the trustee, the trustee may file a motion in court to sell your car at an auction.

On the other hand, if your car is being financed you can also deduct the amount you owe on the note to further reduce the equity of the car. An important point to note is that you are behind in your car payments, a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy will only stall the collection proceedings temporarily, and the finance company may file a motion to repossess your car. Unless you get current on your payments before you file, the financing company may eventually repossess your vehicle, unless your Attorney works out a payment arrangement. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy on the other hand is designed to allow you to pay off the prearrange over a period of time, usually 3-5 years; in that case you would get long term relief for your car payments with a Chapter 13.

To get a better handle on what you are entitled to with respect of Ohio law and the total motor vehicle exemption ceiling, talk to an attorney proficient in bankruptcy laws and processes; this would give you a clear idea of what the status of your car before you file for bankruptcy.

The blog explains when the trustee can “take” your car and how you can avoid that. It avers that it depends on the condition of your vehicle at the time you file the bankruptcy and the exemptions that come into play to protect that value.


Attorney Eli Tamkin is a Cleveland bankruptcy lawyer.  He has been practicing law since 1989 and in Cleveland Ohio since 1994. Since then, he has dealt with a variety of legal issues, including bankruptcy, real estate, divorce, personal injury, and probate. Many times, answering questions on bankruptcy draws on knowledge of other legal areas as well. His experience in these other areas, as well as in bankruptcy enables him to address your particular needs and to offer you advice that is applicable to your situation.

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