Debtors Not Allowed to Retain If Current

by Beth Ann Schenz, Esq.

Most creditors are familiar with the phrase, “retain and pay”.  The bankruptcy code provides for certain treatment of debt, which is secured by personal property in Chapter 7 bankruptcies.  Specifically, the bankruptcy code provides that debtors must either reaffirm the existing debt, redeem the collateral or surrender the collateral (or assume or reject the lease.)  Prior to the amendments of the bankruptcy code in 2005, most debtors opted for the unwritten fourth option, “retain and pay.” 

However the 2005 amendment, “clearly provides that the debtor shall not only file a statement of intentions but also follow through with her express intent.”  If the intent is not followed through by the debtor in the statutory number of days, the automatic stay terminates and the property is no longer property of the estate. 

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that the “retain and pay” option is no longer viable.  If a debtor opts for this unwritten alternative then the debtor will fail to meet his/her statutory obligation and the automatic stay will be terminated.  The mere termination of the automatic stay, however, is not enough to authorize the Creditor to repossess the collateral. 

In the case before the Ninth Circuit, the debtor’s failure to adhere to the code allowed for the stay’s termination.  Once the stay is terminated, the right to repossess the collateral then goes to the parties’ contract, in conjunction with state law to determine when the debtor has a default on the automobile loan and if that default allows repossession.  The debtor’s contract in the Ninth Circuit case contained an ipso facto clause that provided a default if the debtor filed for bankruptcy.

There is a bankruptcy code provision that, “generally renders unenforceable any contractual term which purports to create a default solely based on the commencement of a of a bankruptcy case.”(1)  However, the 2005 amendment overrides the provision that renders ipso facto clauses unenforceable when debtors fail to state an applicable intention and also fail to perform that intention.

Learning Points

  • Offer reaffirmation agreements (If a reaffirmation is offered but denied by the Bankruptcy Court then the creditor cannot repossess if debtors are current after bankruptcy)
  • Contracts should contain ipso facto clauses
  • Know your state law to make sure you can repossess the collateral
  • The above statutory provisions only apply to personal property

(1) Dumont v. Ford Motor Credit Company, Appellate Case No. 08-60002 (September 15, 2009 9th Cir.)

Beth Ann Schenz is an associate in the bankruptcy department located in the Brooklyn Heights office of Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co., L.P.A. She can be reached directly at 216.739.5645 or via e-mail at bschenz@weltman.com.

Please visit http://wwrbankruptcy.com for more bankruptcy news and information.

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