Is Refinancing a Car Loan After Bankruptcy Possible? Everything You Need to Know


It’s a scary word describing someone in an unenviable financial position. But it’s not exactly a rarity. In 2021, there were 413,616 bankruptcy claims.

The word “bankrupt” stems from the Italian term “banca rotta,” which translates to “broken bench.” In 16th century Italy, money dealers worked from benches and tables. If funds ran dry and they went out of business, their benches would be broken in half. Fortunately, if you file for bankruptcy, no one’s going to come smash your furniture. But there could be some repercussions.  

One immediate drawback is the extensive damage bankruptcy can do to your credit. For auto loan borrowers, that means you could have a hard time qualifying if you want to refinance your car loan— but it’s not impossible.

Whether you’re on the fence about filing or you’re in the middle of court proceedings, let’s explore bankruptcy and how to approach refinancing afterward.

What Is Bankruptcy?

Whether you’re on the fence about filing or you’re in the middle of court proceedings, let’s explore bankruptcy and how to approach refinancing afterward.

Bankruptcy can help individuals or businesses climb out of major financial holes. When borrowers can’t repay their lenders, they have the option of filing for bankruptcy in a federal court. This legal process could result in the discharge of all or a portion of your debts, essentially setting you up for a fresh start.

There are six types or “chapters” of bankruptcy:

  • Chapter 7, also known as “liquidation,” results in the sale of nonexempt property in order to repay creditors.
  • Chapter 9 is for the reorganization of municipalities, which is very rarely used (fewer than 500 times since the 1930s) and irrelevant to drivers. 
  • Chapter 11 is often referred to as “reorganization” bankruptcy. Although individuals can file for chapter 11, this is the most complex and expensive form of bankruptcy, so it’s more commonly used by businesses.
  • Chapter 12 is reserved for family farmers and fishermen with regular income.
  • Chapter 13, which is also called “a wage earner’s plan,” allows for individuals with regular incomes to set up debt repayment plans.
  • Chapter 15 is the most recent addition to the U.S. bankruptcy code. This chapter was designed for cross-border insolvency cases, so it’s rare and likely irrelevant for the typical driver.

We’ll focus on the two most applicable bankruptcy chapters for auto loan borrowers: chapter 7 and chapter 13.

An Overview of Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is also known as “liquidation.” Despite the ominous title, the goal of bankruptcy law is to protect borrowers from crippling debt and help them get back on their feet.

Once you file for chapter 7, the government will assign a trustee to your case. They’re responsible for liquidating your nonexempt assets — such as second vehicles, vacation homes, and collectibles — and repaying your creditors with the proceeds.

On the other hand, some of your property is considered exempt under federal and state laws. These definitions vary, and borrowers may have the right to leverage their state’s definition of exempt property instead of the federal definition. For instance, the U.S. Bankruptcy Code allows a filer to exempt up to $2,400 of equity interest in one vehicle, while the state of Idaho bumps that limit up to $10,000.

However, bankruptcy does not remove liens on property. So, if you have a secured loan (like a car loan), the lender will still have a security interest in the underlying asset after bankruptcy, meaning they can repossess the car if you stop making payments.

Note that chapter 7 eligibility isn’t guaranteed — you have to qualify.

Can you refinance a car during chapter 7 bankruptcy?

Generally speaking, you’ll need the court’s approval to enter a new loan agreement during bankruptcy. It’s probably not worth applying for a refinance loan during legal proceedings though.

For starters, chapter 7 bankruptcy typically lasts between three and six months. Waiting could help you avoid going through the court system. Moreover, once you file for bankruptcy, it’s public record and accessible by the major credit bureaus (e.g., Experian, TransUnion, Equifax). In all likelihood, making it difficult to find a lender. 

An Overview of Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

Chapter 13 can be a less drastic option compared to chapter 7, especially if you want to avoid liquidation. 

This type of bankruptcy enables you to set up a repayment plan for your debts, potentially at a discount. Plans are typically three to five years and effectively consolidate your payments — everything flows to the trustee, who then distributes the remitted funds to your creditors.

You may even be able to reduce your secured debts to the values of the underlying assets, a process known as a cramdown.

For instance, if your car is worth $10,000 but your loan amount is $15,000, you could cram down your obligation to $10,000 through your repayment plan. The remaining $5,000 would be lumped into the rest of your unsecured debt (like credit cards), of which the court may only mandate you to repay a portion back.

In either case, before you decide to pursue bankruptcy, it’s worth seeking legal counsel as bankruptcy cases are quite complex.

Can you refinance a car during chapter 13 bankruptcy?

Considering chapter 13 proceedings take longer, you might be wondering if you can refinance during bankruptcy.

The short answer is yes. But you face the same hurdles as before — the court has to approve your refinance loan. Your initial payment plan was approved according to your income and expenses when you filed. By refinancing, the court would likely reassess your financial situation, which could influence your monthly payments.

And, again, you still have to qualify, which is challenging with low credit.

Building blocks that spell out bankruptcy

How Bankruptcy Affects Your Ability to Refinance Your Car Loan

Contrary to what you might think, it’s possible to refinance your car loan after bankruptcy. That said, it’s an uphill climb and don’t be surprised if it takes months (or even years) to repair your creditworthiness.

Let’s explore the various ways a bankruptcy could affect your ability to refinance.

Credit score

Once debts are discharged through bankruptcy, they don’t just vanish. Chapter 7 bankruptcies stay on credit reports for ten years, while chapter 13 bankruptcies stay on credit reports for seven years. As you can imagine, bankruptcies tend to have a negative impact on a credit score.

The severity of the point drop depends on what your score was before you filed. If you have an above average score, expect your scores to plunge 200 to 240 points. If you have an average score like 680, your score could slip between 130 and 150 points. Regardless, loan underwriting programs will likely flag you as a risky borrower.


The very nature of lending money is risky — there’s always a chance that the borrower doesn’t repay. When a borrower has filed for bankruptcy, it demonstrates an inability to manage debt. That’s not very enticing to the typical lender. 

When you have a lower credit score or a negative credit history, you may not qualify for refinancing, at least through traditional financial institutions like banks or credit unions.

After filing for bankruptcy, it can be difficult to get the best auto loan rates. Lenders typically reserve their best rates for borrowers with excellent credit. However, you may qualify for a subprime loan with higher interest rates and a steeper monthly car payment. Granted that’s far from ideal, a refinance could still help you secure a better loan rate.

According to data from our sister company, RateGenius, 30% of borrowers with a bankruptcy on their record managed to successfully refinance — and they reduced their rate by 5% on average.

Regardless, it’s prudent to shop around and compare loan offers to potentially get a lower interest rate. You can use a marketplace like AUTOPAY to streamline this process.

Loan Fees

Subprime loans not only have high interest rates but also worse loan terms, such as documentation fees, prepayment penalties, and higher late fees. Keep an eye out for these terms when comparing loans, and tinker with a refinance calculator to ensure a new loan is worth it.

Copies of bankruptcy law

How To Improve Your Chances of Refinancing a Car After Bankruptcy

We’ll give it to you straight — you’ll have a hard time refinancing a car after bankruptcy. And considering it’ll remain on your credit report for 7 to 10 years, you might have trouble getting approved for any sort of loan for quite a while.

But there are steps you can take to improve your credit and chances of qualifying in the meantime.

Bolster your debt-to-income ratio

Your credit scores are an important factor, but they aren’t the only aspect of your financial profile. While your credit quantifies your reliability as a borrower, it doesn’t include your income.

So, in addition to your scores, lenders also evaluate your debt-to-income ratio (DTI). This metric compares your monthly obligations to your gross monthly earnings — essentially measuring the percentage of your income that’s already tied up in other financial commitments.

Generally speaking, it’s recommended to maintain a DTI below 50%. But the lower, the better.

According to data from our sister company, RateGenius, 90% of borrowers who were approved for refinancing had a DTI below 48% from 2015 to 2019. While it’s easier said than done, if you can swing a higher paying job or work part-time for a while, you can improve your DTI and potentially convince a lender to overlook the bankruptcy. 

Pay off a chunk of your existing car loan

Auto loans are considered secured loans. In other words, the vehicle serves as collateral, which means the lender could repossess it in the event the borrower stops making payments. The lender would then try to recover its investment by selling the vehicle. 

Why is this important? Well, the lower your loan balance relative to your car’s value (known as your loan-to-value ratio), the easier it is for a lender to make itself whole if they ever have to sell your car. This could help mitigate a lender’s concerns about your bankruptcy history and potential risk of missing payments.

Rebuild your credit

Although bankruptcy helps prevent you from suffocating under a pile of debt, it could put a stain on your credit, making it harder to take out loans and lines of credit in the future. That said, your scores aren’t locked in forever.

To rebuild credit, you need access to credit. Credit-builder loans and secured lines of credit can help. These products are easier to qualify for and help borrowers make on-time payments and establish accounts in good standing.

With good credit repair habits, your credit scores can gradually recover over time.

Consider a cosigner

Applying for a refinance loan with a cosigner can help you qualify. A cosigner promises to take responsibility for the loan if the primary borrower ever stops making payments. Ideally, this is a person who is not only trustworthy (like a parent or spouse) but also has a strong financial profile.

Don’t Rush, Understand Your Options

Bankruptcy is a viable solution for many financially distressed borrowers, but it isn’t the only option. It would be wise to explore alternative approaches to ensure you make the best decision. That may include speaking directly with loan providers to see if they’re willing to work with you, selling unnecessary assets, and asking friends or family for assistance.

You may even realize that you don’t need to go to court to rectify your situation, which can help preserve your credit and increase your chances of taking out new loans — including an auto refinance loan.

Should Both Spouses Be on a Car Loan? Things to Consider Before Cosigning with a Spouse

Nobody disputes that spouses should make major financial decisions — such as purchasing a car or refinancing an auto loan — together. A more complicated question is whether spouses should be on a car loan as cosigners. Although having a spouse cosign on your car loan might make sense in some instances, it can be a risky personal and financial move in others. 

What Is a Cosigner?

A cosigner agrees to pay a loan if the primary borrower defaults. When someone cosigns a loan, they assume responsibility for making loan payments if the original borrower falls behind on repaying the debt. Once the primary borrower defaults on payments, the cosigner is responsible for paying the balance of the loan, along with any fees related to the late payments. Also, the lender now treats the cosigner as the debtor.

Cosigner vs. Co-Borrower

Cosigners are not quite the same as co-borrowers. Co-borrowers apply for a loan together so that they can purchase (or refinance) an asset that they both own and use. When a married couple takes out a mortgage on a home that they both live in and own, they are co-borrowers.

A cosigner, on the other hand, assumes responsibility for paying someone else’s loan. The cosigner does not co-own the asset that the loan was used to purchase.

Why Do People Need Cosigners for Loans?

Lenders evaluate loan applications using multiple criteria, including income, credit history and current debt. If a loan applicant has poor credit, no credit, doesn’t earn very much or is struggling under a lot of debt, the lender might reject the application outright, offer a smaller loan or a loan at a higher interest rate. Sometimes a lender might ask that the borrower reduce the lender’s risk by finding a cosigner.

man looking upset while sitting at his desk near a computer and calculator

The Risks of Being a Cosigner

The risks of being a cosigner are significant. If you cosign a debt, and the original borrower doesn’t make payments on time, here’s what can happen:

  • The lender can require you to start making payments on the debt.
  • The lender can initiate collection proceedings against you, including a lawsuit. 
  • Your credit score can be damaged. 

In addition, cosigning a loan increases your debt load, impacting your credit score. This affects your ability to obtain a credit card, take out a loan for your own needs or qualify for good interest rates on goods and services. Because of these risks, you might want to check out other alternatives that can help you buy a car or refinance a car loan.

smiling couple standing in front of a new car holding the car keys

Spouses as Cosigners: What You Need to Know

Having your spouse as a cosigner might seem counterintuitive: You share finances and will both benefit from an automobile purchase or refinancing. Co-borrowing might make more sense, as would having the spouse with the best credit apply for the loan.

In some households, however, only one spouse drives and will have ownership of the car. Many people owned a car before getting married and could  want to refinance that vehicle without putting their spouse on the title. In these cases, cosigning might make some sense.

As you make your decision, be aware that some lenders might tell you that your spouse is required to cosign a loan that you take out for your own vehicle. The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau makes it clear, however, that although a lender can require you to have a cosigner, it cannot require that person to be your spouse.

The Risks of Cosigning for a Spouse

There are significant risks to being a cosigner of a loan. These risks increase when a spouse acts as a cosigner. Cosigning impacts a spouse’s credit and finances, so your household might not have at least one spouse with pristine credit and financial stability. Should you face unexpected financial difficulties, your household will have to manage the debt that your spouse is obligated to pay.

Cosigning can also negatively impact your relationship with your spouse. Defaulting on your car loan or refinancing could leave your spouse feeling betrayed. 

Alternatives to Cosigners

An alternative to getting a cosigner is to try to improve your credit score. And if your household has more than one automobile, or your current car is still drivable, you could use a refinance car loan calculator to determine whether refinancing could free up some cash that could be used to pay down debt or increase savings. A GAP waiver can also minimize liability for the difference between your car’s value and your current debt obligation.

Whatever you choose, it is worth it to explore all of your options, which could include delaying a purchase or refinance, improving your credit or working with specialists, who will work to help you get good terms on a loan that you can afford.

How Many Auto Loans Can You Have at Once?

Chances are, if you’re a licensed driver, you probably have a car loan. Around 85% of all new car purchases and 53% of all used car purchases are financed in the U.S., according to a report by Experian. The average American household also has more vehicles than drivers, and many of those additional vehicles are financed too.

While you can have multiple car loans at the same time, lenders will want to know if you’ll be able to make payments on all of your financed vehicles. Qualifying for an auto loan may be a little harder this time around. Here’s why.

Yes, You Can Have More Than One Car Loan

The simple answer to this question is yes. If you have good credit and can afford another monthly payment, you should be able to finance another car.

Ultimately, a bank, credit union, or another financial institution is likely to provide auto loan financing to any individual they deem credit worthy, regardless of the types of loans they have on their credit history. In order to secure a second car loan and get the most competitive rates, you need to show the banks that you can afford the additional debt and will pay it back.

Lenders will look at the following factors when evaluating your car financing application:

  • Down payment: Do you have enough cash?
  • Credit score: Is it over or below 600?
  • Payment history: Have you been making all of your other payments on time?
  • Debt-to-income ratio: Is your DTI less than 50%?

If you have a relatively high monthly income, enough cash for a down payment, a good credit score, and a solid debt-to-income ratio, a lender may be more willing to give you an additional loan, and with a really great interest rate too.

If you have bad credit, it’s still possible to qualify for another car loan. There are many lenders who work specifically with borrowers with subprime, or poor, credit. Your interest rate may not be as competitive as someone with a higher credit score, but after a few months of on-time payments on your credit report, you may start to see your credit score go up.

A common strategy for borrowers with bad credit is to buy and finance the car, then wait a few months for the on-time payments to make a positive impact on their credit. Once their credit score goes up, they apply for auto loan refinancing to get a lower, more competitive interest rate.

person handing car keys to another individual

Should You Take Out Another Car Loan?

There are many reasons why you might opt to use your credit to finance an additional vehicle, but you want to be sure you weigh all the pros and cons before taking advantage of all your financing options.

Perhaps you need another car for a spouse or child. Perhaps you currently drive a sedan and believe you could benefit from adding a truck or SUV to your fleet. All of these are totally valid reasons why you might seek an additional vehicle loan.

Pros of taking out another car loan:

Taking out an additional loan can help you achieve your goal without saving up a ton of money or waiting until your current loan term is up. But there are some downsides to consider as well.

Cons of taking out another car loan:

Having two or more loan payments can take a significant toll on your monthly budget, which may cause you to default on payments. What’s more, loan applications leave a hard inquiry on your credit report, which could cause your score to drop.

Do Multiple Hard Inquiries Ding Your Credit?

Depending on the circumstance, multiple hard inquiries may or may not hurt your credit.

Remember that each time you attempt to get approved for a new loan, you add a hard inquiry to your credit score. Hard inquiries can bring down your score five to 10 points, and too many can signal to a lender that you’re a high risk or irresponsible with credit.

However, multiple inquiries for the same type of loan during the rate shopping period will only count as one.

person using a calculator

Consider Refinancing Your Loan(s)

If you have a high interest rate on your current auto loan, you may want to consider auto loan refinance. If approved, refinancing will help you get your annual percentage rate (APR) down, which will ultimately lower your monthly payment and free up cash for other monthly expenses, such as a second car loan.

Use our refinance car loan calculator to see how much refinancing could save you during the repayment process. If you have multiple car loans already, you may want to apply for refinancing to get lower auto loan rates and save money over the life of your vehicles.

Weigh Your Options

In theory, you can have as many car loans as a vehicle financing company will grant you, but you will need excellent credit and a high income to qualify for a second loan. There are no laws preventing an individual from taking out more than one car loan, so if it makes sense for your financial situation, it may be a smart option.

Weighing your options and evaluating your own unique financial situation is critical when deciding whether or not to take out an additional loan.