Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Citation

55 Wake Forest Law Review 287 (2020)


Over the last ten years, 15.1 million people owning 16.4 million cars filed for bankruptcy. These cars provided access to work, education, medical care, childcare, food, and other life necessities. They were also major household investments, the most expensive asset most bankruptcy filers owned other than a house. Using original data from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project, we document what happens to car owners and their car loans when they enter bankruptcy. In brief, we find that people who file bankruptcy own automobiles at the same rate as the general population and that they overwhelmingly indicate they want to use bankruptcy as a tool to keep their automobiles. We further identify a subset of debtors, constituting about a third of bankruptcy filers, who come to bankruptcy owning automobiles and little else. These cases are the most likely to be filed by people "driven to bankruptcy." We detail what our results show about how people use consumer bankruptcy and where the system appears to falter. We conclude with recommendations on how to remedy these systemic issues as well as what the future of the automobile marketplace, particularly subprime auto loans, means for people's continued use of bankruptcy.