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A Creditor Challenge to the Automatic Stay

February 19th, 2018 at 8:00 am

Filing bankruptcy stops creditors’ collections against you immediately. But sometimes a creditor tries to get permission to collect anyway. 


In our last 10 blog posts we’ve been talking about the “automatic stay.” It is one of the most important and immediate benefits of bankruptcy. The automatic stay stops most kinds of creditor attempts to collect their debts against you, your income, and your assets.

We’ve been looking at the relatively few special situations where the automatic stay protection does not apply. (Examples have included certain family court debts and proceedings, and some tax procedures.)

Today we focus in on how creditors can react to bankruptcy’s automatic stay. Creditors can sometimes challenge whether the automatic stay remains in effect or not, or whether conditions apply to its protection.

Creditor Challenges to the Automatic Stay

When you think of “relief” in bankruptcy what comes to mind is relief from your creditors. At the heart of the bankruptcy petition are the words, “I request relief.” (See page 6 just above the signature line of Official Form 101.)

But the meaning of “relief” when used in this phrase, “relief from the automatic stay,” the meaning is very different. This phrase refers a creditor’s “relief” from the protection that the automatic stay gives you. A creditor challenges your right to that protection by asking the bankruptcy court for “relief from the automatic stay” (or simply “relief from stay”).  

This might also be referred to as a creditor’s motion to lift the automatic stay injunction.

Most Creditors Don’t Ask for Relief from Stay

Creditors get relief from stay only if they qualify under certain circumstances laid out in the law. (See Section 362(d) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code about creditor requests for “relief from the stay.”)

So don’t be concerned that all or many of your creditors will try to take this protection away from you.

Most Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” cases are completed without ANY creditor trying to do so. They do happen but often don’t change the outcome.

These challenges are more common in a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts.” That’s because these kinds of case last much longer, and often involve changes to the payment terms of secured debts, resulting in more opportunities for negotiations and legal wrangling. Still this usually only involves one or two creditors. And even in Chapter 13 there are many cases with no such challenges.

Secured Creditors Requesting Relief from Stay

Most creditors which ask for relief from stay do so to get permission to take back collateral. Or often their goal is to put conditions on the automatic stay to encourage you to keep making payments on the collateral-secured debt. Here’s an example.

  • You file a Chapter 7 case when you are 2 payments behind on a vehicle loan. You want to keep this vehicle and have said so in your bankruptcy paperwork. Because of your payment history the lender files a motion for relief from the automatic stay. It wants to push you to catch up on those late payments quickly. It also wants court permission to repossess the vehicle if you don’t make those payments or fall behind later. The lender and you and your bankruptcy lawyer enter into negotiations. If necessary the issue goes to the bankruptcy judge for a decision. Usually the result is a negotiated agreement on the terms for catching up and keeping current on the payments. If you don’t comply you would likely quickly lose the automatic stay protection and lose your vehicle. If you comply you keep your vehicle.

Other Creditors Requesting Relief from Stay

Much less common, but sometimes a creditor without a secured debt has reason to ask for relief from stay. Here’s an example.

  • You file a Chapter 13 case right after being served with an eviction lawsuit by your residential landlord. The automatic stay stops the eviction. Your Chapter 13 payment plan shows how you will catch up on the unpaid rent payments and keep current thereafter. The landlord wants to proceed with the eviction. Most likely the automatic stay will continue in effect and stop the eviction as long as your payment plan does show how you’ll comply with the rental agreement, and then you in fact do what your plan says you will.  


Chapter 7 with a Judgment Lien, HOA Debt, or Support Obligations

December 1st, 2017 at 8:00 am

Here are 3 more scenarios for when you are current on your mortgage, where Chapter 7 works well in dealing with other home-related debts.

Our last blog post was about situations in which Chapter 7 works well enough in the following 3 debt situations:

  1. Second or third mortgages
  2. Property taxes
  3. Income tax with a lien recorded on your home

In general, if you are current on your first mortgage but have any of these 3 debts, sometimes Chapter 13 helps much more than Chapter 7. But last time we showed scenarios when you don’t need the extra time and expense of Chapter 13.

We do the same today with the following 3 other home-related types of debts:

1. Judgment with a lien attached to your home

2. Homeowner association debt with a lien

3. Child/spousal support unpaid with a lien

Judgment Liens

In bankruptcy you can often remove a lien on your home arising from a creditor’s judgment against you. That’s important because otherwise the lien would continue on your home’s title even after you discharge (legally write off) the underlying debt.

Whether you can remove, or “avoid,” the judgment lien depends on the value of your home, the amount of its equity, and amount of your applicable homestead exemption. If all of the judgment lien “impairs,” or cuts into, your homestead exemption, you can remove that lien.

For example, assume your home is worth $200,000, you owe $175,000 on the mortgage, so you have $25,000 in equity. Your state’s homestead exemption is $30,000, covering all of your equity and more. You have a judgment lien on your home’s title in the amount of $10,000. All of that $10,000 cuts into the equity that’s protected by your $30,000 homestead exemption. So you can “avoid,” or remove the entire judgment lien in bankruptcy.

There are some tools affecting liens that are available only in Chapter 13, not in Chapter 7. This is not one of them. You can “avoid” a judgment lien under the same rules in either Chapter 7 or 13. So this is not a deciding factor between these two bankruptcy options.

Homeowner Association Lien

State laws differ on homeowner association liens. But in general not being current on your HOA dues and/or assessments can be a significant problem. It can catch you by surprise. So be sure to tell your bankruptcy lawyer if you are paying HOA dues or assessments. Of course be sure to tell if you are not current on them.

One of the reasons these liens are dangerous is that under some circumstances they are superior to your mortgage on your title. Falling behind is likely an independent basis for foreclosure by your mortgage lender—even if you’re current on the mortgage itself. Also, the timetable for action by your HOA may be quick compared to a home lender’s foreclosure.

If you have monthly HOA dues and you’re current on them, and intend to stay in the home, filing a Chapter 7 case should be fine.

But if you’re at all behind with your HOA and don’t have an agreed payment plan to catch up, talk with your lawyer about your options, including Chapter 13. You’d very likely have more time and flexibility in catching up and keeping your home protected while doing so.

Child/Spousal Support

Often, being behind on support creates a lien against your home. That may even happen when you’re current (through the judgment arising out of your divorce decree).

Filling a Chapter 7 case should be fine if you are current on all support obligations at time of filing. If you are not current but expect to be very shortly thereafter, be aware that filing a Chapter 7 case does NOT freeze the collection actions of any support obligations—neither ongoing monthly ones nor those in arrears.

However, Chapter 13 CAN stop the collection of support obligations that are in arrears. Those collections can be unusually aggressive—sometimes resulting in even the loss of your driver’s license, or possibly your occupational or professional license. So knowing that Chapter 13 can freeze collections and buy you time to catch up is important. If this debt is causing you serious problems this may be reason enough to choose Chapter 13.


Keep an Open Mind about Chapter 7 or 13

November 17th, 2017 at 8:00 am

Here’s an example why to keep an open mind about filing under Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13. Slightly different facts can make all the difference. 


Last time we introduced some of the main differences between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. We suggested that you learn about them but also keep an open mind when you go see a bankruptcy lawyer. At that meeting you will always hear about advantages and disadvantages of each option you didn’t know about. Often you hear for the first time about certain tools that can really help you. So you may end up going a different route than you expected.

Here are two versions of an example that illustrates this well.

An Example Using Chapter 7

Assume the following. Three months after losing a job you get another one at a somewhat lower salary than before.  Over the years before you’d accrued $50,000 in credit card debt and medical bills on which you’d started falling behind. While you weren’t working you fell even further behind and one medical collector has just sued you. You’re now also 2 months behind on your $1,500 monthly home mortgage payments ($3,000). For personal and financial reasons you really want to keep your home.

A Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case would very likely discharge (legally write off) all of your non-mortgage debts. In this example that would enable you—with a short-term tight but realistic budget and a temporary part-time job—to pay one and a half mortgage payments each month ($1,500 + $750) for four months to catch up. Your lawyer contacts your mortgage lender which agrees to that catch-up schedule.

So you decide to file a Chapter 7 case as a means to get current on your mortgage, and to get a fresh financial start. About 4 months after filing the case you’d have both.

An Example Using Chapter 13

Change the facts this time so that now you’re 8 months behind ($12,000) on your mortgage instead of just 2. Also your budget is tighter and no part-time job is available. So without paying any of your credit card and medical debts you can only afford $300 per month. At that rate you would need 40 months to catch up on your $12,000 mortgage arrearage. Your lender says that’s totally unacceptable.

A Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” would give you up to 5 years to catch up on the mortgage. The mortgage lender would generally have to go along with this—be unable to foreclose or take other collection action—as long as you consistently stuck with your plan. You would have to pay all you could afford to every month for at least 3 years. You’d have to pay for 5 years if your income was too high. Either way the money would first go to catch up the mortgage. (This would be after or simultaneously while you were paying your lawyer fees and trustee fees). You would usually only pay the other debts—the credit cards and medical debts) if and to the extent you had money left over during the 3-to-5-year payments period.

Because you really want to keep your home you decide to file a Chapter 13 case. You don’t mind its length because that’s to your advantage—more time to catch up on the mortgage so that you can reasonably afford to do so. About 4 years after filing the case you finish catching up, the remaining debts are forever discharged, and you have a fresh financial start. You owe nothing except the fully-caught up mortgage. It took a lot longer than a Chapter 7 case but saving your home made it well worthwhile.


In both of these scenarios you were behind on a mortgage on a home you wanted to keep. In the first scenario the tools of Chapter 7 enabled you to meet your goal. In the second you needed the stronger tools of Chapter 13.

This is a simplistic example. Even here this illustration show that it’s important to keep an open mind about which Chapter is better for you. Real life is usually much more complicated. That’s all the more reason to get informed about your options and then be receptive about your lawyer’s legal advice about them.


Chapter 7 Buys Time and Money to Move from a Foreclosing Home

November 10th, 2017 at 8:00 am

Filing a Chapter 7 case stops foreclosure of your home temporarily, helping you gather funds for your transition to your next housing. 


Last week we went through a list of ways Chapter 7 buys you time when dealing with a home foreclosure. Included was that filing a Chapter 7 case “can give you time to surrender your home while saving up for moving expenses.”  This deserves a more thorough explanation.

 Stopping a Foreclosure

The filing of a bankruptcy case, including a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” one, stops a pending home foreclosure sale. This happens through the “automatic stay,” the law which freezes most creditor collection actions the moment you file bankruptcy. In particular, the automatic stay statute says that a bankruptcy filing stops “any act to… enforce any lien” against your property. (See Section 523(a)(4) and (5) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.)  A mortgage lender’s foreclosure of your home is an act to enforce a lien. So your bankruptcy filing stops it from happening.

It’s crucial to time your bankruptcy filing strategically. Otherwise you will file it too soon or too late. You want to buy as much time as possible. And you don’t want to mess up and fail to stop the foreclosure. 

You absolutely need to talk with your local bankruptcy lawyer to determine the best timing. This decision requires a thorough understanding of BOTH federal bankruptcy law and state property and foreclosure law.  While bankruptcy law provides the ins and outs of the “automatic stay,” state law lays out crucial considerations like exactly when a foreclosure takes away your rights to your home. For example, filing too late would leave you with no rights to your home that your bankruptcy filing could protect.

After Your Bankruptcy Stops the Foreclosure Sale

What happens after you file the Chapter 7 case? In particular how much time will you have before you have to move away from your home?

A consumer Chapter 7 case usually takes about 3 or 4 months. The automatic stay is in effect that whole length of time, UNLESS the mortgage lender asks for “relief from stay.”

So if your lender does not file a motion asking for that “relief,” filing Chapter 7 can buy you 3 or 4 months. It could be even longer. That’s because there is usually some delay between when the foreclosure process is restarted and the new foreclosure takes place.

If your lender does file a motion for “relief from stay,” your Chapter 7 filing may only buy you an extra month or so. That’s because if you’re surrendering the home you’re presumably not making the mortgage payments. So you don’t have much defense against the lender’s motion, and it would almost certainly be granted.

However, if your mortgage lender does ask for “relief” to resume foreclosure, that often presents an opportunity for negotiation. You have something to offer in the way of surrendering the home peaceably at an appropriate time. The lender may well save attorney fees and foreclosure costs. Under some circumstances it may even pay you some money to move and sign the home to the lender.

Gathering Funds for Your Move

Usually the main benefit to delaying a foreclosure once you’ve decided to give up the home is for time to gather moving costs. By moving costs we mean everything needed for your transition, including rent, security deposit, moving truck rental—everything. Every month you are not paying your mortgage should give you the opportunity to save a chunk of money. In some states money you save for this purpose even before filing your Chapter 7 case can be protected under the homestead or some other exemption. Money saved after filing is virtually never a problem.


Filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy stops a foreclosure, although you have to time it right through the help of your lawyer. The point of buying time is to give you more time to cover your costs in transitioning to new housing. The amount of time you can buy depends in part on the aggressiveness of your mortgage lender. The extra time will usually be between one and four more months. You can often negotiate your leaving to make it less disruptive for you.


Many Ways to Buy Time for Your Vehicle and Home through Chapter 7

November 1st, 2017 at 7:00 am

Chapter 7 buys you the crucial time you need in many situations when falling behind in your obligations related to your vehicle or your home.


In the last several weeks of blog posts we’ve given many examples of how bankruptcy can buy you time for your vehicle and for your home. Here’s a summary how a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” can do so.

1. Chapter 7 Buys Time for Your Vehicle

  • Stops your vehicle from being repossessed, at least temporarily
  • Gives you a some limited amount of time to catch up if you’re behind on payments
  • Gives a very limited time to reinstate required vehicle insurance
  • Gains you some time to get another vehicle before surrendering your present one
  • Buys time to gather funds to redeem your vehicle for less than you owe on it
  • Buys time to enter into a redemption loan to lower your debt on the vehicle

2. Chapter 7 Buys Time for Your Home

  • Stops your immediate home foreclosure sale, at least temporarily
  • Gives you limited time to catch up on your mortgage through a lump sum payment or in monthly “forbearance” payments
  • A delay in foreclosure usually gives you a few more months to sell your home
  • This delay can give you time to surrender your home while saving up for moving expenses
  • Stops  a lawsuit from turning into a judgment lien, creating a debt that can’t be discharged written off in bankruptcy
  • Stops an income tax lien recording on your home’s title, potentially turning that tax into one that can’t be written off


Buy Time to Sell Your Home with Chapter 13

October 20th, 2017 at 7:00 am

If you are behind on your mortgage, and are thinking of selling your home, you can often delay selling for many months or even for years. 


Our last blog post was about the relatively long time Chapter 13 gives you to catch up on your mortgage. Besides the 3 to 5 years it gives you, Chapter 13 also protects you while you’re also dealing with other important debts. So filing a Chapter 13 case is a powerful way of buying time and gaining flexibility for your home.

That is just as true if you want to sell your home instead of keep it. Chapter 13 can buy you time and flexibility. You can often prevent being rushed into selling when the markets not right. You can prevent having to sell when doing so causes personal or family hardships. ln many circumstances, you can hold off on selling your home for many months, and even years. You will have to pay your mortgage in the meantime but you may be able to hold off on paying some or all of missed mortgage payments until the sale.

We’ll give you two examples when this can be extremely helpful.

First Example

Assume that you are 5 months behind on your mortgage payments and just got a notice of foreclosure. You’d lost your job a half year ago and just started at a new one for slightly lower pay. After discussing the situation with your bankruptcy lawyer you’ve decided that it’s best that you sell your home.  But your home has a lot of deferred maintenance, mostly superficial tasks that you can do, but it’ll take time. You’d like to spend the next 6 months getting the home ready. Plus it’s right around the corner from the winter holiday season, not a good time to get the best price. You’d like to list the home for sale in the spring when the most buyers are in the market. Plus, home prices have been rising in your neighborhood so a delay would likely increase your sale proceeds.

If you filed a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case there’s a serious risk you’d lose the home and its equity. Your mortgage lender would likely push to proceed with its foreclosure unless you’d start making catch-up payments right away. You could barely afford the regular mortgage payments so that wouldn’t likely happen. Usually Chapter 7 would not be a good option.

The Chapter 13 Solution

So how does Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” buy you more time and flexibility here? 

Your Chapter 13 payment plan would propose having you make full regular mortgage payments right away. That would include insurance and property taxes, to protect the lender in those ways. You would agree to list the property for sale in 6 months. The equity you have in the property would protect the mortgage lender now. The sweat equity you’ll be putting into the property, plus the increasing property values, would keep the lender protected for the next 6 months and then through the home selling process.  The bankruptcy court would very likely approve such a plan.

You’d work hard to get the house ready for sale until the spring. You’d make only the regular monthly payments on the mortgage. (Plus you’d be paying a plan payment on all the rest of your debts, usually much, much less than you’d be obligated to pay otherwise.) You’d put the house on the market as agreed. When it sells you’d pay off the remaining mortgage debt, including the missed payments.

What you’d do with the remaining proceeds of sale depends on the circumstances. In some situations you might use it to pay off all the rest of your debts. Or you could use all or part of it for your upcoming home or apartment rental. Or it might even make sense at that time to convert your case into a Chapter 7 one. In any event, you would have succeeded in your goal of buying time to sell your home in a way and at a time that would maximize the money that you could get out of it.

Second Example

Assume a similar situation except that you want to wait two or three years to sell the home. You don’t want to sell before then for important personal or family reasons.  Maybe you have a kid or two in the neighborhood schools and don’t want to move them. Or maybe that’s when you can downsize because of kids moving out. Or you and/or your spouse will be ready for retirement in that time. These personal reasons may be combined with wanting the home to build more equity before you sell it.

Delaying a sale for that long is possible in the right circumstances. It may require making partial catch-up payments, especially if there’s not much of an equity cushion. It would very likely require being fastidious in keeping current on the property taxes and insurance, and the regular payment, at the risk of foreclosure if you don’t. These all depend on the facts of your case. In any event it is not unusual for Chapter 13 plans to allow for a home sale a year or two or even longer after the filing of the case.


Chapter 13 could allow you to put off selling your home until the time is right for you. If the home has some meaningful equity, you may even be able to delay paying some or all of the missed mortgage payments until selling the home. So in the meantime you wouldn’t have to worry about a pending foreclosure or other pressures from your mortgage lender. Instead you could focus your financial energies on making the regular monthly mortgage payments, and any other high-priority obligation(s) being handled in your payment plan. Then you’d sell your home in an orderly way that would serve you and your overall financial and personal game plan.  


Buy Much More Time for Your Home with Chapter 13

October 18th, 2017 at 7:00 am

Filing a Chapter 13 case buys you time and flexibility for catching up on your mortgage arrearage. Lots more of both than in Chapter 7. 


Two blog posts ago we said Chapter 7 buys some time with your home mortgage while Chapter 13 buys much more time. We then showed how Chapter 7 can help. Today we get into how Chapter 13 can be much better.  

The Limits of Help from Chapter 7 “Straight Bankruptcy”

Chapter 7 is quick, but is limited in what it can do for your past-due mortgage. Mostly it can help get rid of other debts so that you can financially focus on your mortgage.

Chapter 7 helps with your mortgage only indirectly. If you’re behind on payments you’ll have to make arrangements with your mortgage lender to catch up.  The bankruptcy case gives you no mechanism or protection in that catching up process. You’re essentially on your own, and at the mercy of whatever timetable your lender imposes on you for catching up.

That has some practical consequences if you’re behind on your mortgage and want to keep your home.  If you file a Chapter 7 case, you need to be confident that you can catch up on your mortgage fast enough to satisfy your mortgage lender. That means that you must:

·         have access to a pool of money to catch up on your mortgage within a couple months after filing bankruptcy;
·         make prior arrangements with the lender for adequate monthly catch-up payments; or
·         know the lender’s policies about catch –up payments, especially how much time the lender allows to get current.

Assuming that you don’t have that pool of money to catch up in a lump sum, your bankruptcy lawyer may be familiar with your particular mortgage lender’s policies and practices about doing so through monthly payments. Those policies and practices can vary widely among lenders. Plus, your individual circumstances can greatly affect how flexible your lender is willing to be with you.

When You Need Chapter 13 “Adjustment of Debts”

Focusing only on your mortgage itself, you need a Chapter 13 case when Chapter 7 isn’t good enough. You want to save your home but won’t have enough money or time to catch up as your lender demands.

There are lots of reasons to file under Chapter 13 that have nothing to do with your home.  For example, it can be the best way to deal with income taxes, child support, or a vehicle loan. There are also many possible reasons that involve your home but not your first mortgage. For example, Chapter 13 can deal well with an income tax lien, unpaid property taxes on your home, or a second mortgage.
But today let’s focus on buying time with the mortgage itself.

Stretching Out Mortgage Catch-up Payments

In a Chapter 13 case you get as long as 5 years to catch up on a mortgage. Based on your income your payment plan will be required to be either 3 years or 5 years long. But even if you qualify for a 3-year plan you can usually stretch it out up to 5 years. Your budget just needs to justify that you need more time.

Stretching the amount you’re behind over such a long period make the monthly catch-up payments more reasonable. If you are quite far behind, it can make keeping your home manageable when otherwise it wouldn’t be.

Flexibility in Catching Up

Another crucial benefit of Chapter 13 is the power it gives you over your mortgage related to other important debts. A few paragraphs ago we mentioned other debts like income taxes, child support, and vehicle loans. After you finished a Chapter 7 case your mortgage lender would not care at all about other debts you may continue to owe. In contrast, Chapter 13 allows you to address those other debts at the same time as your mortgage.

How this works depends on the specifics of your case. The laws about Chapter 13 determine how different creditors can be treated. A huge factor is the legal category of each debt—secured, “priority,” and “general unsecured.” Also important are specific facts, such as how well secured your mortgage is by your home’s equity. Generally the more equity there is to protect your lender the more flexibility you’ll have.


We’ll get into these kinds of specifics in upcoming blog posts.  For now what’s important is that a Chapter 13 case filed through your bankruptcy lawyer powerfully buys time and enables you to meet other essential debt obligations, all the while protecting you from your mortgage lender and from all your other creditors.


Buy Time for Your Home with Chapter 7

October 13th, 2017 at 7:00 am

Filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case stops a foreclosure and buys some time to either arrange to keep the home or move in a peaceful way.  


Chapter 7 “Straight Bankruptcy” vs. Chapter 13 “Adjustment of Debts”

Speaking very generally, Chapter 7 buys you some time with your home while Chapter 13 buys you much more time.

So the questions are: how much more time to do you need and will Chapter 7 buy you enough?

How Chapter 7 Helps

As to your home, your filing of a Chapter 7 case:

1. Stops a pending foreclosure sale of your home, at least temporarily, through the “automatic stay.” Your bankruptcy filing stops “any act to… enforce any lien against property of the estate.” “Property of the estate” includes essentially everything you own at the time of filing, including your home. See Section 362(a)(4) and (5) and of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. How much time Chapter 7 buys depends on your situation, as we’ll get into a bit below.

2. It also at least temporarily stops not just foreclosures by your mortgage company, but also by other lienholders. This includes foreclosures for unpaid property taxes, homeowner assessments, or judgment lien creditors. In the case of judgment liens, Chapter 7 may also get rid of them, and the debt underlying it.

3. Prevents, at least for a few months, most kinds of new liens from attaching to your home. So an income tax debt does not turn into a tax lien. A pending lawsuit does not turn into a judgment lien against your home. This is particularly helpful if that tax is old enough to qualify for discharge (legal write-off). And most likely the debt underlying the lawsuit can be discharged. In these situations Chapter 7 protects your home from those debts and anticipated liens.  

Situations When Chapter 7 May Be Enough

Here are some of the main situations when it’s worth filing a Chapter 7 case for your home.

A Scheduled Mortgage Foreclosure

You already have a scheduled foreclosure date, and it’s coming very soon. Your Chapter 7 filing will very likely cancel it. The “automatic stay” protection lasts throughout the 3-4 months that your case is open. So your mortgage lender can restart the foreclosure after that. But the delay may be much shorter if your lender asks the bankruptcy court for permission to restart the foreclosure while your Chapter 7 case is still open. So it depends on the aggressiveness of your lender. Filing under Chapter 7 may buy you an extra few weeks or an extra few months.

  • If you are selling your home and are close to selling it, those extra weeks or months may be all you need to finish the sale and pay off the mortgage.  This only works if the net sale proceeds—your money from the sale—are fully covered by your homestead exemption. Then you keep those proceeds. Otherwise the Chapter 7 trustee would have a right to any proceeds in excess of the homestead exemption.
  • You’re surrendering your home but need to buy more time to gather funds for moving and rental expenses. Your lender might possibly even pay you to move faster (to save itself foreclosure expenses).

 An Anticipated Mortgage Foreclosure

A foreclosure sale date has not yet been scheduled but you think it’ll happen soon. Your Chapter 7 filing will postpone it. As stated above, your mortgage lender can ask the court for permission to proceed with the foreclosure. So how much time your bankruptcy filing buys depends on your lender.

A Debt Expected to Turn Into a Lien

You’re not concerned about a mortgage foreclosure, but rather about a debt turning into a lien on your home. As discussed above, if this is a debt that would be discharged in bankruptcy, Chapter 7 can be hugely helpful. Your Chapter 7 filing stops the placing of the lien, discharges the debt forever, and thus avoids the lien forever.

Even if the underlying debt cannot be discharged—such as a relatively recent income tax debt—your Chapter 7 filing stops the lien at least temporarily. Your bankruptcy case then discharges most or all of your other debts. At that point you can focus your financial efforts on paying the tax. Entering into a formal payment plan may prevent a tax lien from being recorded.


A Chapter 7 case filed through your bankruptcy lawyer may give you less power than a Chapter 13. It usually only buys you a relatively short amount of time. But the limited power and time it does give may be enough in your particular situation. And it may enable you to discharge a debt, preventing that debt from resulting in a lien on your home.


Catching up on Your Mortgage on Your Terms

August 9th, 2017 at 7:00 am

If you’ve fallen behind on your mortgage, it’s very hard to catch up. It may even seem impossible. Chapter 13 makes it possible.


The Problem

Let’s say you can’t pay your monthly mortgage because of a job loss or some other major financial hit. The missed payments can pile up fast. The amount you’re behind gets huge fast. It usually takes quite a few months before your home would be foreclosed. That gives time for the missed monthly payments to pile up. For example, if your mortgage payment is $1,700, six missed payments put you $10,200 behind. And that doesn’t count late fees and other likely charges assessed to your account.

If you then find a new job or otherwise fix your financial situation, you’ve got a mountain of mortgage payments to catch up on.

You may qualify for a mortgage modification or refinancing, restructuring that piled up debt, not having to catch up. Or mortgage forbearance may work, in which you must catch up over a relatively short period of time, usually within a year.

But there’s a good chance you can’t qualify for a modification or refinancing. And when money is tight it may be impossible to come up with the substantial extra amount needed each  month—in addition to your current mortgage payment—for catch-up payments. Using the example above, if you had 12 months to catch up on the $10,200 arrearage that would require you to pay an extra $850 per month, on top of your regular monthly mortgage payment. Even after filing a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” to get rid of all or most of your debts, you may simply not have the cash flow to catch up as required.

The Solution: Get Years to Catch Up

If you’re behind on your mortgage, filing a Chapter 13 case usually gives you up to 5 years to catch up.

In a Chapter 7 case you’re largely stuck with however much time your mortgage holder is willing to give you. In Chapter 13 you are much more in the driver’s seat. You and your bankruptcy lawyer put together a payment plan. That plan shows how and when the mortgage will be caught –up during the following 3 to 5 years. That plan works around your budget, giving you enough money for your reasonable living expenses. It takes into account other even more urgent and just as important other debts. So you don’t lose your house because you also owe other debts like income taxes or child support. You can often save both your home and your necessary vehicle(s).

For example, the above $10,200 stretched out over 5 years is about $170 per month. That’s likely much more doable than the $850 per month to catch up within one year.

Does My Mortgage Lender Have to Agree?

The length of time you have and the terms for catching up do depend on your circumstances. Generally, the more equity you have in your home (value beyond its debt) the more flexibility you will have. When there is little or no equity cushion your lender’s debt is not fully protected by the collateral. Then you’ll have to make faster progress on catching up on the mortgage arrearage.

But generally your mortgage lender must give you a number of years—to get current.

However, especially if you have little or no equity in the home and/or you have gotten far behind on the mortgage payments, the mortgage lender could likely impose conditions on the Chapter 13 catch-up payments. These conditions could limit your rights if you didn’t timely pay either the catch-up or regular monthly payment. Such future non-payments could automatically trigger the bankruptcy court’s permission for the lender to start (or re-start) foreclosure proceedings.

So, Chapter 13 gives you a relatively long time to catch up on your missed mortgage payments. But then it’s crucial to comply with the payment plan. Chapter 13 gives you a big second chance, but not necessarily a third or fourth chance.


An Example of Surrendering Your Home Later in a Chapter 13 Case

August 26th, 2016 at 7:00 am

Here’s an example of how Chapter 13 can allow you to hold onto your home but then change your mind about it later. 


Our last blog post introduced the option of saving your home through Chapter 13, while keeping open the possibility of surrendering the home later if your circumstances change. 

Advantage of Keeping Your Options Open

Sometimes it’s hard to know whether hanging onto your home is worth the money and effort. For example, if you were about $10,000 behind on your mortgage and property taxes, and could get that money by borrowing from a relative or from a retirement account, would that be worthwhile? What if the home had no equity—the mortgage loan balance was higher than the value of the home? What if you were not confident you could afford to pay back that $10,000 loan? What if the main current reason to stay in the home now would no longer apply in a couple years?  

If you filed a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case you would have to make that decision quite quickly. If your mortgage lender was in the process of foreclosing your home, or was threatening to do so, a Chapter 7 filing protects your home for only about 3 months, sometimes less. You effectively have about that much time to decide whether to keep your home, and to figure out how.

And what if you don’t have any means to come up with that $10,000—no rich relative or retirement account?  What if you simply don’t have the means, even after reducing your debts as much as possible through Chapter 7, to catch up on the mortgage as fast as the mortgage lender demands?

Chapter 13 Solution

Not only does Chapter 13 give you some remarkable tools for saving your home. It often also gives you the option of later changing your mind and surrendering the home.  We’ll illustrate this in a practical way within the fact scenario presented in our last blog post. Please look at that scenario before reading further here.

Our Scenario

Going back to the hypothetical facts presented last time, you and your spouse decide to file a Chapter 13 case.  You really want to hang onto your home. Your attorney has advised you that filing a Chapter 7 case would not get you there.

It’s especially important for you and your family to be able to stay in your home for the next 3 years. That’s because you have two kids very involved in their local public high school, and absolutely want them to be able to finish there.  

You and your spouse would love to keep your home forever. But if necessary you’re willing to lose it three years from now after both kids have graduated. So you’re willing to take some risks to get there. So, even though you’re not confident that you’ll be able to keep your job, and even though you have concerns about possible upcoming medical expenses for your spouse, you are both willing to work hard and take some risks to try to keep the home for at least these upcoming 3 years.

Chapter 13 Plan

So after being fully informed by your bankruptcy lawyer, you and your spouse file a Chapter 13 case.  The following good things happen:

·         Your Chapter 13 payment plan provides that you slowly begin paying the $6,000 you’re behind on your first mortgage, with $100 monthly payments stretched out over the 5 years of your projected case. That’s much less than virtually any mortgage lender would otherwise allow. The relatively low monthly amount makes catching up easier and so more likely to be ultimately successful.  Also, it minimizes your investment in the home each month if you do end up changing your mind later.   
·         Your Chapter 13 plan similarly stretches out catch-up payments towards the $2,000 in home property tax arrearage, with payments of $50 per month. The benefits above apply here as well.
·         Your $20,000 second mortgage is “stripped” off your home’s title, because there’s no home equity securing it. You no longer have to make the monthly payments, nor ever have to catch up on the accumulated late payments. Plus with that mortgage lien off your title, you’re that much closer to building equity in your home. (Second mortgage “stripping” is only available under Chapter 13, not under Chapter 7.)
·         Your court-approved Chapter 13 plan “avoids”—removes—a $10,000 judgment lien that a creditor recently recorded against your home’s title, arising from an unpaid hospital bill. This judgment lien “avoidance” procedure can also be done under Chapter 7 in the right circumstances. But it’s all the more powerful when done in conjunction other features available only under Chapter 13.
·         The $20,000 second mortgage balance and the $10,000 judgment debt are both now treated as “general unsecured” debts. These are added to the $50,000 in other medical debts and credit card balances. So your unsecured debts now total $80,000.

What Happens to the “General Unsecured” Debts

Through your Chapter 13 plan you pay only as much of this $80,000 in unsecured debts as your budget allows. Usually, if all you can afford to do during your time in Chapter 13 is catch up on the first mortgage and property taxes (and pay the trustee’s fee and any remaining attorney fees), you would pay nothing on that $80,000.

Even when you do pay some portion of it, because your plan pays the secured debts first, the unsecured debts often receive little or nothing in the first couple years of your case. This, too, minimizes how much you pay during the early years of your case. That’s beneficial if you decide to surrender the home later.

Two Possible Endings to Our Scenario

As the Chapter 13 case plays out in this scenario, you and your spouse either succeed in making the plan payments over the months and years, or don’t. You either keep your job, or bring in a similar amount of income from another job, or you don’t. Your spouse either avoids needing a lot more medical care and piling on a lot more expenses, or doesn’t. 

If you succeed in paying as your Chapter 13 plan envisioned, you can hold onto your home permanently. By the completion of your case you will have caught up on your first mortgage and the property taxes. The second mortgage and judgment liens will have been removed from the title to your home. And whatever you haven’t paid of the remaining unsecured debts will be discharged. You will be current on your home obligations and be otherwise debt-free.

But if your income decreases or your expenses increase so that you are not able to maintain your Chapter 13 plan payments throughout the entire 5-year course of your case, at that point you could decide to surrender your home. Depending on the circumstances you may then decide to amend your payment plan to exclude the home obligations. Or more likely you would convert your case into a Chapter 7 one, discharging all your debts so that you would be debt-free within a few months of that. In the meantime, you had succeeded in holding onto your home long enough to keep one, and hopefully both, of your kids in their school through graduation.

You would have benefitted from this flexibility provided only by Chapter 13.


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