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What Does a Bankruptcy Trustee Do?

September 16th, 2019 at 4:40 pm

trusteeThe most common types of bankruptcies that are filed in the United States are Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies. There are many differences between a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, mainly in the way that the debts are handled. While these two types of bankruptcies differ greatly in many aspects, they do have one thing in common — they both utilize a bankruptcy trustee.

If you have thought about getting a bankruptcy or you have done research about getting one, you have probably come across the term — but do you know what a bankruptcy trustee is? It is important to understand the role of the trustee if you are getting a bankruptcy or considering one.

What Is a Bankruptcy Trustee?

A bankruptcy trustee is a person who works on a bankruptcy case to act as the middleman between the debtor and the creditors. The trustee is not an employee of the bankruptcy court, but rather an independent contractor who is hired to prevent the court itself from having to collect and/or distribute property. Trustees are also responsible for reviewing all financial information that is submitted by the debtor to ensure it is accurate and true.

Trustees in a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, or liquidation bankruptcy, your non-exempt assets are liquidated or sold so that you can repay as much of your debt as possible before the rest of it is discharged. A trustee in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is responsible for determining which of your assets are non-exempt and using the money from those to repay your debtors.

Trustees in a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you reorganize your debts so that you can come up with a three- to five-year repayment plan to pay back all or most of your debts. In this type of bankruptcy, your trustee is responsible for overseeing the repayment plan. He or she will collect your payment each month and distribute it to your debtors.

Questions About the Bankruptcy Process? A San Antonio, TX Bankruptcy Attorney Can Help

Making the decision to file for bankruptcy is a serious one. Your credit score will be affected and the bankruptcy will appear on your credit report for a number of years. Ultimately, the bankruptcy trustee can affect your bankruptcy case for the good or the better, which is why it is important to understand their role in your bankruptcy case. If you are thinking about filing for bankruptcy, you should talk with a knowledgeable Boerne, TX bankruptcy lawyer. At the Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee, we can help make sure your bankruptcy process is smooth and as stress-free as possible. Call our office today at 210-342-3400 to schedule a free consultation.

 

Sources:

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/bankruptcy-trustee.asp

https://www.creditkarma.com/advice/i/bankruptcy-trustee/

https://www.thebalance.com/who-is-a-bankruptcy-trustee-316199

Avoid Income Tax Liens with Chapter 13

September 16th, 2019 at 7:00 am

Chapter 13 can prevent income tax liens on dischargeable taxes. But the discharge takes years, and you may have to pay part of that tax.  

 

Two weeks ago we showed how the filing of a bankruptcy case stops the recording of an income tax lien.  A bankruptcy filing imposes the “automatic stay.” That law makes it illegal for the IRS or state tax agency to record a tax lien. (See Section 362(a)(4) and (5) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code forbidding the creating or enforcing of a lien.) That’s true whether your lawyer files a “straight bankruptcy” Chapter 7 case or an “adjustment of debts” Chapter 13 one.

Then last week we showed how this works specifically in a Chapter 7 case. IF the tax meets all of the conditions for discharge (legal write-off), then your Chapter 7 filing would prevent a tax lien, discharge the tax debt, and forever avoid a tax lien on that tax.

But how about in a Chapter 13 case? We know it would also stop an income tax lien recording, but then what would happen? Which would be better, Chapter 7 or 13?

Dischargeable Tax Debts under Chapter 13 

Assume again that the tax debt at issue meets the conditions for discharge. That tax would get discharged at the end of a Chapter 13 case, like in a Chapter 7 case. But there are two big differences.

Discharge of the Tax Debt Takes Much, Much Longer

First, that discharge of the tax debt would not happened within about 4 months as it would in most Chapter 7 cases. Instead it would happen usually 3 to 5 years later, the length of most Chapter 13 cases.  The automatic stay protection usually lasts throughout that time. So the IRS/state could take no tax collection actions in the meantime, including the recording of a tax lien.

But such a long period of time may allow problems to arise preventing the completion of your case. If you don’t successfully complete a Chapter 13 case the discharge doesn’t go into effect. So there is more risk that an otherwise dischargeable tax debt ends up not discharged. If the tax doesn’t get discharged, the IRS/state could record a tax lien as soon as you were no longer in your Chapter 13 case.

You May Have to Pay on that Tax

Second, under Chapter 13 you could pay part of the dischargeable income tax debt during your case. You generally pay some of your debts through a monthly payment plan. This may include some of your dischargeable tax debt. In a Chapter 7 case, in contrast, usually you pay nothing on a dischargeable tax debt.

Whether you would pay anything on such a tax under Chapter 13, and how much, depends on many factors. These factors focus on the nature and amount of your other debts, and on your income and living expenses. Often, you actually don’t pay anything more in a Chapter 13 case if you have a dischargeable tax debt than if you don’t owe that tax. That’s because you often pay a set amount towards all your debts based on what you can afford. Whatever you may pay towards a dischargeable tax would otherwise have just gone towards your other debts. However, in general under Chapter 13 there’s some risk that you’d pay something on a tax debt instead of nothing.  

The Bottom Line

It is worth emphasizing that if you successfully complete your Chapter 13 case, a dischargeable tax will get discharged. So you would no longer owe anything on it. So the IRS/state would not be able to record a tax lien on it, just like under Chapter 7.

How about a Tax that Can’t Be Discharged?

What if the income tax at issue does not meet the conditions for discharge? A Chapter 7 or 13 filing would stop the recording of a tax lien, at least temporarily. But what happens then? Is Chapter 7 or 13 better in this situation for permanently stopping a tax lien? We’ll cover this next week.

 

Avoid Income Tax Liens with Chapter 7

September 9th, 2019 at 7:00 am

Chapter 7 can prevent future income tax lien recordings against your home, if the tax is truly dischargeable and you have a no-asset case. 


Last week’s blog post was about filing bankruptcy to prevent the IRS/state from recording income tax liens on your home. The “automatic stay”—bankruptcy’s broad freeze of creditor collection actions—stops tax lien recordings immediately when you file your case. To repeat what we said last week:

Federal law is crystal clear that filing bankruptcy stops and prevents “any act to create, perfect, or enforce any lien” against your property. Section 362(a)(4 and 5) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. The IRS and the state tax agencies do not dispute this. They cannot record a tax lien against your home or anything you own once you file bankruptcy.

But how this works is quite different under Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” and under Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts.” Today we talk about filing Chapter 7 to stop tax liens, next week about Chapter 13.

The Chapter 7 Advantages

The primary benefit of Chapter 7 is speed. Assume you have a tax debt that meets the qualifications for discharge (legal write-off). (See our earlier blog post titled Bankruptcy Writes Off (Some) Income Taxes.)  Most Chapter 7 cases take 3-4 months from filing to completion. Most Chapter 13 cases take 3-5 years. If you have a tax debt that you are able to discharge, doing so quickly makes lots of sense. Chapter 7 is your likely answer.

Another big benefit: Chapter 7 is much more likely to discharge the tax debt without you having to pay any of it. Most Chapter 7 cases are “no asset” ones. This means that all of your assets are “exempt”—protected from liquidation by the Chapter 7 trustee. This usually means that your “general unsecured” debts would get discharged and be paid nothing. A dischargeable income tax debt is a general unsecured debt. So Chapter 7 would usually discharge the tax debt in full, without paying anything on it. (This assumes that you filed the Chapter 7 case before the IRS/state recorded a tax lien. That recording would turn the tax debt into a secured one, which you very much want to avoid.)

Under Chapter 13, in contrast, there is a significant risk that you would have to pay something on a dischargeable tax debt.  We’ll explain how this works in the next blog post. Avoiding that risk, and discharging the tax in just a few months: these both make Chapter 7 a very tempting option.

The Chapter 7 Disadvantage

The potential downside of Chapter 7 is that the automatic stay protection only lasts a short time. You are protected from the IRS’/state’s power to record a tax lien only during the length of the Chapter 7 case. Section 362(c)(2)(A) of the Bankruptcy Code says that the automatic stay ends when the case is closed. Again, that case closure usually happens only 3 or 4 months after your bankruptcy lawyer files your case.

However, IF the tax debt at issue definitely meets all the qualifying factors for discharge, this is NOT a problem. Once bankruptcy discharges any debt, the creditor may no longer take any collection action on it. Section 524(a)(2) of the Bankruptcy Code make any “act… to collect” a discharged debt illegal. This applies to the IRS and state tax agencies just like any other creditor. So, as long as the tax debt at issue will truly be discharged in your Chapter 7 case, you don’t need to worry about any future tax lien on that discharged debt. Clearly, it’s crucial that you have a competent and conscientious bankruptcy lawyer to determine whether your tax is truly dischargeable. If so, then you can rely on Chapter 7 to prevent the recording of a tax lien, discharge that tax debt, and give you freedom forever from a tax lien on that tax.

 

Prevent Future Income Tax Liens

September 2nd, 2019 at 7:00 am

Bankruptcy can prevent future income tax lien recordings against your home. The result: paying nothing on the tax vs. paying it in full. 


Income Tax Liens Are Dangerous

Our last two blog posts were about judgment liens. First was about how filing bankruptcy can sometimes remove, or “avoid,” a judgment lien from your home. Second was about preventing a judgment lien from hitting your home’s title in the first place.

Income tax liens have some similarities to judgment liens and some differences. An important difference is that there is no mechanism for removing a tax lien once it hits your home’s title. This is especially bad and impactful if the income tax debt at issue was one that bankruptcy could otherwise have written off (“discharged”) for you. The recording of the tax lien turns a debt that you could have written off and paid nothing on into a debt you usually have to pay in full.

So, as with judgment liens, it’s much better to prevent the recording of a tax lien by filing bankruptcy beforehand. It’s even more important because you can’t get them off your home’s title, under just about any circumstances. You usually have to pay the tax in full, instead of potentially paying nothing.

How Bankruptcy Stops a Tax Lien Recording

How could filing bankruptcy be so powerful that it stops the IRS/state from recording a tax lien on your home?

It’s the law. Federal law is crystal clear that filing bankruptcy stops and prevents “any act to create, perfect, or enforce any lien” against your property. Section 362(a)(4 and 5) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. The IRS and the state tax agencies do not dispute this. They cannot record a tax lien against your home or anything you own once you file bankruptcy.

How Long Does This Protection Last?

Under the right circumstances this prevention of a tax lien lasts forever. It’s permanent.

We referred above to income taxes that can be discharged—permanently written off—through bankruptcy. Some can, some can’t. Mostly it depends on how long it’s been since the relevant tax return was due, and was actually submitted. See our earlier blog titled “Bankruptcy Writes Off (Some) Income Taxes.”)

Assume for today that the tax that you’re worried a tax lien will be recorded on qualifies for discharge.

In that case your bankruptcy should in fact discharge that tax debt. So it will be legally gone after your bankruptcy case is finished. With the tax debt gone there is nothing upon which to record a tax lien.

The Huge Difference

Assume, for example, that you owe $10,000 for a couple years of income taxes to the IRS and your state. These taxes qualify for discharge (mostly by being old enough). Your home has a bit of equity but no more than is generally protected by the homestead exemption. Assume the IRS and state have not recorded any tax liens. If you file a consumer bankruptcy (Chapter 7 or Chapter 13) you would very likely no longer owe any of that $10,000 at the completion of your case.

However, now assume the IRS/state record tax liens on that $10,000 in income tax debt before you file bankruptcy. Those liens attach to the equity in your house. Filing bankruptcy does not affect those tax liens. There is no mechanism for removing the tax liens (as there is for qualifying judgment liens). The liens continue to encumber your title and eat into your equity. If you have less than $10,000 in equity the liens encumber your future equity. The IRS/state will almost for sure require you to pay off the lien in order to release it. They’ll get their $10,000 out of you. And they’ll do so simply because they recorded the tax liens before you filed your bankruptcy case.

Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13

Which of these is better for you if owe income taxes and are trying to stop the recording of a tax lien? We’ll address this in our next blog post (to be posted early next week). If you need to talk with a bankruptcy lawyer before then about this or anything else, please call us.

 

Prevent Future Judgment Liens

August 26th, 2019 at 7:00 am

Bankruptcy can prevent future judgment liens. It usually stops a lawsuit from turning into a judgment, and then a judgment lien on your home. 


Judgment Liens Are Dangerous

Our last blog post was about how filing bankruptcy can sometimes remove, or “avoid,” a judgment lien from your home. This is a great potential benefit of bankruptcy if a judgment lien has already been recorded.

But it is often much better to file a bankruptcy case before a judgment lien hits your home’s title. Here are a few of the practical reasons why:

  • You have to meet certain strict conditions to be able to avoid the judgment lien. If you don’t meet them, even bankruptcy won’t get rid of that lien on your home. You may have to pay all or part of the debt in spite of filing bankruptcy.
  • Even if you succeed in avoiding the lien in your bankruptcy case, it is an extra step that can cost you more. And the cost can go up substantially if the creditor fights your lawyer’s efforts to avoid the lien. Besides higher lawyer fees, you may have to pay for a home appraisal and for the court testimony of the appraiser.
  • The existence of a judgment lien adds uncertainty, and thus some extra anxiety, to your bankruptcy process. The goal of bankruptcy is relief. So it’s better to prevent a judgment lien from hitting your home than messing with it after it has hit.

Judgment Liens Are Preventable

Filing bankruptcy usually stops an ongoing lawsuit against you from turning into a judgment. Bankruptcy’s “automatic stay” immediately stops “the… continuation… of a judicial, administrative, or other action or proceeding against the debtor…  .” Section 362(a)(1) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

Filing bankruptcy also usually prevents future lawsuits against you from being filed much less turning into judgments. The automatic stay” immediately stops “the commencement… of a judicial, administrative, or other action or proceeding against the debtor…  .” Section 362(a)(1) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

The exceptions are debts that cannot be written off (“discharged”) in bankruptcy, such as certain ones based on fraud, income taxes, child or spousal support, or criminal behavior. But bankruptcy does discharge most debts. So filing bankruptcy will stop ongoing and future lawsuits on all those debts. And it will prevent those debts from turning into dangerous judgment liens on your home.

The Timing Can Be Crucial

Filing bankruptcy triggers the protections of the automatic stay. It’s too late once a judgment lien has already been recorded. (Except if that lien qualifies for getting “avoided.”)

It’s safest to file your bankruptcy case before you’ve been sued by a creditor. Once you’ve been sued, state laws differ about how quickly that lawsuit will turn into a judgment, and then a judgment lien. State laws also differ about what you and your lawyer can do to slow down that process. Intervening to slow it down may make sense so that you can file the bankruptcy case before a judgment lien can get recorded.

 

Which Type of Bankruptcy Is Right for Me?

August 19th, 2019 at 2:15 pm

bankruptcy-typeIn the United States, there are many different types of bankruptcies, some being for businesses, government sectors or individuals. If you are an individual filing for bankruptcy, the two most common types of bankruptcies that are filed are either Chapter 7, which is a liquidation bankruptcy, or Chapter 13, which is a reorganization bankruptcy. Each type of bankruptcy has its advantages and disadvantages, along with different sets of criteria to qualify for each type of bankruptcy. If you are unable to pay your bills each month or you are struggling to make ends meet, bankruptcy may be in your best interest. Choosing the right type of bankruptcy for your situation can be the key to your financial success.

Chapter 7 Basics

A Chapter 7 bankruptcy is also known as liquidation bankruptcy. This is because all of your “unnecessary” assets will be liquidated to help pay off some of your debts before your debts are forgiven. Most unsecured debts, such as credit card debt, will be discharged in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, meaning you will no longer be responsible for paying them. It takes roughly three to four months to complete a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which is a relatively short time frame.

To qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you must pass a means test, which is a test that is used to determine whether or not you are actually able to repay your debts. If you pass the means test or your income is less than the median income level for Texas, you will most likely qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If you earn too much, you may be denied.

Chapter 13 Basics

A Chapter 13 bankruptcy is known as reorganization bankruptcy because your debts will be reconfigured into affordable monthly payments. This type of bankruptcy allows you to repay some or all of your debts over the course of three or five years, depending on your income. At the end of the repayment period, the rest of your unsecured debts will be discharged. Chapter 13 bankruptcies allow the person filing to keep all of their property, even property that is deemed to be a “luxury” item in Chapter 7 bankruptcies.

Those who earn too much income to qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy may qualify for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Most people who have regular monthly income can qualify for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy because there are no income requirements. However, a person must have less than $419,275 in unsecured debt and less than $1,257,850 in secured debt.

Unsure of Which Type of Bankruptcy You Should Go With? Contact a New Braunfels, TX Bankruptcy Lawyer

Filing for any type of bankruptcy has consequences that you must deal with after everything is said and done. Though these consequences sometimes differ depending on the type of bankruptcy you choose, they can still affect your life. If you are wondering which type of bankruptcy would be best for your financial situation, or if you should file for bankruptcy at all, a skilled San Antonio, TX bankruptcy attorney can be an invaluable asset. Contact the Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee today to see how we can help you find solutions for your debt. Call our office at 210-342-3400 to schedule a free consultation.

 

Sources:

https://upsolve.org/learn/every-type-of-bankruptcy-explained/

https://www.credit.com/debt/filing-for-bankruptcy-difference-between-chapters-7-11-13/

Bankruptcy Can Remove a Judgment Lien

August 19th, 2019 at 7:00 am

Bankruptcy can, in the right circumstances, remove a judgment lien from the title to your home. Here are the conditions for pulling this off. 


 

The Problem, and the Bankruptcy Solution

Do you have a judgment lien on your home? If so, the debt on that judgment is secured by whatever equity you have in your home. The debt is encumbering the title to your home, eating up your equity.

A judgment lien on your home gives the creditor holding the judgment lien legal rights against your home.

Those lien rights, those property rights, are similar to the lien rights of a vehicle loan lender. The lender is a lienholder on the car’s title. If the vehicle owner doesn’t pay the vehicle loan, the lender can repossess the vehicle. Similarly, a judgment lien holder on your home can, under many circumstances, foreclose on your home. At the least it can force you to pay the debt when you sell or refinance your home.

Bankruptcy can help. Filing bankruptcy usually results in the legal write-off (the “discharge”) of the debt. See, generally, Sections 727 and 1328 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. The problem is that in many situations bankruptcy does not curtail creditors’ lien rights. In the example of a vehicle loan with the lender on the vehicle’s title, if you discharge that debt the lien still survives. You generally have to either surrender the vehicle or, if you want keep the vehicle, pay the debt.

However, with a judgment lien on your home, bankruptcy often CAN get rid of the judgment lien. This would take away the creditor’s dangerous rights against your home. This is a potentially huge benefit of filing bankruptcy. The process of getting rid of a judgment lien within bankruptcy is called “judgment lien avoidance.” 

The Conditions for Judgment Lien Avoidance

Here’s how the process works.

When you file bankruptcy, to “avoid” a judgment lien you must meet certain conditions:

  • The lien you’re getting rid of must be a “judicial lien.” That’s legally defined as “a lien obtained by judgment, levy, sequestration, or other legal or equitable process or proceeding.” Bankruptcy Code Section 101(36). Mostly, this refers to judgment liens.
  • The judgment lien at issue must attach to your “homestead.” That is, it attaches to “real property or personal property that the debtor or a dependent of the debtor uses as a residence.” Bankruptcy Code Section 522(d)(1).
  • The judgment lien can’t be for child or spousal support or for a mortgage. Subsections 522(f)(1)(A) and (2)(C).
  • The judgment lien “impairs” the homestead exemption. That is, “you may avoid the fixing of a lien on an interest of the debtor in property to the extent that such lien impairs a [homestead] exemption.” Section 522(f)(1)

Essentially, you’re entitled to protect the equity in your home provided by the homestead exemption. To the extent a judgment lien eats into that homestead exemption-protected equity, that portion of the lien is avoided, or negated.

For Example

Assume you had $20,000 of equity in your home beyond your first mortgage. Assume also that your designated homestead exemption amount is $25,000. (This varies by state.) This would mean that all of that $20,000 in equity would be protected by the homestead exemption. Then add that a hospital got a judgment against you of $15,000 which became a judgment lien recorded against your home. If you filed a bankruptcy case and moved to avoid that judgment lien, it would be completely avoided because:

  • It’s a judicial lien—one “obtained by judgment.”
  • The lien attaches to your homestead—the place you “use as a residence.”
  • The lien was not for child or spousal support or related to a mortgage.
  • All of this $15,000 judgment lien impairs your homestead exemption—eats into the home equity, all of which is protected by the exemption.

In this example, bankruptcy would very likely discharge the $15,000 hospital debt itself. And the motion to avoid the judgment lien would very likely be successful. You would no longer owe the debt. And your home would no longer be encumbered by the judgment lien.

 

Qualifying for Bankruptcy in Texas

August 14th, 2019 at 10:22 am

Texas bankruptcy lawyer, TX chapter 7 attorney, A bankruptcy can help by allowing you to discharge your debts and no longer be legally responsible for repaying those debts, giving you the chance to start over. This blank slate comes with a price, however. Filing for bankruptcy will affect your credit score and can make it harder to get future loans or credit cards. Nevertheless, for many people who are in financial trouble, there is no other way to remedy the situation but to file for bankruptcy. There are two types of bankruptcies that are commonly filed by individuals in the United States — Chapter 7 bankruptcy and Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Each type of bankruptcy has its own way of helping those who are in insurmountable debt, with Chapter 7 bankruptcy discharging most or all of your debts and Chapter 13 reorganizing your debts into more manageable monthly payments. Qualification requirements also vary depending on the type of bankruptcy you choose to go with.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

The idea behind a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is that you do not have enough income to repay all of the debts that you owe. As such, most of your debts are discharged in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In 2005, bankruptcy laws changed to add income limits to qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The past six months of your income will be used to determine whether or not you qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy along with the number of people in your household. Generally, the income limits are as follows:

  • Single person: $40,389
  • 2-Person Household: $54,762
  • 3-Person Household: $59,276
  • 4-Person Household: $65,932
  • Add $7,500 for each additional person over four household members

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

Qualifying for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy is slightly different. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy will allow you to reorganize your debts and make affordable monthly payments over three or five years. Because you are still technically paying all or most of your debts, you must prove that you have regular income and a sufficient amount to pay those debts. Next, your debts must not be above the thresholds. Unsecured debts, such as credit cards and personal loans, must be below $394,725. Secured debts, such as a mortgage or auto loan, cannot be more than $1,184,200.

Unsure if You Qualify for Bankruptcy? Contact a San Antonio, TX Bankruptcy Attorney Today

Financial troubles are never easy to deal with, especially when you have to deal with a bankruptcy. If you believe that bankruptcy is the best course of action for your financial issues, your next move is to determine which type of bankruptcy you qualify for. At the Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee, we can help you determine which type of bankruptcy is right for your particular case. With help from a Boerne, TX bankruptcy lawyer, you can be sure that you are receiving helpful and accurate advice. Call our office today at 210-342-3400 to schedule a free consultation.

 

Sources:

https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/bankruptcy-chapter-7-vs-chapter-13/

https://www.creditkarma.com/advice/i/what-is-chapter-13-bankruptcy/

 

Bankruptcy May Strip Off a Junior Mortgage

August 12th, 2019 at 7:00 am

Summary

Do you have a second or third mortgage on your home? Imagine if you could stop paying that monthly mortgage payment. Imagine over the course of the next 3 to 5 years paying only as much as you could readily afford to pay on the balance of that mortgage. This is often only a small portion of the mortgage balance. Or, if over that time you could afford to pay nothing, you’d likely pay nothing on that mortgage balance. Then at the end of that time, whatever you couldn’t pay would get completely written off.  That’s what happens in a second or third mortgage strip under Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts.”

Qualifying to Strip Your Second or Third Mortgage

The economic environment that is most likely to result in stripping mortgages is one of declining or static home prices. That’s not currently the situation in most parts of the country. Yet, given the huge potential advantages, it’s still worth looking to see if you qualify.

To qualify, your home can’t be worth more than the value of the liens legally ahead of the mortgage being stripped. You want to strip your second mortgage? Your home’s value can’t be more than the sum of first mortgage’s balance plus any other senior liens. Examples of liens possibly senior to the second mortgage: unpaid property taxes, an income tax lien, a homeowner association assessment.

For example, let’s say a home is worth $200,000 and the first mortgage balance is $197,500. You have a second mortgage of $20,000. But say you are also behind on property taxes totaling $4,000. By law the lien on that property tax usually legally comes ahead of the mortgages. So the liens ahead of the second mortgage—$4,000 plus $197,500—total $202,500. That’s more than the $200,000 that the home is worth. The $20,000 second mortgage could likely be stripped.

How Mortgage Stripping Works

Procedures can vary. There is a place in your Chapter 13 plan where your bankruptcy lawyer indicates you are stripping a mortgage. See question 3.2 in the official Chapter 13 Plan form. In most bankruptcy courts your lawyer will also file a motion to strip the mortgage. He or she may instead need to file a more formal adversary proceeding—a specialized bankruptcy lawsuit. The primary issue in all of these procedures is usually the true value of the home. Other pertinent facts are the accurate balances and legal order of the prior liens.

Once those facts are determined, either by consent or the judge’s ruling based on the evidence, it becomes clear whether the mortgage at issue can be stripped. If it can, the mortgage debt turns from one secured by your home into a completely unsecured debt. That allows you to stop making the mortgage payments on the stripped (second or third) mortgage.

How Much the Stripped Unsecured Mortgage Gets Paid

Once the mortgage balance becomes unsecured, you pay it to the same extent as all your other general unsecured debts. As mentioned above, that is often not very much, and may even be nothing.

How much depends usually on what you can afford to pay on these lowest priority debts. That’s called your disposable income—your net income minus reasonable expenses.

However, often much of your disposable income goes elsewhere, not to your general unsecured debts. Other debts are considered legally more important—such as catching up on a first mortgage, vehicle loan, child or spousal support, or income taxes. These secured or priority debts usually get paid in full before anything goes to the general unsecured debts. If all of your disposable income goes to pay secured and priority debts (plus trustee and attorney fees), then there may be nothing left for the general unsecured debts. If so, you may pay nothing on your stripped mortgage balance.

Why You Usually Don’t Pay Any More on General Unsecured Debts

What if you do have some money left over during your 3-to-5-year plan to pay towards your general unsecured debts? This is important: you likely won’t end up paying any more on these unsecured debts if you strip a mortgage.  That’s because usually you have only a set amount of money available for all the general unsecured debts. Remember, that’s based on what you can afford to pay, minus what goes to higher priority debts and fees. That set amount of money just gets divided up among an additional unsecured debt—your stripped mortgage balance.

Example: You have $50,000 in general unsecured debts. You can afford to pay a total of $5,000 towards those debts during your 3-year plan. That’s a 10% payout. Now you strip a $20,000 second mortgage, so now your total general unsecured debt balance is $70,000. Your other circumstances haven’t changed, so you still can afford to pay $5,000 towards your unsecured debts. That money is just spread out over more debt (resulting in about 7% payout on them).

The result is that in this example you’d pay about 7% on your stripped mortgage, or about $1,400 of the $20,000. More importantly, you wouldn’t pay a dime more to complete your case than if you didn’t have that stripped mortgage. Then at your Chapter 13 case’s completion, the remaining mortgage balance would be wiped clean and the mortgage’s lien wiped off your home’s title.  

 

Bankruptcy Stops a Property Tax Foreclosure

August 5th, 2019 at 7:00 am

Bankruptcy can help if you’re behind on real estate taxes. Chapter 7 by getting rid of other debts, Chapter 13 by buying you lots more time.  


Bankruptcy Stops a Property Tax Foreclosure

Filing either a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” or a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” stops a foreclosure by your property tax authority.

Filing bankruptcy stops most forms of debt collection through the “automatic stay.” In particular the automatic stay stops “any act to… enforce any lien against property of the [bankruptcy] estate” Section 362(a)(4) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. The bankruptcy “estate” includes all assets that you own when you file your bankruptcy case. It includes your home.

A tax authority’s foreclosure for property taxes is the enforcement of the property tax lien. That foreclosure becomes illegal as soon as your bankruptcy filing imposes the automatic stay.

So filing bankruptcy stops a tax foreclosure. What happens next?

Chapter 7: Discharge Your Other Debts to Afford Your Property Taxes 

If you’ve fallen behind on your property taxes, it’s likely because you’ve had other debts that you had to pay. You didn’t have enough cash flow to pay both, and likely haven’t for quite a while.

Maybe if you wrote off (“discharged”) your debts through bankruptcy you’d have enough to start paying the property taxes. Chapter 7 is usually the quickest and cheapest way to discharge your other debts. (This assumes that you qualify, and that you don’t have other reasons to file a Chapter 13 case instead.)

Most local tax authorities don’t have the legal right to foreclose on your property until you are several years behind. Talk with your bankruptcy lawyer about this. You may have some time to catch up. On the other hand, tax foreclosure rules vary greatly, and they tend to be very strict. Once it’s too late it’s simply too late.  Find out for sure where you stand on any deadlines.

Your bankruptcy lawyer should also be able to tell you whether your tax authority would likely set up a monthly payment plan for you to catch up. If so, determine whether you could afford the catch-up payments after you discharge your other debts.  

In these situations filing a Chapter 7 would give you the help you need.

Chapter 7: Often Not Enough Help

But there are many situations when Chapter 7 does not solve the problem.

First, if a tax foreclosure is happening soon, you probably don’t have enough time to catch up.

Second, even if there’s no pending tax foreclosure you may need more help for the following reasons:

  • Even after discharging your other debts you wouldn’t have enough money left over to satisfy your tax authority.
  • The tax authority doesn’t provide a way to catch up, maybe because you’ve let the collection process go too far.
  • You had a deal to catch up earlier but just didn’t have the cash flow to stick with it. Now they won’t give you another chance.
  • Your mortgage lender requires you to bring the taxes current more quickly, on threat of its own foreclosure.

Chapter 13: Buy More Time and Flexibility

Under Chapter 13 you can bring your property taxes current over a period as long as 5 years. This extended period results in lower monthly catch-up payments, making more likely that you’d succeed with it. During this time you wouldn’t be at the mercy of the tax authority. While you’d be in the Chapter 13 case you’re protected against foreclosure or any other collection activity. You do need to fulfill the terms of your Chapter 13 payment plan, as you proposed and the bankruptcy court approved. But as long as you do, Chapter 13 saves you a long of anxiety. It gives you a measure of financial consistency and stability.

Chapter 13 can also save you money in very practical way. It is a very good legal mechanism for dealing with many other special debts, such as income taxes, child and spousal support, and vehicle loans. Your payment plan may allow you to catch up on the property taxes ahead of these other special debts. So you get current on your back property taxes more quickly than with a Chapter 7 case. That saves you interest on the unpaid property taxes, which are usually assessed at a relatively high rate. Drawing down the property tax debt faster also builds equity in your home faster.

Chapter 13: When Behind on Your Mortgage, Too

Unless you own your home without a mortgage, if you’re behind on your property taxes you’re likely also behind on the mortgage. Even if you are current on the mortgage, your mortgage lender is likely threatening its own foreclosure because you’re not current on the taxes. In both of these situations Chapter 13 is usually the best option. That’s because it is especially adept at handling both of these debts simultaneously.

Chapter 13 allows you to stretch out your mortgage catch-up payments up to 5 years (just like with the taxes). Most importantly, throughout this time you are protected from foreclosure by either the tax authority or your lender.

You do have to keep current on your Chapter 13 payment plan. But those payments are based on a realistic budget. They can be adjusted for both anticipated and unanticipated changes in your income and expenses.

You do also have to keep current on ongoing property taxes, so that you don’t fall further behind. Because that’s incorporated into your budget, this should not be a problem.  You want to be completely current when you finish your payment plan, and you’re required to be. Chapter 13 gives you the means to do so.

 

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