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Archive for the ‘Bankruptcy Options’ Category

Protecting Excess Home Equity through Chapter 13

July 15th, 2019 at 7:00 am

Chapter 13 can be a highly advantageous way to protect your home equity if that equity is larger than your homestead exemption amount.  

 

The Problem of Too Much Home Equity

Our last two blog posts were about protecting the equity in your home through the homestead exemption. Two weeks ago was about protecting the current equity; last week about protecting future equity. The blog post about protecting current equity assumed that the amount of equity in your home is no more than the amount of your applicable homestead exemption. For example, if your home is worth $300,000, your mortgage is $270,000, that gives you $30,000 of equity. If your homestead exemption is $30,000 or more that equity would be protected in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case.

But what if you have more equity in your home than the applicable homestead exemption amount? In the above example, what if you had $30,000 in equity but your homestead exemption was only $25,000? Your home could conceivably be sold by the bankruptcy trustee if you filed a Chapter 7 case. Your creditors would receive the proceeds of the sale beyond the homestead exemption amount. Presumably you need relief from your creditors. But clearly don’t want to give up your home and its equity in return for being free of your debts.

What about getting that equity out of the home through refinancing the mortgage? Well, what if you don’t qualify to refinance your home? You may not have enough of an equity cushion. Or your credit may be too damaged. Or maybe you’d qualify for a refinance but it still wouldn’t get you out of debt. That would not be a good option. So what do you do instead to protect your home and that equity?

The Chapter 13 Way to Protect Extra Equity

If your home equity is larger your applicable homestead exemption, then filing a Chapter 13 case can usually protect it.  Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” protects excessive equity better than Chapter 7. Essentially Chapter 13 gives you time to comfortably pay your general creditors for being able to keep your home.

Why do you have to pay your creditors to be able to keep your home? Remember, if your home equity is larger than your homestead exemption, the alternative is having a Chapter 7 trustee sell the house to get the equity out of it to pay to your creditors. Chapter 13 is often a tremendously better alternative, as we’ll explain here. Also, see Section 1325(a)(4) of the Bankruptcy Code.

Gives You Time to Comfortably Pay

Consider the example above about having $5,000 of equity more that the amount protected by the homestead exemption. Chapter 13 essentially would give you 3 to 5 years to pay that $5,000. This would be done as part of a monthly payment in your Chapter 13 payment plan. $5,000 spread out over 3 years is about $139 per month. Spread out over 5 years is only about $83 per month. Assuming this was part of a monthly payment that reasonably fit into your budget, wouldn’t it be worth paying that to your general creditors if it meant keeping your home and all of its equity?

It’s likely more complicated than this in your personal situation. You may be behind on your mortgage payments or owe income taxes, or countless other normal complications. But at the heart of it Chapter 13 can protect your equity in a flexible way. It’s often the most practical, financially most feasible way.

Chapter 13 is Flexible

To demonstrate Chapter 13’s flexibility, let’s add one of the complications we just mentioned: being behind on your mortgage. Chapter 13 usually allows you to catch up on your mortgage first. So, for example, most of your monthly plan payment could go to there during the first part of your case. Then after that’s caught up, most of the payment could go to cover the excess home equity. The creditors would just have to wait.

Protecting Your Excess Equity “For Free”

Sometimes you don’t have to pay your general creditors anything at all to protect the equity beyond your homestead exemption.  Consider the example we’ve been using with $5,000 of excess equity. Now, using another complication mentioned above, assume you owe $5,000 in recent income taxes. That tax is a nondischargeable” debt, one that is not written off in any kind of bankruptcy case. It’s a “priority” debt, one that you’d have to pay in full during the course of a Chapter 13 case. If you pay all you can afford to pay into your Chapter 13 plan, and it’s just enough to pay your $5,000 priority tax debt, nothing gets paid to your general creditors. You pay the priority tax debt in full before you have to pay a dime to your general creditors. If there is nothing left for the general creditors after paying all that you can afford to pay during your required length of your payment plan, you likely won’t need to pay those debts at all. 

This means that you saved the equity in your home by paying the $5,000 into your plan to pay off the tax debt. That’s a debt you’d have to pay anyway. You’d have to pay it if you didn’t file any kind of bankruptcy case. You’d have to pay it after completing a Chapter 7 case because it does not get discharged. And it also has to be paid in a Chapter 13 case. But in a Chapter 13 case you fulfill your obligation to pay the $5,000 (in our example) to protect your home equity (the amount in excess of the homestead exemption), whether it goes to the pay the tax or goes to pay the general creditors. Under the right facts you save your home and pay nothing to your general creditors.

Conclusion

Chapter 13 can be an extremely favorable way to keep a home with more equity than the homestead exemption amount. At worst, you’d pay the amount of equity in excess of the exemption. But you would do so based on a reasonable budget, with significant flexibility about the timing of payment. At best, you wouldn’t pay anything to your general creditors, when the money instead goes to a debt you must pay anyway, like the recent income tax debt in the example.

These situations depend on the unique circumstances of your finances.  See a highly competent bankruptcy lawyer to get thorough advice about how your circumstances would apply under Chapter 13.

 

Protecting Future Home Equity through Chapter 7

July 8th, 2019 at 7:00 am

Protecting present home equity is a sensible focus when considering bankruptcy. Protecting future potential equity can be even more important. 

 

Our last blog posts discussed how to protect the equity currently in your home through the homestead exemption. We discussed property exemptions in bankruptcy in general, and federal and state homestead exemptions in particular. Overall we showed how your homestead exemption can preserve the equity you presently have through a Chapter 7 case.

We mentioned that you can also protect your future home equity through these same tools, but we didn’t describe how. This is worth more attention.

Future Home Equity

Chapter 7 bankruptcy fixates on the present. It deals with debts you have at the moment your lawyer files the Chapter 7 case at the bankruptcy court. In particular, Chapter 7 usually is not interested in new assets you acquire after the date of filing, For example, the money you earn when you go to work the day after filing is outside bankruptcy jurisdiction. Again, for most purposes bankruptcy looks only at what you own on the date of filing.

This is also true as far as your home is concerned. Chapter 7 fixates on how much equity you have in the home at the moment of filing. That is, we look at what the home is worth then, and how much debt there is against it. (The debt includes all valid security interests against the home: mortgages, property taxes, income tax liens, etc.)

But those factors that determine your home equity—the home’s value, and the amount(s) you owe against it—change. They change all the time. The home’s value goes up and down (but mostly up) with the market. The debt on the security interests change every day with interest and every time you make a payment. Generally after filing bankruptcy and getting your financial house in order, you’d make progress paying down home debts. With the home value usually going up and debt against it going down in the years after filing bankruptcy, most people build equity in their home.  

Future Home Equity Greater than Present Homestead Exemption Amount

There’s a good chance that at some point—if you keep your home long enough—the amount of your home’s equity will exceed the applicable homestead exemption.

Take this example. A home is worth $300,000, the mortgage is $260,000, with a remaining equity being the difference, $40,000. Assume the applicable homestead exemption is $50,000. That covers the $40,000 in equity.

Now let’s say that in 3 years the home value increases to $335,000, and the mortgage is paid down to $250,000. The amount of equity at that point is the difference: $85,000. That’s $35,000 more than the applicable $50,000 homestead exemption (assuming that hasn’t been increased in the meantime).

If this homeowner filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy now, the $40,000 in present equity is protected by the homestead exemption. But what if the homeowner doesn’t file bankruptcy now but waits 3 years to do so? The home equity will at that point have increased well beyond the amount the homestead exemption would protect.

Future Equity is Even More Important than Protecting Your Home Now

Sure, when you’re considering bankruptcy, your focus is on the present. As far as protecting your home equity, mostly all you want to hear from your bankruptcy lawyer is that the equity is covered now. Is the home equity going to be protected?

But as you think about whether you should file bankruptcy, Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, and when to do so, potential future equity is arguably an even more important consideration.

Most directly, there are simply likely more dollars at stake in future equity vs. present equity. In the above example, the person was protecting $35,000 in home equity when filing bankruptcy now. But by the same bankruptcy filing he or she was protecting $85,000 in future equity. Isn’t protecting that future $85,000 at least as important in protecting the present $35,000 in value?  

Conclusion

When you consider whether to file bankruptcy, you’re thinking about both the present and the future. You want relief and a fresh start now so that you can have a more financially peaceful and prosperous future. When thinking about your home, Chapter 7 allows you to preserve your present modest equity now so that it’ll have the opportunity to build it into much larger future equity.

Marital Debt: Determining the Best Way to File for Bankruptcy

June 14th, 2019 at 5:48 pm

TX bankruptcy attorney, Texas bankruptcy lawyer Many people believe that being married means you automatically take on your partner’s debt. While it is true that assets you accrue during the marriage can be considered joint assets, that is not always the case for debts. You will only be legally responsible for your spouse’s debts if both of your names were used when you incurred the debt. It is not uncommon for only one spouse in a marriage to file for bankruptcy individually. Many of these single-spouse situations happen when a couple is married and one spouse has debt that they are having trouble repaying. For some couples, a major concern is whether or not they should file for bankruptcy jointly or separately.

Community Property and Community Debts

Before you decide if you will be filing for bankruptcy separately or with your spouse, it is important to look at the entire situation. Texas is a community property state, meaning that most of the property that was acquired during the marriage is jointly owned, or belongs to the “community,” which is you and your spouse. Because of this, even if just one spouse files for bankruptcy, all of the community property becomes part of the bankruptcy estate.

Though it may seem sequential that community debt also exists, it does not. The only debts you will be responsible for are the debts that you incurred either jointly or in your name only.

Should You File Individually or Jointly?

When it comes down to it, it all depends on your specific situation. Filing separately for bankruptcy in a community property state may not be the best idea because all community property in your marriage will become part of the bankruptcy estate. This means your spouse could be affected negatively by the bankruptcy and could possibly have their assets seized if they were acquired during the marriage.

Filing jointly will allow both spouses to discharge all of their debts, both individual debts and marital debts. You will also get to keep more property if you file jointly, rather than if you filed separately. The exemptions typically double for couples when they file for bankruptcy jointly.

Get in Touch With a Knowledgeable Boerne, TX Bankruptcy Attorney

The bankruptcy process is confusing, especially when you are dealing with the bankruptcy of a married person. If you have any questions pertaining to bankruptcy or if you would like to consult an attorney for your best options for filing, the Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee is here to help. Our knowledgeable Kerrville, TX bankruptcy lawyers can help you and your spouse look at each scenario and determine your best course of action. Call our office today at 210-342-3400 to schedule a free consultation.

 

Source:

https://www.thebalance.com/can-i-file-bankruptcy-without-my-spouse-4156807

 

Filing Chapter 13 in December (or January!) May Greatly Shorten Your Case

December 17th, 2018 at 8:00 am

Do you need a Chapter 13 case? WHEN you file it can mean the difference between a payment plan that takes 3 years and one that takes 5.  

 

In two blog posts last month (November 12 and 19) we showed how filing bankruptcy by the end of December 31 might allow you to file a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case instead of being forced into a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” one. You could have your debts discharged (legally written off) within just 3 or 4 months under Chapter 7. Otherwise you may have to go through a 3-to-5-year payment plan under Chapter 13. Besides likely costing much more, you’d only discharge your remaining debts if you successfully completed your payment plan.

But What If You Need a Chapter 13 Case?

The benefits of Chapter 7 won’t matter much to you if you need a Chapter 13 case in the first place.

Yes, Chapter 13 takes so much longer than Chapter 7.

And Chapter 13 is much riskier. Most Chapter 7 cases—especially one in which the debtor has a bankruptcy lawyer—get completed successfully. Chapter 13 comes with longer odds. A lot can happen in the 3 to 5 years that they usually take. Chapter 13 is a flexible tool, one that you can often adjust to changing circumstances. But the truth is that a significant percentage of them do NOT get completed successfully.

Notwithstanding the extra time and risks, Chapter 13 could still be by far the best tool for you.  That’s simply because it can accomplish many things that Chapter 7 can’t. For example, Chapter 13 can:

  • give you time to catch up on home mortgage and/or property taxes
  • buy you time and save you money if you owe lots of income taxes, especially if you owe on more than one tax year
  • give you time to catch up on child or spousal support while protecting your income, assets, and license(s) from suspension while doing so
  • allow you to keep assets that are otherwise not protected in a Chapter 7 case
  • lower your monthly vehicle payments and reduce the total amount on the loan
  • hold off on student loan payments and collection until you qualify for an “undue hardship”

And these are just some of the ways that Chapter 13 can deal with your creditors more powerfully than Chapter 7.

A Shorter Chapter 13 Payment Plan

So, what if you’ve learned that you really need a Chapter 13 case? What if you also learned that filing your Chapter 13 case in December instead of January would allow you to finish your case in 3 years instead of 5 years? Or what if that was true if you filed your case in January instead of February?

Paying into a Chapter 13 payment plan for 2 years less could save you many thousands of dollars. Plus, that would get you out of bankruptcy 2 years sooner. You’d be that much ahead of the game in rebuilding your credit.  You’d have the emotional relief of finishing and getting on with life sooner

Here could filing a Chapter case a month sooner shorten the case so much? Here’s how.

Your Last-6-Full Months of Income Determines How Long Your Chapter 13 Lasts  

Our blog post of November 12 described an unusual way of calculating your income for the Chapter 7 “means test.” (That’s a test to qualify for filing a Chapter 7 case.)   That way of calculating income also determines whether your Chapter 13 plan lasts a minimum of 3 years or 5.

Income is calculated as follows:

1) Consider almost all sources of money coming to you in just about any form as income…. .  Pretty much the only money excluded are those received under the Social Security Act, including retirement, disability (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

2) The period of time that counts for the means test is exactly the 6 full calendar months before your bankruptcy filing date. Included as income is ONLY the money you receive during those specific months. This excludes money received before that 6-month block of time. It also excludes any money received during the calendar month that you file your Chapter 7 case.

The 6-month amount is multiplied by 2 for the annual “income” total to be compared to the “median income” for your state and family size.

When you combine the above two considerations, monthly changes in your “income” can make a big difference.  That’s especially true if your money coming in is more than usual in either December or January.  (That would most often be from more overtime, a seasonal job, a monetary gift from family, and/or an employer’s bonus.)

Because of the way “income” is calculated there’s a higher risk that it would be larger than the “median income” for your state and family size. If it is larger, then you must pay your Chapter 13 case for 5 years instead of 3 years.

What’s My Applicable “Median income”?

The “median income” amounts are adjusted regularly and published by the U.S. Trustee Program of the Department of Justice. Here’s a table showing the “median family income” amounts for cases filed on or after November 1, 2018. It shows the amount for each state, by family size. (The amounts are adjusted about three times a year; see this webpage to see if there has been an update.)

(For the actual steps used in this calculation, see the official form, Chapter 13 Statement of Your Current Monthly Income and Calculation of Commitment Period.)

So if your “income” as calculated above is larger than your applicable “median family income” than your Chapter 13 case gets pushed to 5 years.  If it’s smaller, your case can last as short as 3 years. (That 3 or 5 years is the “commitment period” referred to in the official form in the paragraph above.)

If your “income” is larger because of unusual money you received in December and/or January, it may make sense to file your Chapter 13 case in either December or January so that the income of that month would not count. (Remember, that’s because you only count income of the PRIOR 6 FULL calendar months before the filing date.)

In next week’s blog post we’ll put all this into an example to make better sense of it for you.

 

Example of Reaffirmation Agreement vs. Cramdown of Vehicle Loan

January 8th, 2018 at 8:00 am

Here’s an example of the reaffirmation of a vehicle loan in a Chapter 7 case vs. “cramdown” of the debt in a Chapter 13 case.

 

We’re in a series of blog posts about choosing between Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” and Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts.”  Along these lines two blog posts ago we outlined when to reaffirm a secured debt (focusing on a vehicle loan) under Chapter 7 vs. handling it under Chapter 13 instead. Then last time we gave some examples showing which option works better in different situations.  That focused on situations in which someone had fallen behind on the payments, and/or had a rough payment history. But we didn’t cover the special situation of Chapter 13 “cramdown.”

Today we’ll give an example when cramdown on a vehicle loan may be a good reason to file a Chapter 13 case.

The Background Facts

Let’s say Christina is current on her vehicle loan. She got far behind on all her other debts because of a serious illness for which she was underinsured. She’s healthy now but being so sick hit her hard financially. She has way more debt than she could ever pay off, and she’s being sued by two of her creditors.

She absolutely has to keep her vehicle to be able to get to work and take her son to school. So Christina knows she has to file a bankruptcy case to be able to make payments on her vehicle. She has to act soon because the lawsuits will turn into judgments and then into garnishments of her paycheck.

The Chapter 7 Reaffirmation Option

Her bankruptcy lawyer informs her that a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing would discharge all her non-vehicle debts. This means she would no longer owe anything on them.

Plus Christina could enter into a reaffirmation agreement with her vehicle lender, and continue paying on that debt. She does not mind continuing to be legally liable on this debt because keeping her car is her highest priority. Plus continuing to pay on the vehicle loan consistent with her original contract would help resuscitate her post-bankruptcy credit record.  

The Chapter 13 Vehicle Loan Cramdown

But now let’s add a few more facts. When Christina bought her car 3 years ago she had a much higher paying job than she has now. The car she bought reflected her relatively high pay. Then, through a combination of bad choices and bad luck she lost her job, became a single mom, and had the car accident.

The result of all this is that vehicle loan’s monthly payments are quite high. They are more than she can afford to pay even without her other debts. This is in part because of her costly childcare and other expenses related to her baby.

Christina’s lawyer informs her that in a Chapter 7 reaffirmation she’d have to pay the vehicle loan’s full monthly payments. But Chapter 13 “cramdown” of that vehicle loan could reduce that monthly payment amount. In fact, cramdown could save her money both short-term and long-term.

IF she qualifies, cramdown essentially allows her to re-write her car loan based on the fair market value of her vehicle.

Qualifying for Vehicle Loan Cramdown

First, cramdown doesn’t do any good for Christina unless her vehicle is worth less than she owes on it. Otherwise no reduction in her monthly payment or in the amount she owes is possible. The less her car is worth compared to what she owes the more cramdown helps her.

Second, cramdown on a consumer vehicle loan only applies if the loan is more than 910 days old at filing. (See the unnumbered “hanging paragraph” right after Section 1325(a)(9) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.) 910 days is about 2 and half years. Since Christina bought her car 3 years ago, she meets this 910-day requirement.

Cramdown Applied

Adding some final facts, assume that Christina’s car is worth $8,000 but she still owes $15,500 on it. The monthly payments were $600 on a 5-year contract. She can realistically afford to pay $275 per month into her Chapter 13 plan payment. Based on her present income, she would have to pay that for 3 years.

Cramdown for Christina would mean that she could pay only $8,000 for her car, plus interest. That interest would often be at a reduced rate. That covers the secured part of her debts—the $8,000 of the $15,500 that she owes.

She would pay the remaining unsecured portion—the remaining $7,500—if and only to the extent that she could afford to do so. That $7,500 would be put into the pool of all her other unsecured debts. That pool would receive any leftover money she pays into her Chapter 13 plan. That means whatever money—IF ANY—after the $8,000 secured debt portion of the vehicle loan, plus interest, plus Chapter 13 administrative expenses (the trustee fees and any remaining attorney fees).

In this case Christina is paying $275 for 36 months, or $9,900. Of that $8,000 plus about $750 in interest would go to her vehicle lender. Virtually all of the remaining $1,150 ($9,900 minus $8,750) would go to her trustee and attorney fees.

So, Christina would end up paying Chapter 13 monthly plan payments of less than HALF her present monthly car payments. ($275 vs. $600). Although the plan payments would extend longer than her car loan would have (3 years instead of 2), the total she’d pay on ALL of her debts would much less than how much she would have paid on just her car if she had filed a Chapter 7 case and reaffirmed on the vehicle loan.  ($9,900 in her Chapter 13 plan vs about $16,500 to reaffirm her vehicle loan.)

Conclusion

So here it looks like Christina could save both monthly and in the long run under Chapter 13 cramdown.  Most importantly, the lower monthly payments would enable her to keep her car when she otherwise couldn’t.

Note that usually there are other considerations affecting the choice between Chapter 7 and 13. Sometimes there are many considerations that need to be weighed against each other. For example, if Christina had a way to get another vehicle—through a relative, perhaps—going through a Chapter 13 just to keep her car may well not be worthwhile. However, if she was behind on a mortgage or taxes, these could be additional reasons to file under Chapter 13. Choosing your best option truly does require looking at your complete financial life with the help of your experienced bankruptcy lawyer.

 

Examples of Reaffirmation Agreement vs. Chapter 13

January 5th, 2018 at 8:00 am

Here are examples of the reaffirmation of a secured debt (like a vehicle loan) in a Chapter 7 case vs. addressing it in a Chapter 13 case. 

 

The last blog post was about when to reaffirm a secured debt under Chapter 7 and when to handle that under Chapter 13 instead. This kind of comparison of options can get a bit dry. So today we’re demonstrating how it really works with some examples. We change the facts a few times to show when each of these two options makes more sense.

The Initial Facts

Let’s say a guy named Trevor just fell two months behind on his vehicle loan. He’s at immediate risk of getting his car repossessed. He really needs to keep his vehicle to get to and from work. He’s always behind on his vehicle loan because he has so many other debts—mostly medical bill and unsecured credit cards. What’s especially killing him is that he got sued on some big medical bills and is getting his wages garnished.

Trevor sees a good bankruptcy lawyer. She tells him that filing quickly under either Chapter 7 or 13 would stop the repossession. Either option would also permanently stop the paycheck garnishment. He tells her that his brother can give him the money to catch up on the two missed payments.  The brother is only willing to do this if he takes care of his other debts with some kind of bankruptcy solution.

Chapter 7 Reaffirmation If Can Bring Secured Debt Current

Much of the time if you want to keep collateral on a secured debt in a Chapter 7 case you must bring the debt current within a few weeks, and then reaffirm the debt on its original terms. This is particularly true with vehicle loans with the larger national lenders. In other words, you have to agree to remain fully liable on the debt. You have to agree to continue being legally bound by all the terms of the contract. (See our recent blog posts about the risks of reaffirming.)

Trevor has a relatively easy way to bring his vehicle loan current, thanks to his brother. So his lawyer recommends that he files a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case. Shortly after filing he can bring the vehicle loan current and sign a reaffirmation agreement. With all his other debts being discharged (legally written off), he’ll be able to keep current on his car payments. Problems solved.

If He Can’t Catch Up Fast

But what if Trevor didn’t have his brother’s help? He may not be able to catch up fast enough to be able to reaffirm his vehicle loan. In a Chapter 7 case he has about 2 months after filing—3 months at the most—to catch up. That’s because you usually have to get current before the creditor will let you reaffirm. And you have to reaffirm before the bankruptcy court enters the “discharge order” about 3 months after filing.

Assuming that Trevor didn’t think he could catch up in time, and because he absolutely didn’t want to risk not being able to keep his car, his lawyer would likely recommend Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” filing instead. This would give him many months—maybe even a couple years—to bring the vehicle loan current.

Other Special Debts Encouraging a Chapter 13 Filing

Now also assume that Trevor’s financial pressures had also put him quite a few months behind on his spousal support.  His ex-spouse had actually been quite flexible, letting him skip payments here and there, or send smaller amounts. But once the lawsuit’s garnishments started, his spousal support payments became even more irregular. So, his ex-spouse got fed up and sent the account to the state’s support enforcement agency. Trevor now finds himself $4,500 behind on support, with aggressive collection to start any moment. And a Chapter 7 filing won’t stop the state’s collection of this support.

Trevor’s lawyer tells him that a Chapter 13 filing WILL stop collection for this $4,500 of support. He’d have up to 5 years to bring that current. His Chapter 13 payment plan would be based on what he could afford to pay. That plan would show how he would—over time—catch up on both the vehicle loan arrearage and the support arrearage, while keeping current on ongoing payments.

His lawyer tells Trevor that a possible downside to Chapter 13 is he’d have to pay all that he could afford to his other creditors during 3 years. (5 years if his income is too high based on his state and family size.) But there may be very little—even possibly nothing—going to his other debts if most of his income goes to living expenses and to bring these two special debts current.

Trevor decides on a Chapter 13 case. He will be able to keep his vehicle, catching up as his budget allows. He also has a reasonable way to bring his big spousal support arrearage current. He knows that at the end of the process he’ll be current on these two, and will otherwise be completely debt free.

 

Reaffirmation Agreement vs. Chapter 13

January 3rd, 2018 at 8:00 am

When is it better to reaffirm a secured debt (such as a vehicle loan) in a Chapter 7 case vs. handling it instead in a Chapter 13 case? 

 

The last 5 blog posts in December were about keeping the collateral you want by “reaffirming” the debt. “Reaffirmation” applies only to Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy”cases. (We’ve focused mostly on reaffirming a vehicle loan.) Today we get into keeping collateral (such as a vehicle) instead in a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case. Our main question today: when is Chapter 13 a better way to keep your collateral than Chapter 7?

Rule of Thumb: Chapter 7 unless Need More Help

There are basically two questions:

  1. Would you be able to keep your collateral/vehicle in a Chapter 7 case?
  2. Even if so, would you get a significantly better result in a Chapter 13 case?

1. When You’re Able to Keep the Collateral in Chapter 7

If you are current on your debt payments, you would very likely be able to keep your collateral/vehicle under Chapter 7. You usually have to formally reaffirm the debt. That means you exclude that debt from the discharge (legal write off) that Chapter 7 provides. You continue to be fully liable on that one debt.

Creditors are usually very happy to be singled out this way. You are much better of a credit risk once you no longer owe all or most of your other debts.

Even if you are not current a Chapter 7 reaffirmation works if:

  • you are able to bring the debt current within two or so months after filing, or
  • the creditor is willing to work out the missed payments—give you more time to catch up, put the missed payments at the end of the contract, or even forgive the payments altogether

Chapter 7 also works well in those situations that a creditor is willing to lower the monthly payment and maybe even the total owed. This seldom happens with vehicle loans, except maybe if the vehicle is worth much, much less than you owe.

2. When Chapter 13 Can Give You a Better Result

Even if you CAN keep the collateral in a Chapter 7 case that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should if Chapter 13 would give you a much better result.

If you’re not current on payments, Chapter 13 would give you much more time to catch up. Consider if your creditor is making you catch up immediately before reaffirming, or within a few months after reaffirming. Let’s say you COULD catch up but it would take extraordinary effort to do so. Chapter 13 could give you many months—or maybe even a few years—to catch up. If that would greatly help you that extra time to catch up which Chapter 13 gives you could make its much longer procedure worthwhile. This may be especially true if you have other very pressing debts (child or spousal support, income taxes, etc.).

Whether or not you are current on payments, Chapter 13 can give you a much better result if your collateral is worth significantly less than you owe on it. You can do a “cramdown” when your collateral is NOT real estate but instead “personal property.” Personal property is essentially anything that isn’t real estate, including vehicles, furniture, appliances, electronics, etc.  Without going into detail here, “cramdown” allows you to re-write your loan based on how much your collateral is worth. You can usually reduce the monthly payment and the total you pay, sometimes very significantly. “Cramdown” is available only under Chapter 13, not Chapter 7.

Especially Bad Payment History

As we said earlier, it’s usually in a creditor’s best interest to allow you to reaffirm a debt whenever you are willing to do so. But in rare circumstances a creditor may refuse to allow you to reaffirm the debt and keep the collateral. This may happen if you’ve had an especially bad payment record—consistently been very late on your payments, for example. Or if you’ve failed to maintain insurance. At some point a creditor may just prefer to repossess the collateral, sell it, and to end the relationship. Talk with you bankruptcy lawyer about whether this may be an issue for you if your history sounds like this. He or she likely has experience with your creditor about such matters.

In situations when a creditor may not be willing to let you reaffirm, Chapter 13 may be worth seriously consideration. In a Chapter 13 case the creditor has much less say about whether you get to keep collateral. You and your lawyer put the secured debt into your payment plan, leaving the creditor with limited grounds for objection. It’s true that your prior history may result in some greater restrictions. For example, if you’ve let a vehicle’s insurance lapse before, you can’t let that happen during the Chapter 13 case or you may lose your vehicle.  Also you DO have to comply with the plan that you propose and the court approves. But as long as you do so you’ll be able to keep the collateral and will own it free and clear by the end of the case.

 

Debts Voluntarily Paid in Chapter 7

December 18th, 2017 at 8:00 am

Chapter 7 is usually much better if one of your high priorities is to favor a debt by paying it. You can do so more easily and flexibly. 

 

Our last blog post was about debts that you still pay after a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case. These included debts you might WANT to pay as well as those that you are legally REQUIRED to pay.

Today we focus on debts you might want to pay for no reason other than a sense of moral or personal obligation. That is, you’re not paying in order to be allowed to keep some collateral. You’re not “reaffirming” a mortgage or vehicle loan to keep the home or vehicle. (We’ll get into “reaffirmations” next time.)

One reason we’re looking at debts paid out of personal obligation is because how different this is in Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13. For reasons we’ll show, it’s legally easy to favor such a debt in Chapter 7. But it’s not practical to do so in Chapter 13.

The Myth about Not Favoring a Debt after Bankruptcy

People have many fears about filing bankruptcy that are based on myths. One myth is that they think they won’t be allowed to pay a debt that they really want to pay.

Like most persistent myths this one is based on something that’s true only in certain limited circumstances. But then people assume it applies to them when it likely doesn’t.

It’s true that in certain circumstances in bankruptcy, debts within the same legal category must be treated the same. Similarly, in a Chapter 13 payment plan all unsecured debts that are not “priority” debts are paid the same percentage.

However, after a Chapter 7 case (by far the most common type) you are completely free to pay any debt that you feel like paying. The Bankruptcy Code is very direct about this: “[n]othing… prevents a debtor from voluntarily repaying any debt.” Section 524(f) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

Don’t Avoid Filing Bankruptcy Because You Want to Pay a Debt

So being concerned about wanting to pay a debt for personal reasons is not a reason to not file bankruptcy.

And it’s certainly not a reason to put off seeing a competent bankruptcy lawyer about your options. The job of your lawyer is to listen to your concerns and help you solve them. If one of your priorities is to pay a debt for whatever personal reason, your lawyer will explain your options for meeting this priority. There are usually sensible ways to meet all of your concerns.

Scenarios for Wanting to Pay a Debt

In our experience there are three basic reasons people want to pay a debt they aren’t legally required to pay.

First, they think something bad will happen—legal or personal—if they don’t pay. For example, they want to pay a doctor bill because they think the doctor otherwise won’t be willing to see them anymore. (That is often not be true, so it’s worth asking the doctor’s staff.)

Second, they don’t want the creditor to know about their bankruptcy filing. For example, they’ve borrowed from their father and don’t want him to be disappointed in them.

Third, they simply feel some kind of deep personal obligation to make good on their promise to pay. For example, they want to repay a grandmother because she really needs the money.

If you filed a Chapter 7 case, in each of these types of situations you would likely be allowed to pay that debt while paying nothing on other debts.

Easier to Pay a Personal Debt after Chapter 7

If it isn’t obvious, paying such a personal debt should be much easier after filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case. You don’t have the financial pressure of your other debts, hopefully giving you more cash flow.  So, filing a Chapter 7 case actually helps you pay a debt or two that you really want to pay.

Discharge of the Personal Debt Gives You More Flexibility

Assume that the debt you want to pay is a legally enforceable debt. (It may be a gift or not legally enforceable on some other basis.) If it is a legal debt you’ll need to list it as a debt in your Chapter 7 case. And in all likelihood it will be discharged—you will no longer owe the debt, legally speaking. The choice whether or not to pay it then becomes completely yours. Your creditor cannot legally compel you to pay it.  

This means that you can pay it as slow or as fast as you want. You can pay for a while and then decide that it wasn’t such as good idea to pay it after all. You can pay only if the creditor treats you right—whatever. It’s up to you and whatever is motivating you to pay the debt.

Realize that your creditor should be doubly impressed if you do pay the debt. Not only are you going through bankruptcy in part to be able to pay this particular debt. You are also paying it in spite of no longer having any legal obligation to do so. You might want to tell these things to your creditor to get points for being so good!

Chapter 7 vs. 13 on a Voluntary Debt

We mentioned earlier that you have to pay all regular unsecured debts the same percentage of their debts in a Chapter 13 payment plan. You can’t favor one over the others except for very limited reasons. Feeling a greater moral or personal obligation toward one debt does not count.

AFTER your Chapter 13 case is over you CAN pay anybody as much as you want. If paid everyone 10% of what you owed them, you can arrange to pay one the remaining 90%.

But that’s not very practical in most situations because a Chapter 13 case usually lasts 3 to 5 years. Most creditors aren’t going to want to wait that long to be made whole. A commitment to begin finishing paying a debt so long from now is not going to impress most people. And who knows how you’ll feel that far down the line.

That’s why Chapter 7 makes more sense if one of your high priorities is to favor one of your debts.  Of course you have to weigh that against other reasons to file a Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13. This is where you really need your bankruptcy lawyer to help you sort out your priorities so that you choose the best option.

 

Your Paid-Current Home Mortgage in Chapter 7 and 13

November 29th, 2017 at 8:00 am

There are scenarios when you are current on your home mortgage and are dealing with other home-related debts where Chapter 7 works well.

 

You’re current on your home mortgage payment, although you’ve been struggling mightily to keep it that way. You’re thinking very seriously about getting some financial help through bankruptcy. But you absolutely want to keep the home that you’ve fought so hard to keep current.

You’re trying to decide between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13, and are about to see a bankruptcy lawyer. So far you see some advantage in one or the other, or maybe in both. Maybe Chapter 7 is attractive because it seems easier and quicker. Or maybe Chapter 13 looks better because it handles certain of your special debts better. Either way you want to make sure you can keep paying your mortgage so you can keep your home.

How does this work in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13? Today we’ll start with Chapter 7, and get to Chapter 13 later.

Chapter 7

If you’re current on your home mortgage payments you can virtually always keep your home under Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy.”

A big set of considerations is whether you are also current on and/or have manageable ways to deal with other debts on your home.

Other Home-Related Debts

There are other debts related to your home that can cause significant problems even if you’re current on your mortgage. Some of these debts are better handled under Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts.” Some are tremendously better under Chapter 13. On the other hand some are handled just fine under Chapter 7. How these considerations apply to your situation can often affect which of these two options would be better for you.

These other home-related debts include the following:

  1. Second or third mortgages
  2. Property taxes
  3. Income tax owed with a lien recorded on your home
  4. Judgment with a lien attached to your home
  5. Homeowner association debt with a lien
  6. Child/spousal support unpaid with a lien

Current on or Make Arrangements to Pay Home-Related Debts

Chapter 7 likely makes sense in the following situations with the types of debts just listed above. Generally these are when you’re either current on these debts or can make reasonable arrangements to pay them. We’ll cover the first 3 of these types of debts today and the other three in our next blog post.

1. Second or third mortgages:

Chapter 7 makes more sense if your home is worth than your first mortgage debt balance. (Or the combination of your first and second mortgage balances if you have a third mortgage.) Plus you’re current on your second (and, if applicable, your third) mortgage. If you’re not current you’ll be able to catch up fast enough to satisfy that mortgage lender.

If, however, your home is worth less than your first mortgage, you may be able to “strip” your second mortgage from your home’s title. This is only available through Chapter 13. “Stripping” your second/third mortgage could save you a tremendous amount of money. That would often make Chapter 13 a potentially much better option. (Similarly if you have a third mortgage and your home is worth no more than the first two mortgage balances.)

Also, if you are significantly behind on your second and/or third mortgage but don’t qualify for “stripping” that mortgage, you may need the extra help that Chapter 13 can give in getting caught up.

2. Property taxes:

If you’re current on your property taxes of course you’ll need to stay current. Discharging all or most of your other debts in a Chapter 7 case should make this easier.

If you aren’t current you’ll need to do so quickly or else your mortgage lender will be very unhappy. Even if current on your mortgage, falling behind on your taxes is a separate basis for foreclosure by your lender. If you can’t catch up fast enough on your property taxes to satisfy your lender, you may need Chapter 13 to buy more time.

3. Income tax owed with a lien recorded on your home: 

Usually, under Chapter 7 you have to pay a tax that is backed up by a lien on your home. You also have to pay the ongoing interest and penalties. If the debt is relatively small, and you can make the monthly payments required by the IRS or state, Chapter 7 may be your best option.

However, is the underlying income tax old enough so that it could be discharged if there was no lien? Is there insufficient equity in the home to cover the entire tax lien? In these situations you may avoid paying such a tax, or paying only a portion, under Chapter 13.

(Again, we’ll cover the final three types of debts listed above in our next post in a couple days.)

 

Simple and Not-so-simple Debts in Chapter 7 and 13

November 24th, 2017 at 8:00 am

Very broadly speaking Chapter 7 handles simple debts as well or better than Chapter 13 does, which handles more difficult debts better.


Debts in Bankruptcy

When deciding between Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” and Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” you look at many factors. You have to meet certain qualifications (usually easy to meet) to file either one. The amount of your income, the nature of your assets, whether you own a business, and your immediate and long-term goals—all of these come into play.

But the most important consideration is your debts. Bankruptcy is of course mostly a tool for dealing with your debts. Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 each deal better than the other with certain types and combinations of debts.

Today we get into which of these two consumer bankruptcy options is better for which debt scenarios.

A Helpful Starting Point

Our first sentence gives us a good starting point. Chapter 7 handles simple debts as well or better than Chapter 13 does, which handles more difficult debts better.

So if you have mostly or all simple debts, then Chapter 7 will tend to be better for you. If you have a number of difficult debts, Chapter 13 will more likely be better.

The Different Types of Debts

There are basically three types of debts:

  1. General unsecured—There’s no collateral or “security” tied to these debts (“unsecured”), and they aren’t “priority”—given special treatment in the law. General unsecured debts include most credit cards, medical debts, no-collateral personal loans, utility bills, back rent, and many, many others.
  2. Secured—The debts are legally tied to collateral or with a lien on something of value. Included are home mortgages, vehicle loans, retail debts secured by the goods purchased, personal loans secured against personal possessions, business loans secured by business and/or personal assets—all debts secured by anything you own.
  3. Priority—Simply, debts that the law treats as special for whatever policy reason. The main examples for consumer debtors are recent income and other taxes, and child and spousal support.

These different types of debts are treated differently in Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13.

Debt Scenarios Handled Well by Chapter 7

If ALL your debts are general unsecured debts, Chapter 7 will more likely be your better option. Most general unsecured debts are discharged—legally written off—in a Chapter 7 case. So you file a Chapter 7 case through your bankruptcy lawyer in usually less than 4 months all your debts are discharged. You have your fresh financial start.

Some secured debts are handled reasonably well in a Chapter 7 case. If you are current on a home mortgage or vehicle loan, you can usually keep your home or vehicle by maintaining your payments and “reaffirming” the debt. If you are very close to being current, you may be able to catch up and “reaffirm” as well. If you are surrendering a home or vehicle (or any other collateral) Chapter 7 often works well for that.

Chapter 7 may be appropriate for dealing with certain limited priority debts. If you owe an income tax debt or are behind on child support, discharging all or most of your other debts may enable you to catch up on the tax or support. But you are subject to collection actions by the tax authorities as soon as your Chapter 7 is over. And as for support debt, a Chapter 7 filing does not stop its collection even while your bankruptcy case is active. So if you owe any tax debt that you can’t comfortably pay through a standard IRS/state payment plan, Chapter 13 may be the better option. And if you are behind on child or spousal support, only Chapter 13 can stop the aggressive collection actions that an ex-spouse or support collection agencies can use against you.

Debt Scenarios Not Handled Well by Chapter 13

If ALL your debts are general unsecured debts, Chapter 13 is usually not your better option (assuming you have a choice). That’s because unlike Chapter 7, in a Chapter 13 case you usually have to pay a portion of your general unsecured debts. You pay as much of those debts as you can afford to do so over a 3 to 5-year period. Then the portion you did not pay gets discharged.

It’s important to understand that the general unsecured debts are often paid relatively little in a Chapter 13 case. It’s common that you’d pay only 5 or 10 cents on the dollar, and almost always no interest or penalties. In many parts of the country you can even pay 0 cents on the dollar. That’s because the debtor owes secured or priority debts which use up all the money he or she can afford to pay.

Debt Scenarios Handled Well by Chapter 13

Chapter 13 deals with secured debts often better than does Chapter 7. That’s especially true if you’re behind on a debt with collateral you really want to keep. Under Chapter 7 you’d usually have to get current on a vehicle almost immediately to be able to keep it. You have many months—or even a year or two—to catch up under Chapter 13. If you’re behind on your home mortgage you get up to 5 years to catch up.

Chapter 13 also gives you some very powerful tools for dealing with secured debts unavailable under Chapter 7. You may be able to “strip” a second or third mortgage off your home’s title. You may be able to do a “cramdown” on your vehicle loan or other personal property debt, potentially greatly reducing your monthly payment and the total you pay.

With priority debts, Chapter 13 gives you tremendous power and flexibility. It stops collection of support arrearage, and gives you months or years to catch up—as long as you keep current on ongoing support. With unpaid income taxes Chapter 13 provides many benefits. It prevents future tax liens. It enables you to deal with prior-recorded tax liens extremely well. Chapter 13 gives you up to 5 years to pay taxes that can’t be discharged. Usually throughout that time you pay no ongoing interest or penalties.

Conclusion 

It’s a bit of an oversimplification to say that simple debts lead to Chapter 7 while more complicated ones lead to Chapter 13. But, as we’ve just shown, that’s often the situation.

But just as you are a unique human being, your circumstances are unique. Get the unique assessment of your options that you need from an experienced and empathetic bankruptcy lawyer.

 

Call today for a FREE Consultation

210-342-3400

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