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Archive for the ‘automatic stay’ tag

The Effects of an Income Tax Lien

August 31st, 2020 at 7:00 am

Try to file bankruptcy before a tax lien gets recorded. But if you can’t, here are the effects of a tax lien under Chapter 7 and 13.

 

This blog post continues a series about the smart timing of your bankruptcy filing. (It was interrupted by two blog posts updating federal unemployment benefits.) The last in this series was about how good bankruptcy timing prevents you paying certain income tax interest and penalties. We ended with this: “The effect of a tax lien depends on whether the tax at issue qualifies for discharge, and whether you file a Chapter 7 or 13 case.” That’s today’s important topic.

Bankruptcy Timing and Tax Liens

The recording of a tax lien by the IRS or state often causes extra headaches. So it’s usually better to file your bankruptcy case before you’re hit with a tax lien.

But you may go to see a bankruptcy lawyer until after that’s already happened. Or your lawyer may advise to you wait to file for some tactical reason. That reason may be related to your income tax debt(s). It’s not unusual to delay filing until the tax meets the conditions for discharge (full write-off). While you’re holding off on filing, you run the risk of the IRS/state recording a tax lien.

If you’re waiting to file on the advice of your bankruptcy lawyer, he or she will likely tell you about the risks and potential effects of a tax lien. The following outlines what you may hear.

General Effect of a Tax Lien

The recording of a tax lien gives the IRS/state a security interest on everything you own. Your assets then become collateral on the tax debt.

Actually, where or how the IRS/state records the lien determines the assets that it covers. Usually one tax lien covers your real estate, while another covers your personal property—everything else you own. Look carefully at the wording of the tax lien to see what tax years it covers and what assets it encumbers. These details matter as you and your lawyer determine the effect of the lien(s).

A Tax Lien on a Non-Dischargeable Tax under Chapter 7

Assume you file a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case and you owe a tax that does not qualify for discharge.

The recording of a tax lien on such a tax does not greatly affect what happens in that bankruptcy case. As discussed in our last tax-related blog post, you’ll have to arrange to pay that tax after completing your bankruptcy. You’ll also have to pay the ongoing interest and penalties.

The tax lien may put more pressure on you to make those payment arrangements. You’ll also want to get reassurances that the IRS/state will not take any other collection actions while you pay as agreed. The lien will also motivate you to pay the tax as fast as possible to get a release of the lien.

You’ll usually go this Chapter 7 direction if it will discharge your other debts so that you can reasonably pay off the tax debt(s).

A Tax Lien on a Non-Dischargeable Tax under Chapter 13

The situation is somewhat similar under an “adjustment of debts” Chapter 13 case. You still have to pay the tax that doesn’t meet the timing and other conditions of discharge. But you do that through your 3-to-5-year Chapter 13 payment plan. This gives you the benefit of not having to make payment arrangements with the IRS/state. The Chapter 13 procedure does that for you.

You just pay your monthly play payment, and your tax debt is incorporated into that. The IRS/state must comply with the “automatic stay,” which prevent all your creditors from taking any collection action against you. At the end of your case you will have paid off the tax. So the IRS/state will release any tax lien related to it.

A pre-existing tax lien in the Chapter 13 context can be meaningful in one way. The tax lien effects the payment of interest and penalties.

In a Chapter 7 case with a nondischargeable income tax you have to pay all interest and penalties. That’s true regardless whether there’s a pre-filing tax lien. The tax lien mostly serves to put more pressure on you to make payment arrangements and pay it off fast.

A Chapter 13 case is different. If there’s no tax lien, you would not have to pay ongoing interest and penalties. You’d likely pay only a portion of the penalties accrued as of the date of filing the Chapter 13 case. Sometimes you’d pay none.

 But with a tax lien, you must generally pay ongoing interest in your Chapter 13 payment plan. That can add how much you must pay into your plan and thus how long your plan takes.  

A Tax Lien on a Dischargeable Tax under Chapter 7

The effect of a tax lien on a tax debt that otherwise qualifies for Chapter 7 discharge can be huge. The Chapter 7 case would usually simply discharge that debt, so you would owe nothing.

But if there’s a prior recorded tax lien, that lien survives the bankruptcy case. The discharge of the tax debt does not legally affect the lien. Then the key issue becomes the value of the assets to which the lien attaches.

If you don’t have any real estate and your other assets are minimal, the IRS/state has less leverage over you. Especially if the tax debt was not large, some tax entities will then voluntarily release the tax lien. Both the tax and the tax lien would then be gone.

But some tax entities are more aggressive. This is more likely if the amount of the dischargeable tax is relatively large. They will leverage their tax lien to require you to pay all or part of the tax debt. They won’t release their lien otherwise.  Sounds unfair considering that the debt is otherwise dischargeable. But that’s the potential effect of the tax lien.

This leveraging is understandably much more likely if the assets to which their tax lien(s) attach are substantial. And in particular, this is true if that asset is equity in your home. You could be made to pay an entire tax debt that otherwise qualifies for discharge because of a tax lien.

So there’s a lot of uncomfortable ambiguity when you have tax lien on a dischargeable tax in Chapter 7.

A Tax Lien on a Dischargeable Tax under Chapter 13

A lot of this ambiguity is resolved in a Chapter 13 case. That’s because there’s an efficient procedure for determining the effect of a tax lien.

You and your bankruptcy lawyer will propose the value of assets that are encumbered by the tax lien. That’s done in the Chapter 13 plan you file with the bankruptcy court. You’re effectively stating what you believe to be the practical value of that tax lien, and thus the amount you’ll pay.

The IRS/state can object to this proposed treatment or not. If it objects, the value and amount you pay is usually negotiated, or if necessary decided by the bankruptcy judge.

Or, as is often the case, the IRS/state does not object. That often happens if what you and your bankruptcy lawyer propose is reasonable. Next, whatever you proposed becomes the court-approved plan. Assuming you pay off the plan as approved, that will take care of the IRS/state. Then at the end of the case the judge will discharge the remaining debt. With the debt gone, the IRS/state will then release the tax lien(s).

 

Paying Unpaid Child/Spousal Support before Bankruptcy

July 6th, 2020 at 7:00 am

Before filing bankruptcy, should you pay child/spousal support debt in the meantime? This may depend on whether you file Chapter 7 or 13.


Our last three blog posts have been about what you should and should not do before filing bankruptcy. Three weeks ago we focused on keeping your assets, especially any retirement funds, and collateral, such as home or vehicle. Two weeks we discussed whether to take on more debt, maybe to buy time and not need to file bankruptcy. And last week we looked at whether you should file any unfiled income tax returns, and pay income taxes.

Today the question is whether to pay unpaid child/spousal support before filing bankruptcy. As with all of these issues, there are some general principles worth getting to understand. But everybody’s situation is truly unique. So you really do need the help of an experience bankruptcy lawyer to apply these principles to your personal situation. This blog post can be the first step towards becoming well-informed about your options. It’ll help you ask the right questions so that you can make the best decisions.

Child/Spousal Support Collection

If you haven’t already learned the hard way, the collection of child and spousal support can be extremely aggressive. If you are behind on support, your ex-spouse and the support enforcement agency have tremendous tools to use against you to make you catch up.

In virtually all states an ex-spouse—or the local support enforcement agency—has extraordinary ways to collect unpaid support.  

These include ways of grabbing your money directly. We’re talking garnishing your wages and bank accounts, and grabbing income tax refunds.

But the collection tools also include ways to hurt you so that you’ll be forced to pay. Your ex-spouse and support enforcement can often put liens on your possessions and your real estate. Your ex-spouse/support enforcement might then take these assets to sell and pay the support debt. They can often suspend your driver’s license. This includes a commercial driver’s license, so you can’t work if have a job requiring the license. They can even suspend your professional or occupational license. That could prevent you from legally working in your profession or business as a nurse, doctor, physical therapist, lawyer, realtor, insurance agent, mortgage broker, etc.

On top of all this, you could lose your hunting, fishing, boating and other recreational licenses. You could even be ineligible to receive a U.S. passport.

Bankruptcy Doesn’t Discharge Unpaid Child/Spousal Support

No form of bankruptcy can discharge (legally write off) unpaid child/spousal support. So you might as well prioritize paying the support, right? Maybe.

Stopping Support Collection

Also, Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” does not directly stop, or even pause, any of the above forms of support collections. Even more reason to put every dime into catching up on the support, right?

Maybe. But first be aware that Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” CAN stop the collection of unpaid support. Furthermore, a Chapter 13 official payment plan can give you 3 years, or often as much as 5 years to catch up on any child/spousal support. Under the right circumstances you can be protected from support collection throughout those years of catching up.

So when on the brink of bankruptcy, it might make practical sense to not pay a support payment. It may make sense to pay that unpaid support over time instead. You might need to use your precious money for some other extremely urgent purpose.

This may be sensible if you are currently not being hit with ongoing support collection efforts. It would also be important that you don’t have reason to believe such efforts are imminent. Given how aggressive those efforts can be, this is a delicate calculation.

Determining Whether Chapter 13 Is Right for You

Be aware this particular scenario of not paying support only makes sense if you end up filing under Chapter 13.

As stated above, only Chapter 13 stops the collection of unpaid support arrearage. The more common Chapter 7 type of bankruptcy does not.

(Note that your obligation to pay ongoing monthly support after filing the Chapter 13 case continues. So collection of the ongoing monthly support can continue.)

Only Chapter 13 gives you a protected and extended method of catching up on your unpaid support. Chapter 7 leaves you at the mercy of your ex-spouse/the support enforcement agency, and their collection tools listed above.

The decision whether to file a Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13 one is always a multi-faceted one. The Chapter 7 procedure itself is usually less expensive and takes much less time. But Chapter 13 gives you much stronger tools, not just with unpaid child/spousal support. If you’re behind on a mortgage, are in a difficult vehicle loan, owe income or property taxes, and many other challenging situations, Chapter 13 can work legal miracles.

Whether these powerful tools are worth the extra money and time is a multi-faceted decision. It’s one that definitely requires legal advice.

An Urgent Decision

By its very nature, whether or not to pay a child/spousal support payment is a very urgent decision. If you are in the midst of support collection efforts, those efforts are likely causing you significant financial pain. If that’s not happening yet, they can occur at virtually any time. You have to make some big decisions quickly.

The initial meeting with a bankruptcy lawyer is usually free. The sooner you get that initial legal advice the sooner you’ll know whether you should pay the child/spousal support. The sooner you will feel the relief of knowing where you’re heading. The sooner you will be turning the corner to a calmer financial life.

 

What Is an Automatic Stay in a Texas Bankruptcy?

April 30th, 2020 at 1:24 am

TX bankruptcy lawyer, Texas chapter 13 lawyer, Texas chapter 7 lawyer, For most people, filing for bankruptcy is a last resort. It can be easy to dig yourself into a pit of debt that you are unable to climb out of. Once the bills start becoming due, it can feel like an ocean wave washing over you, with you struggling to stay above water. Not paying your bills can cause creditors to resort to collections actions, such as wage garnishment and repossession. Once you file for bankruptcy, however, all of those collections actions must stop. This is what is known as the automatic stay.

Understanding the Automatic Stay

The automatic stay is a provision in the U.S. Bankruptcy Code that temporarily halts collections attempts from all creditors. The automatic stay goes into effect immediately after you file for bankruptcy and prevents any and all creditors from contacting you about debts you may have with them. The automatic stay does not last forever. As soon as your bankruptcy case is finished, the automatic stay is lifted.

What Can the Automatic Stay Prevent?

The automatic stay is meant to stop creditors from performing a variety of collections activities while you are going through with your bankruptcy. This was meant to help keep things fair among creditors, to prevent one creditor from settling their debts over another, but it also helps the person filing for the bankruptcy. Here are a few things the automatic stay can prevent from happening:

  • Foreclosure or eviction: The automatic stay prevents the completion of a foreclosure on your home or eviction from a place you rent. However, the automatic stay does not prevent foreclosure or eviction from happening. Your creditor can file a petition for the foreclosure to proceed, and mortgage debt is not discharged with a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, leaving you still responsible after the bankruptcy is over.
  • Wage garnishments: If you have had creditors garnish your wages, they are not permitted to do so during the time that the bankruptcy case is open. You should be receiving your full wages once the automatic stay is in place, as long as the garnishment is not for secured debt.
  • Repossessions: The automatic stay can also help prevent repossessions from happening on property that you do not fully owe yet, such as vehicles. Auto debt is also not discharged in Chapter 7 bankruptcies, which is why you must work out a repayment plan with your lender. As soon as the bankruptcy is over, your lender can repossess your vehicle if you have not worked out a repayment plan.

Our San Antonio, TX Bankruptcy Attorney is Here to Help

In some situations, creditors can be aggressive and intrusive into your life. If you have filed for bankruptcy, you should not be experiencing any collections actions against you. If you have creditors who are still trying to collect, you should speak with a skilled Boerne, TX bankruptcy lawyer. At the Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee, we can help you through your bankruptcy case. To schedule a free consultation, call our office today at 210-342-3400.

 

Sources:

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/automaticstay.asp

https://upsolve.org/learn/what-is-automatic-stay-bankruptcy/

Catching up on Support through Chapter 13

January 27th, 2020 at 8:00 am

Chapter 13 gives you a powerful, reasonable, flexible, and even calm procedure for catching up on your past-due child or spousal support. 

 

The last two weeks we’ve shown how Chapter 13 can stop the collection of unpaid child and spousal support. First we talked about how this benefit is much better than Chapter 7 can provide. Then we focused on the ongoing conditions you must meet to keep up this protection.

But there’s a second benefit of Chapter 13 that deserves attention. It doesn’t just stop the collection of unpaid support. Chapter 13 provides a powerfully flexible way to catch up on that support debt.

Why This Is a Huge Benefit

Whatever child or spousal support you owe at the time of your bankruptcy filing, you can’t write off (“discharge”). It’s among the relatively few kinds of debts that bankruptcy does not discharge under any circumstances. See U.S. Bankruptcy Code Sections 523(a)(5) and 101(14A). So you have to pay it, whether you file bankruptcy or not. Whether you file Chapter 7 or 13 or any other kind of bankruptcy.

So this is a debt you have to pay. The issue is what is the easiest, most financially sensible and low-stress way to do so. 

As we discussed in our blog post 3 weeks ago, Chapter 7 doesn’t help much. It doesn’t stop the collection of unpaid support at all. You’re on your own catching up on any unpaid support.

Chapter 13 does stop the collection of unpaid support immediately, and continues to protect you as long as you meet some ongoing conditions.  What Chapter 13 also does is provide you the tool to pay off the support debt. That tool is a court-approved payment plan for all your debts, based on what you can actually afford to pay. That payment plan enables you to catch up on your support debt over time. The plan works into your budget all your other debts—especially other debts very important to you. So you can catch up on your support at a sensible pace without being hounded about it.

How the Chapter 13 Payment Plan Works

How could this possibly work in real life? Consider the following:

  1. The Chapter 13 payment plan is based on your actual income and reasonable expenses.
  2. The plan prioritizes debts in a way that’s generally in your favor.
  3. Other debts sometimes get your money ahead of the support debt, usually to your benefit.
  4. You have 3-to-5-years to catch up on all your unpaid support debt.

We’ll take these four one at a time.

1. Based on Actual Income and Expenses

The Chapter 13 payment plan usually involves a single monthly payment to all of your creditors. (Although sometimes a special debt is paid separately, like a home mortgage.) That single monthly payment is based on what you can actually afford to pay. It’s based on your actual income and reasonable expenses. The income is a projection based on your very best estimate of how much you’ll make each month. The expenses try to cover all your expenses, including ones that don’t happen every month. (For example, vehicle maintenance and repairs, and medical expenses.)

The point is to determine how much you can truly and reasonably afford to pay monthly in a sustainable way. It should not cause you anxiety. You should feel confident that you can fulfill your payment plan.

2. Prioritizing Debts

A Chapter 13 plan basically divides debts into those you must pay in full and those you pay only as much as you can afford to pay. 

The unpaid support debt is in the first category. This category may also include other such must-pay debts like recent income taxes. It can also include secured debts like vehicle or mortgage obligations.

The second category usually includes all other debts—your “general unsecured” debts. These you usually pay only as much as you can, if there’s any money left over for them at all.

So Chapter 13 lets you focus your limited financial resources on those debts that you need to pay. And it gives you an extended time to pay them, so that you can afford to do so.

3. Paying Other Debts Ahead of Support

Outside the protection of Chapter 13, arguably no debts come ahead of unpaid support. That’s because the law makes the support enforcement collection tools so powerful.

But within the protection of a Chapter 13 case and plan, those aggressive collection tools are tamed. So you don’t necessarily pay an unpaid support debt first in the plan. You may have other debts—especially a secured debt or two—that you can pay first. So if you are behind on your mortgage, or doing a cram-down on your vehicle loan, you can often pay these ahead of your support debt.   If you owe other “priority” debts like recent income taxes, your plan usually pays your support debt along with such other important debts.

With Chapter 13 you’re not at the mercy of these important creditors. Your court-approved payment plan gives you a great way to deal with them all, including the support.  

4. Pay Off Unpaid Support by Case Completion

As mentioned, you have as long as 5 years to catch up on your unpaid support. Your official plan does need to include enough money to accomplish that (and everything else that must get paid). And you do need to fulfill the terms of that plan successfully to the end. Of course if you have an ongoing support obligation you have to keep paying that. (It will be included in your monthly expenses.)

Then by the end of your payment plan you will be current on your support. You’ll have paid off or gotten current on all your other special debts. Whatever you haven’t paid on your general unsecured debts will get discharged. And you’ll be free and clear of all debts.

 

Unpaid Child and Spousal Support in Chapter 7

January 6th, 2020 at 8:00 am

Chapter 7 does not stop the collection of child or spousal support, nor provide any procedure to pay the support. It may still help enough.  


If you are behind on child or spousal support payments Chapter 7 may or may not be a good solution.

Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” is the most common type of consumer bankruptcy case.  It is more likely to be a sensible solution if 1) the support isn’t being collected aggressively and 2) you don’t owe terribly much. Why? Because:

1) Filing Chapter 7 does not stop collection of unpaid child or spousal support. Chapter 13 can.

2) Chapter 7 does not give you a procedure for catching up on the support. Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” does so.

So why would you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy if you were behind on support?

Filing Chapter 7 When Owing Support

Chapter 7 is usually the most straightforward type of bankruptcy. A case lasts only about 4 months from when your bankruptcy lawyer files it to when it’s completed. A Chapter 13 case involves a formal payment plan that almost always takes 3 to 5 years to finish.

As mentioned above Chapter 13 can stop the immediate collection of unpaid support, and give you time to catch up.

The much quicker Chapter 7 makes sense if you don’t need these kinds of help.

If you stopped paying the debts that Chapter 7 would discharge, could you quickly catch up on support? Would your ex-spouse be willing to accept monthly catch-up payments at an amount you could afford? Or if the debt is being collected by a support enforcement agency, would it accept such voluntary payments? Could you reliably make such payments, while presumably keeping current on the ongoing monthly support?

If you have a feasible way along these lines to catch up on your support obligation during and after your Chapter 7 case, then it may well be your best option.

Other Advantages and Disadvantages of Chapter 13

But you and your bankruptcy lawyer will discuss two other considerations revolving around your other debts.  Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 deal with debts quite differently.

The first consideration is about debts secured by your assets or other ones that you must pay. Secured debts include home mortgages, vehicle loans, and any others with a lien on anything you own. Debts you must pay—besides support—include recent income tax debts. Chapter 13 often handles these kinds of debts much better than Chapter 7. Without getting into the details here, Chapter 13 protects you while you pay such special debts as your budget allows. If you have such debts, how Chapter 13 helps with those may be reason enough to choose that option. Or this, along with the benefits it gives you with unpaid support, may swing you in that direction.

The second consideration is about the rest of your debts—those that are neither secured nor ones you must pay.  These are your “general unsecured” debts. Usually you can discharge (legally write off) all or most of such debts in either Chapter 7 or 13. In most Chapter 7 cases you pay nothing on your general unsecured debts. However, In a Chapter 13 case you often pay a portion of these debts. Whether and how much you pay on your general unsecured debts depend on lots of factors. The biggest factors are your income and expenses and the amount of your special debts (secured and otherwise) that you are paying in full. So you need to weigh the benefits of Chapter 13 regarding your unpaid support and other special debts against the likelihood that you would be paying something instead of nothing on your general unsecured debts.

What Happens to Your Unpaid Child/Spousal Support Debts in a No-Asset Chapter 7 Case?

A “no-asset” Chapter 7 case is one in which everything you own is covered by property exemptions. Exemptions usually allow you to keep certain dollar values of assets in various categories. Most Chapter 7 cases are “no assets” ones. If yours is, you’re able to keep everything (with the exception of collateral you decide to surrender).

In a no-asset Chapter 7 case your bankruptcy trustee does not get any of your assets to liquidate and pay to any of your creditors. (That’s why it’s called “no asset.”) Your bankruptcy lawyer will tell you if yours is expected to be.

Since the trustee doesn’t collect any money to pay your creditors anything, your support debts also receive nothing. So, a support debt gets no money directly from a no-asset Chapter 7 case. You have to deal with the support debt yourself (perhaps with the help of your lawyer), and be prepared to do so right away.

 

Chapter 13 Really Helps Delay Your Home Sale

October 14th, 2019 at 7:00 am

Chapter 13 gives you much more power over your mortgage and other home-related debts so that you can sell your home when it’s best for you. 

 

Our last blog post was about using Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” to buy time to sell your home.  The advantages of Chapter 7 are that it’s usually quite quick and costs less that Chapter 13. It also importantly focuses on your present income and on the present value of your home. If you expect either your income or your property’s value to increase substantially, Chapter 7 could be your better option.

Chapter 7 Disadvantages—Buys Limited Amount of Time

However, Chapter 7’s quickness can often turn into a disadvantage. If you’re behind on your mortgage, or another home-related debt, the protection Chapter 7 provides against them doesn’t last long. The “automatic stay” protection lasts—at most—only 3-4 months, because that’s how quickly most cases finish. If within that time you don’t work out payment arrangements with them, they can start or resume collections and/or foreclosure.  

So Chapter 7 often doesn’t give you much additional time to sell your home.

Chapter 7 Disadvantages—Buys Limited Leverage with Ongoing Creditors

Also, if your mortgage holder or other home-related creditor refuses to negotiate, you have almost no leverage under Chapter 7. Not only does automatic stay protection expire within just a few months, the creditor can often speed up that timetable. Chapter 7 doesn’t give you any other strong tools directly against your mortgage holder or home lienholder. Mostly what it does is discharge (write off) other debts so that you can focus on your home creditor(s). If that doesn’t buy enough time to sell your home, than Chapter 7 is probably not your best solution.

Chapter 13 Advantages—Buys Much More Time and Leverage

A Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case buys you time and flexibility if you want to keep your home and are behind on your mortgage and/or other home-related debts. Basically it does so by protecting you and your property while you catch up in 3 to 5 years.

These are all also true if you want to sell your home but need more time to do so. Chapter 13 can often prevent you from being rushed into selling when the market is not the best for selling. For example, instead of being forced to sell during the holiday season you could sell during the prime spring season. Or hold off on selling when doing so now would cause personal or family hardships. ln many situations you could delay selling your home for many months, or even years.

The Power of Chapter 13

The way this works is that you and your bankruptcy lawyer put together a monthly payment plan covering the next 3-to-5-years.  This plan goes through a 2-3-month bankruptcy court approval process. The plan would show how you’d make progress towards catching up on your mortgage and other especially important debts. Usually you’d pay general unsecured debts only as much as you can afford to pay them after paying other more important debts. Often these unsecured debts don’t receive much, sometimes nothing.

Your payment plan would likely refer to your intent to sell your home, if that was to happen during the 3-to-5-year period. You’d have to pay your monthly mortgage in the meantime. And usually you’d have that same length of time to catch up on a first or second mortgage. Same thing if you were behind on property taxes or anything else that was a lien on your home’s title. This can often enable you to delay selling your home for years.

What if you couldn’t afford to catch up within even the 3-to-5-year length of a Chapter 13 payment plan? Under some circumstances you wouldn’t have to pay that much. If there is enough equity in the home, you could pay less towards catching up on the mortgage (property taxes, etc.) and just pay the remaining amount out of the proceeds of the intended home sale.

Conclusion

Chapter 13 could enable you to delay selling your home until the time is right for you. If your home has a healthy equity cushion, you could catch up on some or all of the missed mortgage payments (or property tax arrearage or some other home-secured debt) until you sell the home. In the meantime as long as you fulfill the terms of the court-approved payment plan, you wouldn’t have to worry about a pending foreclosure or other collection pressures. Instead you could focus on making the regular monthly mortgage payments and Chapter 13 plan payments. And then sell your home at a time that serves you best. 

 

Avoid a Support Lien through Bankruptcy

September 23rd, 2019 at 7:00 am

Chapter 7 is very limited in helping avoid a support lien. Chapter 13 is much more powerful, as long as you precisely meet some conditions.

 

Child and Spousal Support Liens

If you fall behind on child or spousal support payments, your ex-spouse can put a lien on your home.  (Most likely a lien can be imposed on your other property, but we’re focusing here on your real estate). The procedures vary state to state, but generally the lien is filed wherever property is recorded. Most often that’s at the local county recorder’s office.

The lien gives legal notice about the support claim against you.  The lien goes onto the title to your house. It gives your ex-spouse power to make you pay when you sell or refinance the house. Sometimes the lien can force the sale of the house in order to pay the support debt. So you want to avoid a support lien whenever possible. Or at least stop its enforcement after it’s been recorded.

Does Bankruptcy Stop the Filing of a Support Lien?

“[A]ny “act to create any lien” is generally stopped by a bankruptcy filing. See Section 362(a)(4) and (5) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code about the “automatic stay.” The filing of a support lien is an “act to create… [a] lien.” So it appears that bankruptcy might stop a support lien.

However, there’s an exception under that automatic stay statute for the collection of support. Section 362(b)2)(B) of the Bankruptcy Code. If you file a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case your ex-spouse can continue collecting unpaid and ongoing support against you. This includes filing a support lien on your house, and enforcing that lien as described above. So a Chapter 7 case filing will not stop the filing of a support lien against you and your house. And it won’t stop the enforcement of that lien.

But there’s an exception to this exception. Under the right conditions filing a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case will stop a support lien. Unlike Chapter 7, Chapter 13 can stop a support lien from being filed and recorded. Chapter 13 can also stop a previously recorded lien from being enforced.

That’s because although Chapter 13 does not stop the collection of ongoing support, it does stop collection of past-due support. By its nature a support lien pertains to past-due support. So filing Chapter 13 can stop the filing and recording of a support lien.

The Conditions under Chapter 13

Above we said that Chapter 13 protects you and your home from a support lien under the right conditions. These conditions are arguably sensible. But you must meet them precisely or you’d very likely lose the special benefits of Chapter 13. Your ex-spouse could begin collecting for past-due support, including filing and enforcing a support lien.

The conditions you must meet include:

  • Staying current on your ongoing support payments
  • Arranging to catch up on your past-due support within your 3-to-5-year Chapter 13 payment plan
  • Staying current on your monthly Chapter 13 play payments (through which you’re catching up on your past-due support)

These conditions are arguably sensible because the idea is that you deserve a break on past-due support collection, as long as you are sticking with your legally approved commitment to pay off that past-due support debt. If you don’t keep your commitment, you lose the protection from collection.

Conclusion

If you’re behind on support payments, filing a Chapter 7 case will not stop your ex-spouse (or support enforcement agency) from recording a support lien against your house. Nor will Chapter 7 stop the enforcement of that support lien. But, if you’re not already behind, filing a Chapter 7 case may discharge (write-off) enough other debts so you can stay current on your support obligations.

Chapter 13 will stop the recording of a support lien for past-due support. It will also stop the enforcement of a previously recorded support lien against your house. But you must pay off the entire past due support obligation during your Chapter 13 payment plan. And you must do so precisely as agreed in that plan. Lastly, you must also keep current on any ongoing support obligation. If you do all these, you and your home will be protected from any support lien. Then at the end of your case you will be current on all support. Therefore your ex-spouse/support enforcement agency will no longer have any ability to impose a support lien.

 

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.

 

Chapter 13 Gives the Most Time to Cure Your Mortgage

July 29th, 2019 at 7:00 am

Chapter 7 provides no mechanism to cure your mortgage. But Chapter 13 does provide a powerful, realistic, and practical way to do so. 

 

Chapter 7 “Straight Bankruptcy” and Chapter 13 “Adjustment of Debts”

Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 are the two main consumer bankruptcy options.

Most Chapter 7 cases only takes a few months—usually 3 to 4 months—from filing to completion. A Chapter 13 case usually takes 3 to 5 years. At first this extra length of time may seem like a disadvantage. However Chapter 13 puts this time to good use, accomplishing things that you can’t under Chapter 7.

Essentially, Chapter 13 gives you the 3-to-5-year period to cure your mortgage, while protecting your home throughout that time.

The Chapter 7 Shortcomings

Chapter 7 leaves you at the mercy of your mortgage lender if you’re behind on the mortgage.

Chapter 7 protects you from the lender for only the 4 months or so that it lasts. (The protection might even be shorter if the lender asks the bankruptcy court for permission to end the protection sooner.) During that time you may be able to work out a “forbearance agreement” with your lender. This agreement nails down the terms for curing your mortgage.

The problem is that you have precious little leverage in this negotiation. If you are not too far behind on your mortgage, your lender may be give you a few months, maybe up to a year, to catch up. But the lender has all the leverage and you have almost none. It could just begin or resume a foreclosure as soon as your Chapter 7 case is over. With that leverage it can make you try to catch up unrealistically fast, requiring huge extra catch-up payments each month. This makes more likely that you won’t succeed in always making the required payments. And at best, if you do make those large payments and do catch up, it’ll be a tough and risky experience.

The Chapter 13 Solution

In contrast, as mentioned above Chapter 13 gives you much more time, and protects your home in the meantime.

Instead of the catch-up payment amount being imposed on you, your personal realistic budget determines the amount. The payments can be stretched out over as much as 5 years. You may even be able to delay or lessen these catch-up payments if you have other even more urgent debts to pay. Also, if your circumstances change midstream, you’d likely be able to adjust the payments.

These and other advantages effectively lower the catch-up payments, making more likely that you’ll successfully cure the mortgage and keep your home.

Doing Your Part

You can rather easily lose the multi-year protection of Chapter 13 if you don’t fulfill some important obligations. To maintain the protection you have to:

1. Keep current on your court-approved Chapter 13 payment plan. Your catch-up payments are incorporated into the single monthly payment you make towards virtually all your debts. Not paying this to the Chapter 13 trustee each month gives your mortgage lender cause to ask permission to foreclose. It also gives cause for your case to be thrown out altogether. 

2. Keep current on the regular monthly mortgage payments. Chapter 13 gives you the means to slowly cure your arrearage. Falling further behind in the middle of your case seriously jeopardizes your case.

3. Pay your homeowner’s insurance on time. Don’t let your insurance lapse. That really scares your mortgage lender (and should scare you, too). Your lender would likely “force-place” its own insurance (which protects it but not you). It would then make you pay the exorbitant cost of this insurance, putting you that much further behind. This is also an independent basis for it to ask permission to foreclose.

4. Pay the property taxes. Falling behind on property taxes also gives the mortgage holder a separate basis for asking the bankruptcy court for permission to foreclose. The budget you work out with your bankruptcy lawyer will include money for these taxes, to prevent this from happening.

 

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