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Archive for the ‘Chapter 13 plan’ tag

Conditions for Stopping Support Collections in Chapter 13

January 19th, 2020 at 8:00 am

Chapter 13 immediately stops the collection of past-due child or spousal support. But to keep that protection you must meet some conditions.  


Last week we showed how Chapter 13 stops the collection of unpaid child and spousal support, while Chapter 7 doesn’t. But we ended by emphasizing that anyone can quickly lose this huge benefit of Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts”. Avoiding this requires strictly complying with some conditions. These conditions are arguably sensible ones. But you need to know and understand them so you don’t lose this crucial Chapter 13 benefit. Because these conditions are so important we focus today’s entire blog post on them.

Ongoing Child and Spousal Support

But before we get to these conditions we need to make a strong point. We’re talking here about child and/or spousal support that is unpaid, past-due, at the time of the bankruptcy filing. This past-due support is different from ongoing support. 

Ongoing support is the support you need to keep paying, usually on a monthly basis, after your bankruptcy lawyer files your bankruptcy case. Past-due support is any amount of support that you’re behind on as of that filing date.  Ongoing support is the support due after that filing date.

Filing bankruptcy does NOT stop the collection of any ongoing support, under either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. The “automatic stay” that protects you from creditor collections does not apply. (See Section 362(b)(2)(B) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code—where ongoing support is called “domestic support obligation.”) So, if you are paying support by direct payments, you need to keep paying those after filing bankruptcy.  If you are paying through a payroll deduction or by garnishment, those should continue. You can only change those forward-looking payments through the divorce court which ordered them.

Chapter 13 only stops the collection of past-due support—which, again, Chapter 7 does not. (Past-due support is also sometimes called support arrears or support arrearage.) So the conditions we discuss now are ones you need to meet to stop the collection of past-due support.

Inform Your Collector of Support

Your bankruptcy lawyer’s Chapter 13 filing will immediately stop the collection of past-due support.  This does assume that either you or your lawyer informs your ex-spouse or the support enforcement agency about your Chapter 13 filing. The automatic stay applies at the moment of filing, but the creditor needs to know about it to be able to comply. Coordinate this with your lawyer.

Most support enforcement agencies understand this special power of Chapter 13 and will comply immediately. Although sometimes it may take some lawyerly persuasion.

Ex-spouses are more likely under the misimpression that your Chapter 13 filing has no effect whatsoever on your support obligation. He or she probably has never heard about this special benefit of Chapter 13 for past-due support. If so, your lawyer will likely contact him or her, or his or her lawyer if there is one, to inform him or her about the law.  

The Conditions to Avoid Collection of Past-Due Support

Once the automatic stay stops collection of past-due support, you’ll lose this benefit if you don’t maintain the following conditions:

1) keep current on your ongoing support

2) show in your Chapter 13 payment plan how you will pay off all the support arrearage during the 3–to-5-year life of the plan

3) consistently make your Chapter 13 plan payments so that you are in fact making continued progress towards paying off the past-due support

4) finish your Chapter 13 case successfully, which includes paying off the entire past-due support

Let’s look at these one by one.

1) Keep Current on Ongoing Support

Assuming you continue to owe ongoing support, you absolutely must keep paying it as long as you are obligated to. Otherwise you’d be going financially backwards instead of forwards. You’d be called on it by the support enforcement agency or your ex-spouse. The very likely result would be that you’d lose the automatic stay protection against collection of the past-due support.

Plus you need to be very strict on the timing. You have to pay the monthly payments precisely by the due dates. Otherwise there’s a good chance that your ex-spouse/support enforcement will inform the bankruptcy court and ask permission to resume collection.

In particular be fully aware of the first support payment due after your Chapter 13 case filing date. For example, if your case is filed on January 25 and your monthly support payments are due on the first of every month, you need to make that first after-filing support payment by February 1. Talk with your bankruptcy lawyer about the timing of your Chapter 13 filing so that you have the funds to pay that first support payment.            

2) Payment Plan Includes Planned Pay-off

Bankruptcy law requires you to pay off all your past-due support during the 3–to-5-year life of the plan. Your Chapter 13 lawyer will make the necessary calculations to show how you will so so. Your monthly plan payments will be based on what you can afford to pay to all of your creditors. Incorporated into those monthly payments is money that will go to pay off the past -due support. You and your lawyer have to show that these plan payments are enough to accomplish this.

Otherwise your ex-spouse/support enforcement agency can object to the plan. He/she/it could also ask for permission to resume collections because the plan would not catch up on the past-due support.

3) Make ALL Chapter 13 Plan Payments 

Your Chapter 13 plan not only has to pencil out correctly, but you also must pay the plan payments timely. Otherwise you’re not doing what you agreed to do in the court-approved plan.  Paying the plan payments on time shows that you are actually making continued progress towards paying off the past-due support.

If you got late on the plan payments, your Chapter 13 trustee could ask that your case get thrown out. (The trustee is the person you pay your plan payments to, and who then pays your creditors.) Or any creditor—including your ex-spouse/support enforcement agency—could do the same. Or could just ask for permission to resume collection.

4) Finish Your Chapter 13 Case

So if you have a good payment plan, and you make all the payments, you’ll eventually complete it successfully. (Your plan very likely has some other requirements and this assumes you comply with them as well.) When you complete your plan, you will have paid off the entire past-due support. So it’s really important that you get all the way to the end of your Chapter 13 case successfully.

 

Unpaid Child and Spousal Support in Chapter 13

January 13th, 2020 at 8:00 am

Chapter 13 DOES stop the collection of unpaid child or spousal support from your after-filing income and other assets. Chapter 7 does NOT.    

Last week we discussed situations in which Chapter 7 would help if you’re behind on child or spousal support payments. We made clear that Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” provides only limited help. Mostly it gives you relief from your other debts so that you can concentrate on catching up on support.  Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” is a much more powerful option when Chapter 7 is not enough.

The Main Benefits of Chapter 13 When Behind on Support

Chapter 13 takes much, much longer than Chapter 7, and is generally more expensive. But it provides some remarkable benefits compared to Chapter 7. These benefits can make the longer time and greater expense of Chapter 13 more than worthwhile. The main benefits of Chapter 13 are that:

1) Filing Chapter 13 immediately stops the collection of unpaid child or spousal support. Chapter 7 does not.

2) Chapter 13 gives you a relatively flexible and protected way to catch up on the support. With Chapter 7 you have to make your own payment arrangements, without any protection or much leverage.

Basically, have a serious conversation with your bankruptcy lawyer about Chapter 13 if you need these significant benefits.

How Does Chapter 13 Stop the Collection of Unpaid Support?

Chapter 7 is a very straightforward kind of bankruptcy. It focuses on a point in time: the moment your bankruptcy lawyer files your Chapter 7 case. Your case essentially imagines your financial life frozen in time at that moment, including your debts and assets, income and expenses, and such.

Chapter 13 also cares a lot about your financial life at the moment of filing. But it also takes a longer view—the next 3 to 5 years of your court-approved payment plan. In particular, Chapter 13 is designed to protect you during that period of time from your ongoing creditors.

Chapter 7 mostly just writes off (“discharges”) certain debts and does not discharge others. It leaves you on your own to deal with those debts you still owe, such as support.

In contrast, in Chapter 13 the protection from creditors—the “automatic stay”—can last the full 3-to-5 years.  Specifically regarding spousal and child support owed at the time of filing, the automatic stay protects your employment income earned after the filing. This means that as of your filing date your paycheck is protected from wage garnishment or other kinds of forced payment.

Why Doesn’t This Happen under Chapter 13 But Not 7?

Here’s the legal answer. (You can skip this section if you don’t need this level of detail.)

The pertinent federal bankruptcy statute states that the automatic stay does not stop the collection of support out of “property that is not property of the [bankruptcy] estate.” See Subsection 362(b)(2)(B) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.  This means that a bankruptcy filing does stop the collection from property that is “property of the bankruptcy estate.”

In a Chapter 7 case the bankruptcy estate is essentially everything you own at the moment of filing the case. See Subsection 541 of the Bankruptcy Code on “Property of the estate” generally. This does not include what you earn and assets you acquire after that moment. Since those after-filing earnings and assets are not “property of the estate,” they can be targeted for support collection.

Chapter 13 is different for a simple reason: “the estate” does include after-filing earnings and assets. Only under Chapter 13 the estate includes “earnings from services performed by the debtor after the commencement of the case.” See Subsection 1306(a)(2).

This means that the automatic stay legally prevents your ex-spouse or support enforcement agency from continuing or starting to collect on your unpaid child or spousal support you’re your after-filing earnings the moment your bankruptcy lawyer files your Chapter 13 case. This is true even though a Chapter 7 filing would have absolutely no such effect.

This Chapter 13 Protection Comes with Important Conditions

We said that the automatic stay can last the entire 3-to-5-year period of your Chapter 13 payment plan. But especially when it comes to unpaid support that protection comes with some conditions.

Why are there conditions? Imagine the example of a vehicle loan. You want to keep the vehicle and prevent your lender from repossessing it. The automatic stay can protect your vehicle under Chapter 13 during the entire length of the case. But you have to meet some reasonable conditions like making payments and keeping the vehicle insured. If you don’t, the creditor can get the court to exclude the debt from being covered by the automatic stay. It can get permission to repossess your vehicle after all.

It’s similar with child and spousal support debt. Here the conditions are very time sensitive and are often enforced very strictly. Being able to stop support collection is a huge benefit of Chapter 13. It may even be a major reason for choosing this more time-consuming option. You don’t want to lose this benefit because you didn’t clearly understand and comply with the conditions.

Because of how important these conditions are, we’ll dedicate all of next week’s blog post to them.

 

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.

 

Priority Debts in a Chapter 13 Case

December 9th, 2019 at 8:00 am

Chapter 13 gives you some huge advantages over Chapter 7 for paying your priority debts. You’re protected while you pay what you can afford.


Priority Debts under No-Asset and Asset Chapter 7

Our last two blog posts described how Chapter 7 can sometimes be a sensible way of dealing with priority debts. (Those are ones you can’t “discharge”—legally write off, the most common being recent income taxes and child/spousal support.) Our blog post two weeks ago: a no-asset Chapter 7 case discharges all or most of your other debts. So then afterwards you can better afford to pay your priority ones. Last week: in an asset Chapter 7 case your bankruptcy trustee collects your unprotected asset(s). He or she then pays part or all of your priority debt out of the proceeds from selling those asset(s).

But Chapter 7 is not well-designed to deal with priority debts in many situations. Here are the main problems:

  • You get only brief protection, or none at all, from your priority creditor(s). With income taxes, the IRS/state can resume collections when your Chapter 7 case is over. That’s only 3-4 months after you and your bankruptcy lawyer file the case. With child/spousal support, there is no protection at all: collection continues even during your Chapter 7 case.
  • Because of this lack of legal protection, you have little or no leverage about the dollar amount of payments you pay on your priority debts. You are largely at the mercy of the IRS/state or the support enforcement agencies.
  • In an asset Chapter 7 case, you have no control over the trustee’s sale of your asset(s). Plus you have to pay a significant amount for the trustee’s costs and fee. That reduces what goes to your priority debt(s).

The Benefits of Chapter 13

In contrast, Chapter 13 is well-designed for you to deal favorably with your priority debts. Here are its main benefits and advantages.

1. Ongoing Protection, for Years

The protection from creditors called the automatic stay lasts not 3-4 months but rather 3-to-5 years in Chapter 13. You can lose this protection under Chapter 13, if you don’t follow the requirements. But usually this sustained protection is a very powerful tool. It gives you tremendous peace of mind. It forces otherwise very aggressive creditors like the IRS/state and support enforcement to cooperate. It gives you an incredible and practical second chance to do what you need to do. Instead of these tough creditors having the law and the leverage on their side, Chapter 13 puts you much more in charge.

2. Pay Monthly What You Can Afford to Pay

The practical leverage Chapter 13 gives you helps where it counts. It enables you to pay your priority debts under sensible and manageable payment terms. Priority debts are ones you have to pay regardless of bankruptcy. You mostly just wish that there was a way to do so that was doable. Chapter 13 fulfills that wish.

Here’s how it works You and your bankruptcy lawyer propose, and the bankruptcy judge approves a payment plan. (This approval comes after possible input from the Chapter 13 trustee and your creditors.) This payment plan is mostly based on how much you can actually afford to pay the pool of your creditors. You have to pay all your priority debts in full, but you have 3 to 5 years to do so.

You generally pay nothing on your other unsecured debts until you pay your priority debts in full. Sometimes you don’t pay anything on those “general unsecured” debts. At the end of your case whatever you haven’t paid is forever discharged. At that point you will have paid off your priority debts in full, and usually owe nothing to anybody.

3. Avoid Interest and Penalties

You can often avoid paying any interest or penalties on your priority debt(s) under Chapter 13.

For example, with recent income taxes, interest and penalties continue to accrue after you file your case.  But as long as there no prior-recorded tax lien, and you successfully finish your case, you don’t pay these additional interest and penalties. You only pay the initial priority tax debt.

Furthermore, in most situations the penalties that accrued before your Chapter 13 filing are not a priority debt. This portion of your tax due at the time of filing is treated as “general unsecured.” This means it’s treated just like your unsecured credit cards or medical bills. You only pay it to the extent you have money available after paying the priority debts, if at all.

This combination—no accruing interest and penalties, and no penalties treated as priority—can significantly reduce how much you must pay. The less you have to pay as priority means the less you pay in your Chapter 13 payment plan. The less you have to pay usually means you finish your plan quicker. It’s more likely to last closer to 3 years rather than 5 years. And if you have to pay less there’d be less pressure to pay more per month to get it done on time.

4. Pay Priority (and Secured) Debts Ahead of (and Instead of) Other Debts

If you have secured debts you have to pay—a vehicle loan or home mortgage arrearage, for example—you often can pay these ahead of the priority debts. Your priority debts generally just have to wait, as long as you are appropriately following the payment plan.

This flexibility, and being able to essentially force priority creditors to be this flexible, can be extremely beneficial to you. You not only get to pay your important priority debts ahead of your other unsecured debts. You often get to favor debts that are very important to you—for example, to save your home and/or vehicle—ahead of the priority debts. You do have to pay the priority debts in fully before you can finish your Chapter 13 case. But often you are allowed to fit those payments in only after paying your crucial secured debts.

 

Resolve Mortgage Accounting Disagreements

October 21st, 2019 at 7:00 am

Chapter 13 gives you valuable power to force your mortgage lender to be up front about how much you owe, and to efficiently dispute the amount. 

 

Catching Up on Your Mortgage over Time

A Chapter 13 case gives you the power to catch up on your home mortgage(s) over an extended period.  This “adjustment of debts” type of bankruptcy can give you up to 5 years to catch up.

This power is found in the U.S. Bankruptcy Code language allowing you to cure “any default within a reasonable time.” Section 1322(b)(5). That amount of time is interpreted to mean, in most circumstances, the length of your Chapter 13 payment plan. Most payment plans are between 3 and 5 years long. If you need more than 3 years, usually you can extend your plan longer, up to 5 years.

The Mortgage Accounting Challenge

If you fall behind on your mortgage it can be ridiculously difficult to get accurate information from your lender about the amount you owe. If you don’t have accurate information, you can’t fulfill your desire and responsibility to cure the arrearage.

This problem is aggravated over the course of the case when the mortgage payment amount changes over time. This could be from normal changes in the interest rate, property tax and insurance, or the addition of fees.

You can’t cure the arrearage or maintain monthly payments if you aren’t timely told the amounts you owe. You can’t efficiently dispute the stated amounts if the lender does not respond in good faith.

This accounting confusion had been a serious problem for millions of homeowners trying to save their homes. In 2011 a new procedure was created within Chapter 13 to efficiently resolve mortgage accounting disputes. It’s contained in Rule 3002.1 of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure. It gives you the power to force your lender to work with you to determine how much you owe.

How the Procedure Works

The procedure focuses on changes to the ongoing mortgage payment amount.  You can’t catch up on the arrearage if that arrearage increases because you’re not paying the right monthly payment. 

Your lender “shall file and serve on” you, your bankruptcy lawyer, and your Chapter 13 trustee “any change in the payment amount.” This includes “any change that results from an interest rate or escrow account adjustment.” This notice must be given “no later than 21 days before a payment in the new amount is due.” Rule 3002.1(b) of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure.

You or your lawyer can object to the change in the lender’s notice. You must do so before that new payment is due. If you don’t object on time, the lender’s payment change goes into effect.

If you do object, the bankruptcy judge determines whether the lender’s proposed new amount is appropriate or not.

This procedure forces the lender to be up front about changes in how much you owe. It allows you to dispute those changes, and to get a quick court determination about who is right.

 

Bankruptcy May Strip Off a Junior Mortgage

August 12th, 2019 at 7:00 am

Summary

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

Qualifying to Strip Your Second or Third Mortgage

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

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

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

How Mortgage Stripping Works

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

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

How Much the Stripped Unsecured Mortgage Gets Paid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

Qualifying for a Vehicle Loan Cramdown

May 20th, 2019 at 7:00 am

To qualify for a Chapter 13 vehicle loan cramdown, mostly your loan must be at least two and a half years old. There are exceptions to this. 

 

Last week’s blog post was about lowering monthly vehicle loan payments through Chapter 13 cramdown. This also often reduces how much you end up paying on the loan, and often even reduces its interest rate. Cramdown usually saves you money both immediately and long term. And you end up owning your vehicle free and clear at the end of your Chapter 13 case.  

Today we get into how to qualify for cramdown.

Qualifying for Cramdown—Timing

You can only do a cramdown if your vehicle loan is more than 910 days old when you file your Chapter 13 case. 910 day is about two and a half years. If you entered into the vehicle loan less than 910 days earlier, you can’t do a cramdown. You can’t reduce the monthly payments or the total amount paid on the loan.

The Bankruptcy Code says that you can’t do a cramdown if “the debt was incurred within the 910-day [period] preceding the date of the filing of the [Chapter 13] petition.” See the “hanging paragraph” following Section 506(a)(9) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

What’s the reason for this 910-day timing condition? It’s a benefit to vehicle lenders. New cars and trucks depreciate fast. You can’t buy a vehicle, have it depreciate quickly for a year or two, and then take advantage of the fact that the vehicle isn’t worth as much as you owe on it. You have to wait two and a half years before you can do this.

Qualifying for Cramdown—910-day Rule Doesn’t Apply

The 910-day rule applies only to vehicle loans that are for the purchase of the vehicle. Under the language of the Bankruptcy Code, the 910-day waiting period only applies when “the creditor has a purchase money security interest securing the debt.” See the same paragraph” following Section 506(a)(9) referred to above.

So a loan used to refinance a vehicle CAN be crammed down without waiting the 910 days. Also, if you borrowed money for some purpose and gave your vehicle as collateral for the loan, you can do a cramdown without waiting.  

This same 910-day waiting period also does not apply to vehicles purchased for business use. The Bankruptcy Code says the 910-day rule only applies if “the collateral for that debt consists of a motor vehicle… acquired for the personal use of the debtor.” See the same paragraph in the Bankruptcy we keep referring to.

There are open questions about both these “purchase money” and “personal use” conditions. For example, “personal use of the debtor” is not defined in the Bankruptcy Code. What about a pickup truck mostly used for operating a business but also used for personal transportation? Or how about a vehicle bought by a parent for the exclusive personal us of an adult child? Is that not the “personal use of the debtor” so that the 910-day rule does not apply?

The answers to these questions may turn on interpretations of the Code language by your local bankruptcy court. Talk with your bankruptcy lawyer about your own particular situation.

Qualifying for Cramdown—Undersecured Vehicle Loan

In case it’s not obvious, cramdown only works if your vehicle is worth less than the balance on your loan. You’re “cramming” the loan amount down to the secured amount of the debt. The more your loan is upside down the more cramdown can help.

If your vehicle is worth the same or more than you owe, there is no opportunity for cramdown. You might gain some other benefits on your vehicle loan from filing a Chapter 13 case, but no cramdown.

And how do you determine what your vehicle is worth for this purpose? For example, do you use “retail value” or “wholesale” or “trade-in” values? Should you use the Kelley or NADA Blue Book values or some other source? Again, these are questions for your bankruptcy lawyer, based on local law and practice.

Qualifying for Cramdown—Only in Chapter 13

Cramdown is not available under Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy.” You must file a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case. The payment and payoff terms of your cramdown are part of your 3-to-5-year Chapter 13 payment plan. In it you present the value of your vehicle, which indicates the secured part of your loan balance and the remaining unsecured part, and how much you intend to pay on each part.

(Cramdown is also available under Chapter 11 “reorganization,” which is generally used for corporate and other business bankruptcies. Section 1129(b)(2)(A). This blog post focuses instead on consumer oriented Chapter 13. But if you are operating a business or have unusually large debts, Chapter 11 may be an option to consider.)

 

Keep Your Vehicle through Cramdown

May 13th, 2019 at 7:00 am

If you can’t afford to pay your vehicle payments even after writing off your other debts under Chapter 7, consider a Chapter 13 loan cramdown. 

 

The last two blog posts have been about keeping your vehicle in a Chapter 7 case. Two weeks ago was about the benefits of reaffirming the vehicle’s loan. Last week was about possible ways of keeping the vehicle by making the loan payments but not reaffirming. These all assumed that you would keep on making the full monthly payments in order to keep the vehicle.

But what if you can’t afford the full monthly payments? Are there any other options if, even after getting rid of your other debt, you can’t pay the vehicle payments?

The answer: you may be able to reduce the vehicle payments through Chapter 13 cramdown. In fact, you may be able to significantly reduce the payments. And cramdown may give you some other huge financial benefits.

Reducing Monthly Payments through Cramdown

Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” is very different from Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy.” It takes much longer but Chapter 13 comes with some significant advantages. This includes the possible cramdown of your vehicle loan.

Under Chapter 13 you and your bankruptcy lawyer come up with a court-approved payment plan. That plan just about always significantly reduces what you pay monthly towards your debts. And if you successfully complete the plan you usually pay significantly less overall towards your debts.

Similarly, under cramdown you can often reduce both your monthly payment and the total you pay on your vehicle loan.

How Does Cramdown Work?

Your Chapter 13 payment plan treats secured debts and unsecured debts very differently. In general, secured debts need to be paid in full if you want to keep whatever the debt is securing. Unsecured debts usually only need to be paid as much as there’s money available to pay them.

So what if a secured debt—such as a vehicle loan—is only partially secured? That happens if the vehicle is worth less than the balance owed on the loan. The secured part of the loan is the amount equal to the value of the vehicle. The unsecured part is the rest of the loan balance—the part that effectively has nothing securing it.

Here’s a simple example. Let’s say you’d been paying for 3 years on a vehicle loan, you now still owe $15,000 but the vehicle is worth only $9,000. The secured portion of that vehicle loan is $9,000 and the unsecured portion is $6,000.

Recalculating the Payment Amount

Cramdown re-writes your vehicle loan so that your monthly payment gets calculated on only the secured part of the loan. In our example, your monthly payment now pays down only the $9,000 secured debt instead of the full $15,000 balance. Since the secured amount is less than the full loan balance, the new monthly payments are usually less.

The monthly payment is also reduced when those payments are stretched out over a longer period. They can extend as long as your Chapter 13 payment plan lasts, which is usually 3 to 5 years.

In addition, cramdown sometimes lowers the vehicle loan’s interest rate. That helps if your contract interest rate is high.

Combining all this, cramdown reduces your monthly payment by reducing the total amount it is paying off (the secured part of the loan), sometimes stretching the payment term out over a longer period, and often reducing the interest rate.

As a result, it’s not unusual for monthly payments to be chopped in half, or even better. It all depends on the details of your vehicle loan and on your finances going forward.  

What Happens to the Unsecured Part?

In our example, what happens under Chapter 13 cramdown to the remaining $6,000 unsecured part of the vehicle loan?

It’s lumped in with and treated just like your other “general unsecured” debts. Most of the time a Chapter 13 payment plan pays these low-priority debts only as much as you can pay them, if anything. That is, you pay “general unsecured” debts only AFTER paying the “priority” and secured debts.

There are exceptions, but this usually means you pay the unsecured part of your vehicle loan only if and to the extent you have money left over after paying other debts during the course of your payment plan. At your case’s completion any remaining amount gets “discharged,” permanently written off, along with your other “general unsecured” debts.

Qualifying for Cramdown, Other Considerations

Next week we’ll get into timing and other considerations in qualifying for a Chapter 13 vehicle loan cramdown.

 

If You Owe Both 2018 AND Earlier Income Taxes

January 28th, 2019 at 8:00 am

Do you owe income taxes for the 2018 tax year AND already owe for one or more tax years? Chapter 13 may be an especially good tool for you. 


Last week we got into a big advantage of filing a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case in early 2019. It enables you to include 2018 income taxes into your Chapter 13 payment plan. That would:

  1. Save you money on payment of your 2018 tax
  2. Give you invaluable financial flexibility
  3. Stop any present and future tax collections and the recording and enforcement of a tax lien on the 2018 tax

So Chapter 13 is a helpful tool for dealing with taxes you owe for the 2018 tax year. Sometimes it’s even absolutely indispensable—it solves a debt dilemma that appeared otherwise insolvable.

When You Also Owe Income Taxes for Earlier Years

However, Chapter 13 is a particularly powerful tool if you owe not just for 2018 but for other tax years (or year) as well. This is true wherever you stand with the earlier tax debt, whether:

  1. the IRS/state is now aggressively collecting the taxes
  2. you are currently paying them through an agreed monthly payment plan
  3. you haven’t yet filed the tax returns for the prior years 

1. Dealing with Aggressive Collection of Earlier Tax Debt

Is the IRS/state is currently collecting the earlier taxes through garnishment or some other collection procedures?  Then Chapter 13 would very likely greatly help you with both those earlier taxes and the new 2018 one.

The minute your bankruptcy lawyer files the Chapter 13 case for you all the aggressive tax collection actions will stop. That is the power of bankruptcy’s “automatic stay.” You will have 3 to 5 years to deal with ALL of your debts through a payment plan. This includes all your income taxes. The Chapter 13 payment plan will be based on what you can genuinely afford to pay. You may well not need to pay some of your earlier taxes. You will likely not need to pay any more accruing interest and penalties on ANY of the income taxes. You will not need to worry about tax collections throughout the time you’re in the case—including the recording of tax liens. At the completion of your case you will owe no income taxes. Indeed, you will be debt-free altogether, except for voluntary debt such as a home mortgage.

2. In a Monthly Payment Plan

Are you already in a payment plan with the IRS/state for the prior tax debt? If so, finding out that you owe even more for 2018 can be really frightening.

Those monthly installment payments likely contributed to the fact that you owe for 2018. You know that you have to keep up those monthly payments perfectly to avoid the IRS/state from starting or restarting collection actions against you. So you do everything you can to pay them, including not having enough withheld from your paycheck or not paying enough in quarterly estimated payments for the next year’s taxes. As a result you now owe another bunch of taxes for 2018.

Furthermore, you know that you’ll violate your installment agreement if you don’t stay current in future income taxes. As stated in IRS Form 9465, the Installment Agreement Request form, “you agree to meet all your future tax obligations.” So you know you’ll be in trouble when the IRS/state finds out that you owe for 2018.

Chapter 13 avoids this trouble. As mentioned above, the “automatic stay” immediately protects you from the IRS/state. Your monthly installment plan is cancelled right away. You make no further payments on it once you file you file your Chapter 13 case. All your prior income taxes AND your 2018 one(s) are handled through your Chapter 13 payment plan. You get the financial advantages and the peace-of-mind referenced in the above section. When you successfully complete your Chapter 13 case you’ll be totally free of any tax debt.

3. Not Filing Tax Returns

You may be in the scary situation that you can’t pay your taxes so you don’t file your tax returns.

Sometimes this happens because the tax authorities are already actively trying to collect on earlier tax debt. You can’t pay the earlier debt so you figure what’s the use of adding to the amount you already can’t pay.

Or you may be in an installment payment plan and you don’t want to violate it by admitting you owe more for 2018. You know you’ll be in violation of it upon filing the 2018 tax return, so you simply don’t do so.

Or finally, you haven’t filed a tax return for several years, and you know or guess you owe a lot. Now it’s time to file for 2018 and you figure you’ll owe again. You think, why file for 2018 and bring the wrath of the tax authorities onto yourself?

But you know that not filing your 2018 tax return (and any prior unfiled ones) only delays the inevitable. Because of the advantages listed in our last blog post and in the above two sections, Chapter 13 may well be the tool you need.

You’re in a vicious cycle in which you may well be falling further behind instead of getting ahead.

Chapter 13 can likely enable you to break out of that cycle. Not only do you deal with all of your taxes and other debts in a single package. Not only to you often not have to pay all of your taxes. The vicious cycle is broken because your Chapter 13 budget will also address your 2019 and future income tax situation. It does so because your new budget will include enough withholding or quarterly estimated payments so you can stay current for 2019 and thereafter. Again, you should end the Chapter 13 plan being completely tax-debt free.

 

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