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Archive for the ‘Chapter 13 plan’ tag

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.

 

Include 2018 Income Taxes in a Chapter 13 Case Filed in 2019

January 21st, 2019 at 8:00 am

Do you expect to owe income taxes for the 2018 tax year? Starting January 1, 2019 you can wrap that tax into a new Chapter 13 payment plan. 

 

Have you been considering filing bankruptcy and now also expect to owe income taxes for 2018? If so, the start of 2019 gives you more reason to file a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case.

Why? Because filing in 2019 allows you to include 2018 income taxes into your payment plan. That gives you major advantages:

  1. Saves you money on your payment of the 2018 tax
  2. Gives you some very valuable flexibility
  3. Stops tax collections and a tax lien on the 2018 tax

1. Save Money

Wrapping your 2018 income tax debt into a Chapter 13 payment plan usually allows you to pay no more interest and penalties on that tax. The savings can be much more than you think.

You’ll have to pay the 2018 base income tax itself in full, but usually not the interest or penalties. The base tax itself is a “priority” debt that you have to pay. But almost always no interest or penalties accrue on that tax (as long as you finish the case successfully).  

This especially helpful because practically speaking you’d probably not pay that 2018 tax for quite  a while:

  • If you don’t file bankruptcy your other financial pressures would likely prevent you from paying that tax quickly. You might even be tempted to put off filing the tax return, thereby aggravating the problem. The interest and penalties would accrue fast.
  • If you do file a Chapter 13 case in your payment plan you’d most likely pay other even higher priority debts ahead of the 2018 tax. There’s a good chance that tax wouldn’t get paid until near the end of your 3-to-5-year plan. A huge amount of interest and penalties would accrue in the meantime.

2. Valuable Flexibility

Wrapping your 2015 taxes into a Chapter 13 payment plan gives you tremendous flexibility in paying the tax. This can be a real game changer, especially when you have other financial obligations that can’t wait. Chapter 13 allows you to delay paying your 2018 tax debt until you can afford doing so AFTER paying, for example:

  • home mortgage arrearage to save your home
  • unpaid real property taxes, which usually accrue interest at a high rate
  • vehicle loan arrearage or “cramdown” payments to keep your vehicle
  • child or spousal support arrearage
  • other years’ income taxes, including protecting a home or other possession from previously recorded liens

3. Stop Future Tax Collection Including Liens

An important benefit of waiting until 2019 to include the 2018 income tax debt is to stop its aggressive collection. Filing a Chapter 13 case prevents the IRS and/or state from taking just about any collection actions on that tax. This protection against collection stays in effect throughout the years of the case (as long as you fulfill your obligations). Not having to worry about collection of this debt is a huge emotional and practical benefit.

It’s especially nice not have to worry about getting hit with a tax lien. Tax liens are dangerous for a number of reasons. They put your precious assets at risk, thereby giving the IRS/state tremendous leverage. Chapter 13 prevents tax liens while giving you the means to pay off the tax on a relatively flexible budget.

 

Filing Chapter 13 in 2019 to Write Off More Income Taxes

January 14th, 2019 at 8:00 am

Chapter 13 is a riskier, longer, and maybe more expensive way to escape a dischargeable income tax debt—but may still be your best option. 


Last week we showed how to permanently write off (“discharge”) more of your tax debts through Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy.” Today we show how to do this with Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts.”

Why Use Chapter 13 If Chapter 7 is Faster and Cleaner?

Chapter 7 is a very fast way to discharge an income tax debt that qualifies for discharge. You would very likely no longer owe the tax only about 4 months after filing a Chapter 7 case.

But Chapter 13 case could be much better for you than Chapter 7 for other reasons. Those other reasons may outweigh the benefit of discharging your dischargeable tax debt quickly.

You may owe some other income tax debt(s) which do not meet the conditions for discharge. These other taxes that may be too large to pay off reasonably through a monthly payment plan with the IRS/state.  The other taxes may not qualify for an Offer in Compromise or other settlement. You may well save money and avoid significant risks by handling all of your taxes in a Chapter 13 case.

There are also many other reasons that Chapter 13 would be worthwhile for you, reasons not involving income taxes. It may save your home from foreclosure or your vehicle(s) from repossession. Chapter 13 can deal with a child or spousal support arrearage much better than Chapter 7. There are many other situations where Chapter 13 gives you extraordinary and unique powers. So it can be worthwhile overall in spite of its disadvantages in dealing with a dischargeable tax debt.

How Does Chapter 13 Deal with Dischargeable Income Taxes?

Determining whether a particular income tax debt can be discharged in Chapter 13 is the same as in Chapter 7. Please see our last blog post for the conditions of discharge. These conditions mostly involve how long it’s been since the tax return for the tax at issue was due and when the return was actually submitted to the IRS/state. Sometimes there are other pertinent conditions, but usually it’s just a matter of timing.

Because of how the timing works, there are certain points of time in 2019 when a tax that hadn’t earlier qualified for discharge would then qualify. Again, see our last blog post about those crucial times happening this year.

If your tax does meet the conditions for discharge, it can get discharged in your Chapter 13 case. But this works quite differently than under Chapter 7.

One key difference is that under Chapter 13 there’s a good chance that you would pay something on your dischargeable tax debt.

Under Chapter 13 dischargeable income tax debts is treated like the rest of your “general unsecured” debts. Under your payment plan all such debts get paid the same percentage of their total amounts. That percentage may be any amount from 0% to 100% of their amount, depending on your budget and other factors.

Consider two situations: First, if you have a “0% plan” then you’d pay nothing on the dischargeable tax just like in a straightforward Chapter 7 case. Second, even if you do pay some percentage, often that actually doesn’t increase the amount you pay into your payment. We’ll explain these two situations.

A 0% Payment Plan

In some Chapter 13 cases all the money that the debtor can afford to pay goes to special creditors. All the money going into the Chapter 13 payment plan goes either to secured or to “priority” debts. These would include home mortgages, vehicle loans, nondischargeable taxes, child and spousal support, and such. These usually have to be paid in full before the “general unsecured” debts receive anything.  So during the 3-to-5-year payment plan no money goes to the dischargeable income taxes. That’s a 0% Chapter 13 plan.

Assuming the bankruptcy approves the plan, and you successfully complete it, at its conclusion the dischargeable taxes get discharged, without you having to pay any of it.

Payment Plans Which Do Not Increase the Amount You Pay

In many Chapter 13 plans the amount available for the pool of the “general unsecured” debts is a fixed amount. That amount is based on what you can afford to pay over the required length of the plan. (That required length is usually 3 or 5 years.) That fixed amount does not change regardless how much in “general unsecured” debts you owe. The amount just gets distributed to all those debts pro rata. The more you owe in “general unsecured” debts the lower the percent of the debts that fixed amount can pay.

For example, assume you can afford to pay the pool of “general unsecured” debts a total of $2,000 during the course of the payment plan. All the rest of the money you pay into the plan is earmarked for secured and “priority” debts. Assume also that you have $20,000 in unsecured credit card and medical debts and $5,000 of dischargeable income tax. Without the income tax, the $2,000 would be paid towards the $20,000 in “general unsecured” debts, resulting in a 10% plan. ($2,000 is 10% of $20,000.) Now when you add in the $5,000 tax, there’s a total of $25,000 of “general unsecured” debt. $2,000 is 8% of $25,000, resulting in an 8% plan.

You would be paying no more—the fixed amount of $2,000—over the length of your plan. The fact that you owe the $5,000 in dischargeable tax would not increase the amount you would pay. Then at the successful completion of the case all remaining “general unsecured” debts, including whatever was remaining on the dischargeable tax, would be forever discharged.

Conclusion

So you see that Chapter 13 is a slower and somewhat riskier way to discharge an income tax debt. Plus you may have to pay a portion of the tax instead of quickly discharging all of it under Chapter 7. But then again you may not have to pay anything on it, as described above. In any event, the delay and risks may well be worthwhile. Your bankruptcy lawyer will help you weigh all the advantages and disadvantages so that you can make the right choice.

 

Disadvantages of a Badly-Timed 5-Year Chapter 13 Case

December 31st, 2018 at 8:00 am

Following up on last week’s scenario, here are the financial, credit record, and other disadvantages of a forced 5-year Chapter 13 plan.   

 

Our last two blog posts were about how the last 6 calendar months of income of a person filing a Chapter 13 case can determine whether his or her Chapter 13 payment plan lasts only 3 years or instead a full 5 years. We showed how even relatively small shifts in income can cause this huge difference.

The last blog post gave a scenario illustrating how this would work in a real-life situation. It showed how under certain circumstances one person would have a 3-year payment plan if he or she filed a Chapter 13 case in January but a 5-year plan if filed in February.  Today we look at the financial and other consequences of this difference, and some other practical considerations.

Filing a Chapter 13 Case in January vs. February 2019

Our scenario involved a person receiving an extra $2,500 in income in January 2019 from a temporary holiday job. (That’s in addition to the $3,000 every month from the person’s regular job.) Because of the way income is calculated, that $2,500 would push this person over the median family income threshold, but only IF that income is counted. Filing the Chapter 13 case in January would result in that extra $2,500 NOT being counted. That’s because you count only the last 6 FULL CALENDAR MONTHS’ income (and double that for the annual amount). Those 6 months with a January filing are July through December 2018. You DON’T count the income of the month you’re filing the case—in this situation, January.

When filing the Chapter 13 case in February you DO COUNT the extra $2,500 in determining the plan’s length. That’s because the last 6 full calendar months are then August 2018 through January 2019, including the $2,500.

Financial Consequences

Our scenario assumed that your budget requires you to pay $300 per month into your Chapter 13 plan. If you have to pay that for 5 years instead of 3, that’s 2 more years of payments. 24 months of $300 payments totals $7,200. That’s a lot of extra money to pay just because you happened to file your Chapter 13 case in February instead of January.

That could potentially include filing the case just one day later—February 1 instead of January 31. Again, that’s because when filing on February 1 you must include January’s income—including the extra $2,500. When filing on January 31 you don’t include January’s income, avoiding that very troublesome $2,500.

Of course if your monthly Chapter 13 plan payment would be larger than $300, the extra money you pay will be that much more. For example, a $500 monthly plan payment would mean an extra $6,000 paid during the extra two years.

In addition, the longer your case lasts the more likely that your income would increase during your case. That may well require you to increase your monthly plan payment. That would result in you paying that much more during the final two years.

For example, assume you’re paying $500 per month into your payment plan from the beginning of your case. After 3 years you get a new job or a promotion increasing your income by $300 per month. If you had a 3-year plan (based on your initial income calculation) you’d be finishing your Chapter 13 case then. You’d pay nothing more into the payment plan; you’d get to keep all your income, including the pay increase.

Instead, if you’re in a 5-year plan you’d have two more years to go. You may well have to increase your $500 plan payments by $300 to $800 monthly. $800 per month for the final two years would mean an additional $19,200 paid to your creditors. And this could happen merely by filing your case with unwise timing!

Credit Record Consequences

These financial consequences of a longer case are bad enough. But the intangible consequences could be pretty bad as well.

Having your case last 2 years longer means 2 more years before you can really rebuild your credit. To some extent you may be able to build some positive credit history DURING a Chapter 13 case. That can happen if as part of the case you’re making regular contractual payments on your home or vehicle. But you’re still in the midst of a bankruptcy case, which harms your credit record. The sooner you complete your Chapter 13 case the better for credit purposes.

Two extra years in your case means that much longer before you’re free of the Chapter 13 trustee’s supervision. That likely means two more years that the trustee can take your income tax refunds to benefit your creditors. And, as described above, that’s two more years that increases in income could go, partly or fully, to your creditors.

Also, it’s 2 more years of the risk that you won’t finish your case successfully. To get some of the most important benefits of a Chapter 13 case you must complete it.  The longer a case lasts the more opportunities for things to happen that jeopardize a successful completion.

Lastly, being in a Chapter 13 case can be emotionally challenging. You wouldn’t be in it unless it was providing you significant financial benefits. (For example, saving your home and/or your vehicle(s), paying your income taxes or child support while protected from these creditors.) But you are in a sort of financial limbo. It feels very good to finish it and get it over with. You definitely want to do so in 3 years instead of 5 if you can.

 “Three-Year Plans” that Last Longer

One last thing: a Chapter 13 plan that is allowed to be finished in 3 years may last longer. Your income may allow you to have a 3-year plan but you can chose to have it last longer. The law provides that the bankruptcy “court, for cause,” may approve a length up to 5 years.

Many things that could push your allowed-to-be-3-year plan to be longer. You may want to pay for something—a home mortgage arrearage or priority income taxes, for example—and need more time to do so within a reasonable budget. So your plan may last up to 5 years in order for it to accomplish what you need it to.

IF this applies to you, being required to pay for 5 years because of your income may not be a practical disadvantage. On the other hand, you certainly don’t want to stumble into a 5-year Chapter 13 case simply because you didn’t time it well.

Talk with an experienced and conscientious bankruptcy lawyer to learn where your own unique circumstances puts you in all this.

 

Scenario: Filing Chapter 13 Now Shortens a Case by Two Years

December 24th, 2018 at 8:00 am

Here’s a scenario showing how the timing of your Chapter 13 filing can shorten your payment plan from 5 years to only 3. 

 

In our last blog post we explained how your last 6 calendar months of income can determine whether your Chapter 13 payment plan lasts 3 years or instead 5 years. We showed how even relatively small shifts in the money you receive can cause this huge difference.

How this can happen will make more sense after reading through the following scenario.

Our Facts about “Income”

Remember from last time that your “income” includes money from just about all sources, except Social Security. Also, the only money that counts is that which you received during the 6 FULL CALENDAR months before filing. This means that money received DURING the calendar month of filing DOESN’T count. For example, if you file your Chapter 13 case on January 31 you count the income from the previous July 1 through December 31. You don’t count any income received in January.

In our scenario assume you worked a second job during the holidays. Your monthly paycheck for December from this job is arriving on January 4, 2019. The anticipated gross income amount is $2,500. This money could also come from just about any other source. For example, your ex-spouse may be able to catching up on some unpaid child support owed because he/she received an annual bonus. It could be from just about any source. The point is that there’s an extra $2,500 arriving in early January.

In addition you receive $3,600 gross income every month from your regular job.

You received no money from any sources other than your regular job from July 1, 2018 through December 31, 2018. You expect to receive no money in January 2019 other than the $3,600 gross income and the additional $2,500.

So, assume that your bankruptcy lawyer files your Chapter 13 case between January 1 and January 31, 2019. The income that counts is what you received during the 6 prior full calendar months. That’s from July 1 through December 31, 2018. That is $3,600 per month times 6 months, or $21,600, or $43,200 for the annualized amount.

Our Facts about “Median Family Income”

Your income, as just discussed, determines whether your minimum payment plan length is 3 vs. 5 years. If your income is less than the designated “median family income,” your minimum plan length is 3 years. If your income is the same as or more than “median family income,” your minimum plan length is 5 years. Section 1322(d) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

The “median family income” amounts (Section 39A of the Bankruptcy Code) come from the U.S. Census Bureau. This source data is adjusted annually, and is also adjusted more often to reflect changes in the Consumer Price Index. (The CPI comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.) The U.S. Trustee conveniently gathers this information at this webpage. From there the most recent median family income amounts (as of this writing) are compiled in this table.

For our scenario assume that you are single and live in Kentucky. According to the above table the median family income for a single person in Kentucky is $44,552. (You can find your own median family income by finding your state and family size in the table.)

Filing a Chapter 13 Case in January 2019

Under the facts outlined above, if you filed a Chapter 13 case during January 2019, your case could last 2 years less than if you filed the case in February, conceivably just a few days later.

Why? Because if you file in January you don’t count the income from that month. That means that you don’t count the $2,500 in income from the holiday job. You only count the $3,600 per month you received July through December from your regular job. As calculated above, that means an annualized income of $43,200. That is less than the applicable median family income amount of $44,552. So you’d be allowed to have a Chapter 13 payment plan that lasts only 3 years, and not be required to pay for 5 years.

Filing a Chapter 13 Case after January 2019

But if you file in February 2019 (or any of the following 5 months) your Chapter 13 plan would be required to last 5 years.

Why? Because if you file in February (or during the next 5 months) you do count the income from that month. That includes the $2,500 in income from the holiday job. When filing in February, for example, you count the income from August 1, 2018 through January 31, 2019. That includes the $3,600 per month from your regular job, plus the $2,500 from the holiday job. Six times $3,600 is $21,600, plus $2,500 equals $24,100. Multiply this by 2 gives you an annualized income of $48,200.

That is more than the applicable median family income amount of $44,552. So you’d be required to pay into your Chapter 13 plan for a full 5 years.

Next week we’ll discuss the financial and other consequences of this, and some other very important considerations.


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

December 17th, 2018 at 8:00 am

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

 

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

But What If You Need a Chapter 13 Case?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Shorter Chapter 13 Payment Plan

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

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

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

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

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

Income is calculated as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

What’s My Applicable “Median income”?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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