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How Do I Know if I Should File for Bankruptcy?

July 1st, 2020 at 7:46 pm

Texas bankruptcy attorney, file for bankruptcy in TexasFor many people, the thought of filing for bankruptcy is a scary one. However, for many people, filing for bankruptcy is the best thing they could do for their finances. Filing for bankruptcy allows you to wipe your slate clean and discharge most of your unsecured debts, but it does come with some consequences. Filing for bankruptcy might make your life more difficult in the future, by making it harder to borrow money, lowering your credit score or even affecting your insurance rates. It can be difficult for some people to gauge whether or not bankruptcy is in their best interests, which is where a skilled Texas bankruptcy lawyer can help.

Your Debts Far Exceed Your Income

Think about all of your different types of debt: your mortgage or rent, car payment, all of your different credit cards, and personal loans. How much total debt do you have? Now, think of your income. How much money do you bring in each month? If your monthly debt obligations are much higher than the amount of money you bring in, you may want to consider filing for bankruptcy.

You Face Foreclosure or Repossession of Your Home or Car

Another big reason why people file for bankruptcy is that they are currently experiencing or being threatened with a foreclosure or repossession. When you purchase an expensive object, such as a home or vehicle, it is unlikely that you will buy it outright. Rather, you borrow the money from a lender and repay it over time. If you fail to repay your loan, your property could be taken back. Filing for bankruptcy puts a temporary halt to any foreclosure or repossession actions, giving you time to readjust your finances.

You Have Tried Negotiating with Your Creditors

If you are considering bankruptcy, you have likely already looked at other options for debt relief. One of the easiest things you can do to help lessen the burden is contacting your debtors and seeing if they are willing to work something out with you. Many lenders do not get anything if you file for bankruptcy and will want to work with you, but this is not always the case. If your creditors are unwilling to negotiate or you are still having trouble, bankruptcy might be your best option.

Discuss Your Situation with a San Antonio, TX Bankruptcy Lawyer

Bankruptcy is not for everyone, but for many people, it can give them a second chance with their finances. If you are in debt and are wondering if bankruptcy is right for you, you should speak with a knowledgeable Boerne, TX bankruptcy attorney. At the Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee, we will look over your financial situation with you and determine whether or not bankruptcy would be in your best interests. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 210-342-3400.

 

Sources:

https://www.investopedia.com/articles/pf/08/bankruptcy-filing.asp

https://www.thebalance.com/should-you-file-bankruptcy-960627

https://www.moneyunder30.com/when-you-need-to-file-bankruptcy

 

What Is an Automatic Stay in a Texas Bankruptcy?

April 30th, 2020 at 1:24 am

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

Understanding the Automatic Stay

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

What Can the Automatic Stay Prevent?

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

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

Our San Antonio, TX Bankruptcy Attorney is Here to Help

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

 

Sources:

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

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

How Do I Know When Filing for Bankruptcy Is My Best Option?

April 17th, 2020 at 4:21 pm

Texas bankruptcy lawyer, TX chapter 7 attorneyBankruptcy can be a scary word and it can be even scarier if it is something you have been considering. Bankruptcy is still considered by some to be a taboo or something to be avoided at all costs. In reality, bankruptcy can be the best option for some people who are drowning in debt. Filing for bankruptcy does come with a few unfavorable consequences, which should be factored into any consideration when determining whether or not to file for bankruptcy. Speaking with a skilled Texas bankruptcy lawyer can help you understand your situation a little better.

To File Or Not to File?

It can be confusing to know whether or not you should file for bankruptcy. Every person’s situation is different, which is why every decision to file for bankruptcy is different. For the most part, you should consider filing for bankruptcy if you are unable to repay your debts after you have paid for necessities such as food, living expenses, and healthcare. However, there are a few other situations in which you may also want to consider filing for bankruptcy:

 

  • You have considered debt consolidation. There are steps that you can and should take before making the decision to file for bankruptcy. If you have a lot of debt that carries high-interest rates, you should look into consolidating some of your debt at a lower interest rate. In many cases, this lowers the monthly payment and allows you to get a handle on your debt. However, if you still cannot afford the consolidated payment, you may want to look into bankruptcy.
  • Your credit score is already low. Many people say that the only thing stopping them from filing for bankruptcy is the fact that your credit score and creditworthiness are impacted. However, if you already have a low credit score, you may be better off filing for bankruptcy and working on building your credit up.
  • You are at risk of losing your car or home. If you are behind on mortgage payments or car payments, you risk having your property foreclosed on or taken from you. When you file for bankruptcy, the automatic stay is put into place which prevents any and all debtors from collecting from you while your bankruptcy case is processed. The automatic stay does not protect your home and vehicle forever, but it can be useful to help you get back on track after a bankruptcy.

A Kerrville, TX Bankruptcy Attorney Can Help You Assess Your Situation

If you are wondering if filing for bankruptcy could be right for your situation, you should speak with a skilled San Antonio, TX bankruptcy lawyer today. At the Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee, our team is here to help you determine whether or not filing for bankruptcy is in your best interest and if so, the right bankruptcy for your situation. Call our office today at 210-342-3400 to schedule a free consultation.

 

Sources:

https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/finance/bankruptcy-best-option/

https://www.fool.com/investing/general/2014/01/26/how-to-know-when-bankruptcy-is-your-best-option.aspx

Will Filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Stop a Foreclosure?

November 13th, 2019 at 11:17 pm

TX foreclosure attorney, Texas chapter 7 lawyerIf you are behind on your monthly mortgage payments and you have reached the point that your loan is in default, you could be facing a possible foreclosure on your home. You probably realize that if the bank forecloses on your loan, your home will be seized and sold, with the proceeds of the sale will go toward satisfying what you owe the bank. In the meantime, you might not have a place to live, and the foreclosure will leave a lasting mark on your credit.

Most people who are facing possible foreclosure often have a substantial amount of other debt in addition to their home loan. These obligations may include medical bills, credit card debt, and outstanding loans, such as personal loans and educational loans. As a result, it is not unusual for an individual in such a situation to consider filing for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. In certain cases, Chapter 7 bankruptcy might allow you to stop foreclosure proceedings, and a qualified bankruptcy attorney can help you understand your available options.

Bankruptcy Puts a Stay on Collection Activities

Under federal law, filing for bankruptcy of any type will result in an automatic stay being issued on all collections activities related to any debt that you have. The automatic stay applies to foreclosure, even if the lender has already initiated formal foreclosure proceedings. If the lender continues to push the proceedings after the stay has been ordered, your lender is violating federal law, and sanctions against the lender are possible.

The stay, however, will not last forever. In fact, the lender can petition the bankruptcy court to lift the stay so that foreclosure proceedings can continue. If the court has good reasons to believe that you will not ultimately be able to keep your home, the court may grant the lender’s petition to lift the stay.

Chapter 7 and Foreclosure

The goal of a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is to have as many of your obligations as possible discharged. During the proceedings, you may be required to sell any property of value. Texas law provides exemptions for the equity value in your home, presuming that your property does not exceed the established acreage limits of 10 acres in a city, town, or village, or 100 acres anywhere else.

Medical debts, credit card balances, and unsecured loans are typically eligible to be discharged in a Chapter bankruptcy, as is the amount you owe on your mortgage. Discharging your mortgage obligations, however, does not mean you simply get to keep the home; it means that you are no longer personally responsible for paying the debt. The lender still has the right to take the home to try to recoup its losses. In practice, this means that when the automatic stay expires, your lender is likely to restart the foreclosure process. The proceedings must start again from the very beginning, giving you an additional few months to decide what you will do next.

From a practical standpoint, if you have already paid a substantial amount of equity into your home, a Chapter 7 bankruptcy might not be the best option for stopping a foreclosure. If you do not have any other choices, however, a skilled attorney will help you pursue a favorable outcome in your unique situation.

Call a New Braunfels Bankruptcy Attorney

If you have fallen behind on your mortgage and you are looking at the possibility of bankruptcy to stop foreclosure proceedings, contact an experienced San Antonio Chapter 7 bankruptcy lawyer at the Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee. Call 210-342-3400 for a free consultation and case review today.

 

Sources:

https://www.uscourts.gov/services-forms/bankruptcy/bankruptcy-basics/chapter-7-bankruptcy-basics

https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/PR/htm/PR.41.htm#41.001

Foreclosure: Will the Bank Take My Home if I Miss a Payment?

September 19th, 2018 at 5:44 pm

Texas bankrutpcy lawyer, Texas chapter 7 attorneyConsumers who struggle to make monthly mortgage payments quickly become overwhelmed with collection calls and letters plaguing the mailbox. Fight or flight instincts immediately kick in, and most people choose to ignore the lender’s collection efforts. Many automatically assume that the bank immediately wants their home and retreat into self-preservation efforts. The truth is, the bank does not want your house. Lenders want you to pay the mortgage, and in most cases, if they can help you make that payment and save your home, they will. If the mortgage lender fails to reach an agreement with the borrower, imminent foreclosure efforts can stay through a bankruptcy filing.

Why Will the Bank Help?

The home you live in belongs to your mortgage lender. When you purchased, they assumed the cost of the home for you with the agreement that you would pay monthly payments until the loan is repaid in full. Until that day, the house belongs to the mortgage company. While they will not typically help someone with no potential benefits for themselves, they also are not in the business of buying and selling real estate either. If lenders must take a house in the foreclosure process, not only do they lose out on the money they would make in your interest payments, they also must pay the legal costs for the foreclosure process and the costs to sell the home, typically for less than the original amount. Lenders ultimately prefer to salvage the mortgage agreement, either by extending the loan or lowering the interest rate. If their borrower fails to communicate, this option is null, and the lender must begin foreclosure proceedings.

Bankruptcy or Foreclosure?

For your lender to recuperate some of their costs, they must have the title “free and clear,” which means they must have possession of the property. You can choose to allow the bank to go through a lengthy foreclosure process or opt to surrender the home through bankruptcy. A foreclosure enables the bank to remove you from your home, sell it for as much as they can make, and still hold you liable for any outstanding balances on the house. Foreclosure does not ensure an end to the collection calls. If you decide to file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, both of which enable you to settle your debts often for pennies on the dollar, an automatic stay immediately halts all collection efforts, including from lenders. This momentary pause in a foreclosure process is sometimes all a family needs to earn enough money to save their home. Otherwise, if you do relinquish your home in bankruptcy, any liability is fully released. The bank cannot contact you if they lose money in the sale of the house.

Contact an Experienced Attorney

Attorneys are as unique as the fields in which they specialize. Like you would not hire a foot doctor for brain surgery, hiring a criminal attorney will not guarantee the best results when you face financial struggles. If you are having a hard time making your payments and are concerned about the future of your home, a New Braunfels bankruptcy attorney can help you get the answers you need. The Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee dedicates 20 years of experience to help you achieve financial freedom. Find out how we can assist you today by calling 210-342-3400 to schedule your free initial consultation.

 

Sources:

https://www.streetdirectory.com/travel_guide/63141/real_estate/why_the_bank_does_not_want_your_house.html

https://www.thetruthaboutmortgage.com/foreclosure-help/

 

The Automatic Stay in Chapter 7 and 13

November 22nd, 2017 at 8:00 am

Filing a Chapter 7 or 13 case both stop creditor collection actions against you just the same. But after that the differences are huge. 


Last time we focused on how you can use the Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 options to your time advantage. Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” is very fast. If all or most of your debts can be discharged (written off), that quickness can be an important advantage. But its speed can be a downside. If you are behind on a secured debt, Chapter 13’s 3-to-5-year-long duration can be a crucial advantage. It not only buys you time but gives your protection and flexibility for dealing with such special debts.

So, both bankruptcy options provide protection, but of different kinds. Let’s see how these work to see which would be better for you.

The Immediate Protection

With either kind of bankruptcy you get immediate relief from almost all creditor collection actions.

The “automatic stay” kicks in simultaneously with the filing of your Chapter 7 or 13 bankruptcy petition. Its power is in how fast it works and how strongly it prevents creditors from taking further collection action against you. (See Section 362(a) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.)

How Long the Protection Lasts

The automatic stay lasts as long as your case does. So, it expires about 3-4 months after you and your bankruptcy lawyer file a Chapter 7 case. On the other hand, it expires about 3-to-5-years after filing a Chapter 13 case. (See Section 362(c) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.)

However, a creditor may be able to end that protection as applicable to that creditor. Creditors usually can’t prevent the automatic stay from going into immediate effect at the beginning of your case. However creditors CAN ask for “relief from the automatic stay.” That is, AFTER the automatic stay goes into effect a creditor can ask the bankruptcy court to make an exception for that creditor and let it pursue you or its collateral.   (See Section 362(d) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.)

How does all this all works in practice under Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13?

Chapter 7 Is Not Designed for Ongoing Protection

As we’ve said, the automatic stay protection lasts just 3-4 months at best under Chapter 7. But in addition, certain important creditors have more reason to ask for “relief from stay” to make that even shorter.

Chapter 7 provides no mechanism for dealing with important debts that you want or need to pay. Consider debts backed by collateral you want to keep, such as a home mortgage or vehicle loan. If you’ve fallen behind there’s no tool under Chapter 7 for catching up. You have to make arrangements directly with the creditor. If you (through your lawyer) and the creditor can agree, that’s fine. But if not, the creditor can file a motion asking for permission to foreclose on or repossess the collateral. It may even do so right after you file your case, before you’ve even started any negotiation. It’s signaling that you better meet its terms or else it wants to take back the home or vehicle.

Chapter 13 IS for Ongoing Protection

Chapter 13 starts with the fact that the automatic stay lasts SO much longer. It lasts a few years instead of a few months. But just as with Chapter 7, under Chapter 13 a creditor with collateral can file a motion asking for permission to foreclose on or repossess the collateral.

The big difference is that Chapter 13 provides a mechanism for catching up on such debts. If you’re behind on a mortgage or loan with collateral, your Chapter 13 payment plan will specify how much you’ll pay each month to catch up. Assuming your proposed terms are sensible, the creditor will likely go along.

A key difference is that Chapter 13 gives you an efficient and effective way to take the initiative. Because creditors know that bankruptcy judges will approve reasonable terms, they don’t object. And they don’t waste their time and money asking for “relief from stay” knowing it would have no effect. Then once your proposed payment plan is formally approved by the judge, creditors must live with your terms.

Be aware that if a creditor thinks your catch-up terms are not reasonable it can object or file a motion. Then usually a compromise can be worked out.

Of course you have to comply with the terms of your plan as approved by the bankruptcy judge. If you don’t, the affected creditor can then file a motion asking to be allowed to pursue the collateral. Depending on the facts you may be given another chance or you may not.

Conclusion

The relatively short period of protection under Chapter 7 may be just fine if you have no surviving debts. Chapter 7 may also be fine if the surviving debt can be handled reasonably through simple negotiation. But Chapter 13 provides longer and stronger protection for you regarding past-due debts secured by collateral you want to keep.

 

Buy Time for Your Home with Chapter 7

October 13th, 2017 at 7:00 am

Filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case stops a foreclosure and buys some time to either arrange to keep the home or move in a peaceful way.  

 

Chapter 7 “Straight Bankruptcy” vs. Chapter 13 “Adjustment of Debts”

Speaking very generally, Chapter 7 buys you some time with your home while Chapter 13 buys you much more time.

So the questions are: how much more time to do you need and will Chapter 7 buy you enough?

How Chapter 7 Helps

As to your home, your filing of a Chapter 7 case:

1. Stops a pending foreclosure sale of your home, at least temporarily, through the “automatic stay.” Your bankruptcy filing stops “any act to… enforce any lien against property of the estate.” “Property of the estate” includes essentially everything you own at the time of filing, including your home. See Section 362(a)(4) and (5) and of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. How much time Chapter 7 buys depends on your situation, as we’ll get into a bit below.

2. It also at least temporarily stops not just foreclosures by your mortgage company, but also by other lienholders. This includes foreclosures for unpaid property taxes, homeowner assessments, or judgment lien creditors. In the case of judgment liens, Chapter 7 may also get rid of them, and the debt underlying it.

3. Prevents, at least for a few months, most kinds of new liens from attaching to your home. So an income tax debt does not turn into a tax lien. A pending lawsuit does not turn into a judgment lien against your home. This is particularly helpful if that tax is old enough to qualify for discharge (legal write-off). And most likely the debt underlying the lawsuit can be discharged. In these situations Chapter 7 protects your home from those debts and anticipated liens.  

Situations When Chapter 7 May Be Enough

Here are some of the main situations when it’s worth filing a Chapter 7 case for your home.

A Scheduled Mortgage Foreclosure

You already have a scheduled foreclosure date, and it’s coming very soon. Your Chapter 7 filing will very likely cancel it. The “automatic stay” protection lasts throughout the 3-4 months that your case is open. So your mortgage lender can restart the foreclosure after that. But the delay may be much shorter if your lender asks the bankruptcy court for permission to restart the foreclosure while your Chapter 7 case is still open. So it depends on the aggressiveness of your lender. Filing under Chapter 7 may buy you an extra few weeks or an extra few months.

  • If you are selling your home and are close to selling it, those extra weeks or months may be all you need to finish the sale and pay off the mortgage.  This only works if the net sale proceeds—your money from the sale—are fully covered by your homestead exemption. Then you keep those proceeds. Otherwise the Chapter 7 trustee would have a right to any proceeds in excess of the homestead exemption.
  • You’re surrendering your home but need to buy more time to gather funds for moving and rental expenses. Your lender might possibly even pay you to move faster (to save itself foreclosure expenses).

 An Anticipated Mortgage Foreclosure

A foreclosure sale date has not yet been scheduled but you think it’ll happen soon. Your Chapter 7 filing will postpone it. As stated above, your mortgage lender can ask the court for permission to proceed with the foreclosure. So how much time your bankruptcy filing buys depends on your lender.

A Debt Expected to Turn Into a Lien

You’re not concerned about a mortgage foreclosure, but rather about a debt turning into a lien on your home. As discussed above, if this is a debt that would be discharged in bankruptcy, Chapter 7 can be hugely helpful. Your Chapter 7 filing stops the placing of the lien, discharges the debt forever, and thus avoids the lien forever.

Even if the underlying debt cannot be discharged—such as a relatively recent income tax debt—your Chapter 7 filing stops the lien at least temporarily. Your bankruptcy case then discharges most or all of your other debts. At that point you can focus your financial efforts on paying the tax. Entering into a formal payment plan may prevent a tax lien from being recorded.

Summary

A Chapter 7 case filed through your bankruptcy lawyer may give you less power than a Chapter 13. It usually only buys you a relatively short amount of time. But the limited power and time it does give may be enough in your particular situation. And it may enable you to discharge a debt, preventing that debt from resulting in a lien on your home.

 

Catching up on Your Mortgage on Your Terms

August 9th, 2017 at 7:00 am

If you’ve fallen behind on your mortgage, it’s very hard to catch up. It may even seem impossible. Chapter 13 makes it possible.

 

The Problem

Let’s say you can’t pay your monthly mortgage because of a job loss or some other major financial hit. The missed payments can pile up fast. The amount you’re behind gets huge fast. It usually takes quite a few months before your home would be foreclosed. That gives time for the missed monthly payments to pile up. For example, if your mortgage payment is $1,700, six missed payments put you $10,200 behind. And that doesn’t count late fees and other likely charges assessed to your account.

If you then find a new job or otherwise fix your financial situation, you’ve got a mountain of mortgage payments to catch up on.

You may qualify for a mortgage modification or refinancing, restructuring that piled up debt, not having to catch up. Or mortgage forbearance may work, in which you must catch up over a relatively short period of time, usually within a year.

But there’s a good chance you can’t qualify for a modification or refinancing. And when money is tight it may be impossible to come up with the substantial extra amount needed each  month—in addition to your current mortgage payment—for catch-up payments. Using the example above, if you had 12 months to catch up on the $10,200 arrearage that would require you to pay an extra $850 per month, on top of your regular monthly mortgage payment. Even after filing a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” to get rid of all or most of your debts, you may simply not have the cash flow to catch up as required.

The Solution: Get Years to Catch Up

If you’re behind on your mortgage, filing a Chapter 13 case usually gives you up to 5 years to catch up.

In a Chapter 7 case you’re largely stuck with however much time your mortgage holder is willing to give you. In Chapter 13 you are much more in the driver’s seat. You and your bankruptcy lawyer put together a payment plan. That plan shows how and when the mortgage will be caught –up during the following 3 to 5 years. That plan works around your budget, giving you enough money for your reasonable living expenses. It takes into account other even more urgent and just as important other debts. So you don’t lose your house because you also owe other debts like income taxes or child support. You can often save both your home and your necessary vehicle(s).

For example, the above $10,200 stretched out over 5 years is about $170 per month. That’s likely much more doable than the $850 per month to catch up within one year.

Does My Mortgage Lender Have to Agree?

The length of time you have and the terms for catching up do depend on your circumstances. Generally, the more equity you have in your home (value beyond its debt) the more flexibility you will have. When there is little or no equity cushion your lender’s debt is not fully protected by the collateral. Then you’ll have to make faster progress on catching up on the mortgage arrearage.

But generally your mortgage lender must give you a number of years—to get current.

However, especially if you have little or no equity in the home and/or you have gotten far behind on the mortgage payments, the mortgage lender could likely impose conditions on the Chapter 13 catch-up payments. These conditions could limit your rights if you didn’t timely pay either the catch-up or regular monthly payment. Such future non-payments could automatically trigger the bankruptcy court’s permission for the lender to start (or re-start) foreclosure proceedings.

So, Chapter 13 gives you a relatively long time to catch up on your missed mortgage payments. But then it’s crucial to comply with the payment plan. Chapter 13 gives you a big second chance, but not necessarily a third or fourth chance.

 

Chapter 13 Buys Time

July 21st, 2017 at 7:00 am

Chapter 13 is very different from Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy.” It buys you time to deal effectively with your special debts. 


The Main Overall Benefit of Chapter 13

The main benefit of Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” is the discharge—legal write off—of your debts.

You also get a discharge in Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts.” But a more immediate and often more important benefit is that you’re protected from collection action by creditors while you pay all or a portion of certain special debts. Those special debts are usually ones that Chapter 7 does not discharge, or does not help in a meaningful way.

Buying Time

Here are some examples of the kinds of debts that buying time under Chapter 13 helps you with.

  • Home Mortgage: If you’re behind on your first mortgage Chapter 13, can give you as much as 5 years to catch up. An ongoing foreclosure is stopped. Future ones can be prevented. This buying of time gives you a much more practical way to save your home. And a much more peaceful one.
  • Recent Income Tax Debts: Taxes that don’t qualify for discharge (usually because they are too recent) are subject to immediate collection as soon as a Chapter 7 is completed. Interest and penalties continue to accrue. In contrast, under Chapter 13 the tax creditors must stop collections throughout the 3 to 5-year payment plan. And generally interest and penalties both stop accruing.
  • Child or Spousal Support: Chapter 7 does not buy you ANY time if you’re behind on support. Chapter 13 stops collection on the arrearage (although ongoing monthly support can continue being collected). You then have time to catch on the support over time, based on what you can afford.
  • Vehicle Loans: If you’re behind on your car or truck, in Chapter 7 you have to catch up in a matter of weeks. Chapter 13 gives you years. And if the debt is more than the value of the vehicle, through “cramdown” you would probably not need to catch up at all. Plus the monthly payment can often be reduced. The term of payments may be stretch out over a longer period of time. These all buy you time. The end result is that you can keep the vehicle less expensively and with less worry.
  • Unpaid Property Taxes: If you’ve fallen behind, just like a mortgage you get years to catch up. And you don’t have to worry about a property tax foreclosure in the meantime. Also, your mortgage lender can’t use your being behind on property taxes as a reason to foreclose on the mortgage.
  • Student Loans: Generally you can stop paying on your student loan during your Chapter 13 case. This is especially beneficial if you do not currently qualify for an “undue hardship” discharge but expect to more likely do so later in your case. Ask your bankruptcy lawyer about how the law is enforced because it varies by region.

 

An Example of Surrendering Your Home Later in a Chapter 13 Case

August 26th, 2016 at 7:00 am

Here’s an example of how Chapter 13 can allow you to hold onto your home but then change your mind about it later. 

 

Our last blog post introduced the option of saving your home through Chapter 13, while keeping open the possibility of surrendering the home later if your circumstances change. 

Advantage of Keeping Your Options Open

Sometimes it’s hard to know whether hanging onto your home is worth the money and effort. For example, if you were about $10,000 behind on your mortgage and property taxes, and could get that money by borrowing from a relative or from a retirement account, would that be worthwhile? What if the home had no equity—the mortgage loan balance was higher than the value of the home? What if you were not confident you could afford to pay back that $10,000 loan? What if the main current reason to stay in the home now would no longer apply in a couple years?  

If you filed a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case you would have to make that decision quite quickly. If your mortgage lender was in the process of foreclosing your home, or was threatening to do so, a Chapter 7 filing protects your home for only about 3 months, sometimes less. You effectively have about that much time to decide whether to keep your home, and to figure out how.

And what if you don’t have any means to come up with that $10,000—no rich relative or retirement account?  What if you simply don’t have the means, even after reducing your debts as much as possible through Chapter 7, to catch up on the mortgage as fast as the mortgage lender demands?

Chapter 13 Solution

Not only does Chapter 13 give you some remarkable tools for saving your home. It often also gives you the option of later changing your mind and surrendering the home.  We’ll illustrate this in a practical way within the fact scenario presented in our last blog post. Please look at that scenario before reading further here.

Our Scenario

Going back to the hypothetical facts presented last time, you and your spouse decide to file a Chapter 13 case.  You really want to hang onto your home. Your attorney has advised you that filing a Chapter 7 case would not get you there.

It’s especially important for you and your family to be able to stay in your home for the next 3 years. That’s because you have two kids very involved in their local public high school, and absolutely want them to be able to finish there.  

You and your spouse would love to keep your home forever. But if necessary you’re willing to lose it three years from now after both kids have graduated. So you’re willing to take some risks to get there. So, even though you’re not confident that you’ll be able to keep your job, and even though you have concerns about possible upcoming medical expenses for your spouse, you are both willing to work hard and take some risks to try to keep the home for at least these upcoming 3 years.

Chapter 13 Plan

So after being fully informed by your bankruptcy lawyer, you and your spouse file a Chapter 13 case.  The following good things happen:

·         Your Chapter 13 payment plan provides that you slowly begin paying the $6,000 you’re behind on your first mortgage, with $100 monthly payments stretched out over the 5 years of your projected case. That’s much less than virtually any mortgage lender would otherwise allow. The relatively low monthly amount makes catching up easier and so more likely to be ultimately successful.  Also, it minimizes your investment in the home each month if you do end up changing your mind later.   
·         Your Chapter 13 plan similarly stretches out catch-up payments towards the $2,000 in home property tax arrearage, with payments of $50 per month. The benefits above apply here as well.
·         Your $20,000 second mortgage is “stripped” off your home’s title, because there’s no home equity securing it. You no longer have to make the monthly payments, nor ever have to catch up on the accumulated late payments. Plus with that mortgage lien off your title, you’re that much closer to building equity in your home. (Second mortgage “stripping” is only available under Chapter 13, not under Chapter 7.)
·         Your court-approved Chapter 13 plan “avoids”—removes—a $10,000 judgment lien that a creditor recently recorded against your home’s title, arising from an unpaid hospital bill. This judgment lien “avoidance” procedure can also be done under Chapter 7 in the right circumstances. But it’s all the more powerful when done in conjunction other features available only under Chapter 13.
·         The $20,000 second mortgage balance and the $10,000 judgment debt are both now treated as “general unsecured” debts. These are added to the $50,000 in other medical debts and credit card balances. So your unsecured debts now total $80,000.

What Happens to the “General Unsecured” Debts

Through your Chapter 13 plan you pay only as much of this $80,000 in unsecured debts as your budget allows. Usually, if all you can afford to do during your time in Chapter 13 is catch up on the first mortgage and property taxes (and pay the trustee’s fee and any remaining attorney fees), you would pay nothing on that $80,000.

Even when you do pay some portion of it, because your plan pays the secured debts first, the unsecured debts often receive little or nothing in the first couple years of your case. This, too, minimizes how much you pay during the early years of your case. That’s beneficial if you decide to surrender the home later.

Two Possible Endings to Our Scenario

As the Chapter 13 case plays out in this scenario, you and your spouse either succeed in making the plan payments over the months and years, or don’t. You either keep your job, or bring in a similar amount of income from another job, or you don’t. Your spouse either avoids needing a lot more medical care and piling on a lot more expenses, or doesn’t. 

If you succeed in paying as your Chapter 13 plan envisioned, you can hold onto your home permanently. By the completion of your case you will have caught up on your first mortgage and the property taxes. The second mortgage and judgment liens will have been removed from the title to your home. And whatever you haven’t paid of the remaining unsecured debts will be discharged. You will be current on your home obligations and be otherwise debt-free.

But if your income decreases or your expenses increase so that you are not able to maintain your Chapter 13 plan payments throughout the entire 5-year course of your case, at that point you could decide to surrender your home. Depending on the circumstances you may then decide to amend your payment plan to exclude the home obligations. Or more likely you would convert your case into a Chapter 7 one, discharging all your debts so that you would be debt-free within a few months of that. In the meantime, you had succeeded in holding onto your home long enough to keep one, and hopefully both, of your kids in their school through graduation.

You would have benefitted from this flexibility provided only by Chapter 13.

 

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