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The Nitty-Gritty about Catching Up on Your Mortgage through Chapter 13–Part 2

Posted by Kevin on August 7, 2013 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

More answers about how Chapter 13 gives you up to 5 years to catch up on your past-due mortgage.

The last blog, and this one, answer questions about how Chapter 13 gives you time to “cure the arrearage.” Check out the last blog for answers to these questions:

  • Can you give a simple example how this “curing the arrearage” works?
  • If my Chapter 13 plan proposes to catch up my mortgage in 5 years, does my mortgage lender have to go along with this?
  • What if, based on my income, I’m allowed to finish my plan in 3 years instead of 5?

Now on to today’s questions:

How are back property taxes handled?

If you are paying your home’s property taxes as part of your mortgage payment, and you’ve fallen significantly behind on those mortgage payments, the lender may well have paid the current year’s property taxes with its own money. If so, the lender will add the amount it advanced for your taxes into the total amount that you are behind. So through your Chapter 13 plan payments you will simply pay to your lender the amount that it paid for your taxes, as you pay the rest of your back mortgage payments.

If you are paying the property taxes directly (not as part of your regular mortgage payments) and have fallen behind on those taxes, your Chapter 13 plan will include payments to the county or other appropriate taxing authority.

What if the mortgage lender and I don’t agree on the amount of arrearage that’s owed?

Chapter 13 has a relatively efficient mechanism for determining the accurate amount of arrearage. Your creditors, including your mortgage lender, are required to file a document in  bankruptcy court—a “proof of claim”—stating the total amount owned, the amount of arrearage and how it is calculated, as well as the amount of any additional fees. You as the debtor then have the opportunity to object to that proof of claim. The bankruptcy judge is a convenient and experienced decision-maker in these kinds of disputes.

This area has been a controversial one in the past 5-10 years, mostly because lenders have often been inaccurate and unclear in their accounting, and been simply unable to justify the amounts on their proofs of claim. This particularly became a problem when lenders added fees to the balance without telling the homeowners, so that the homeowners would think that they were current only to learn, often after the completion of their Chapter 13 case, that supposedly they were still behind. Bankruptcy Rule 3002.1 was put into place to solve this problem. This rule requires lenders to give timely notice of the amount owed and any changes to the amount, and provides for serious consequences if they fail to follow these rules.

What happens if my circumstances change and I decide not to keep the house after all during my Chapter 13 case?

One of the great features of Chapter 13 is its flexibility. So you CAN change your mind and surrender your house part-way through your case. Or you can sell it.  And at that point you can either stay in the Chapter 13 case or get out of it.

You could stay in it if there were still worthwhile reasons to do so, reasons not related to your house. For example, you could continue the case if you had debts that were best handled in a Chapter 13 case—such as taxes, support obligations, or possibly student loans. Your attorney would work with you to amend your plan to stop payments going to the house and redirect them elsewhere.

But if you filed a Chapter 13 case solely because of your house and now no longer needed or wanted to catch up on the arrearage, your attorney could either “convert” your case into a Chapter 7 one or simply end the Chapter 13 case by “dismissing” it. More likely your case would be converted into a Chapter 7 one to finish taking care of your debts, including possibly debts related to your house.

A big caution comes with all this flexibility. Although it’s good to know when you start your Chapter 13 case that it does not HAVE to be completed as it was originally put together, it seldom makes practical sense to start a case that you don’t intend to finish. You need to have a reasonable chance to complete it. Consider very carefully whether you will be able to make the necessary payments over the whole 3-to-5-year length of your case. If you had trouble making your regular mortgage payment before filing bankruptcy, look at whether Chapter 13, with all of its benefits, will help your cash flow enough so that you will be able to do what the plan requires of you.

Stopping a Home Foreclosure with a Bankruptcy, Temporarily or Permanently

Posted by Kevin on July 22, 2013 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

Filing bankruptcy can buy you a little time or a lot of time, enough time either to transition to a new home or else to save your present home.

The same bankruptcy power that stops a lawsuit or garnishment of your wages or bank account, also stops a home foreclosure. The practical question is: what happens to your home after the foreclosure is stopped?

Chapter 7: the Option that Buys You a Little Time

A Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy,” is by far the most common type. It gives you protection against foreclosure for three months or so, or potentially for even less time if the mortgage lender is aggressive.

With such a short period of protection, a Chapter 7 would help you in two quite different situations:

1. if you have decided to surrender your home but need just a few weeks to move; or

2. if you want to keep the home, and can afford to catch up on the late payments within about a year of extra payments.

Filing a Chapter 7 is like hitting a pause button. If you’re letting your house go, it lets you catch your breath before you have to leave. If you’re hanging on to the house, a Chapter 7 gives us time to do a deal with the mortgage lender.

Chapter 13: the Option that Can Buy You Years of Time

Filing under Chapter 13 can potentially give you five years to pay off your back payments, and does so in a more flexible and powerful package.

Instead of negotiating with the mortgage lender and hoping that it will give you terms that you can live with, Chapter 13 generally gives you a set of rules to follow for catching up with that lender. It also gives you time to catch up on any back property taxes, can often get rid of a second mortgage or a judgment lien, and usually provides a practical way of dealing with other liens on your home, such as an income tax or child support lien.

A Chapter 13 case is flexible, so that if you have changes in your circumstances during your case your plan can be adjusted to account for the changes. That makes holding on to your real estate more feasible. It also means you can change your mind and decide to surrender it, months or even years after your case was filed.

The mortgage lender can always ask the bankruptcy court for permission to begin or restart a foreclosure. These kinds of creditors tend to do so either at the beginning of your case if they don’t like the Chapter 13 payment plan that you and your attorney are proposing, or later in the case if you’ve not made the payments that you said in your plan that you would make. The court balances your rights against those of the lender in deciding whether to give you the extra time you need.

The Costs and Benefits of Surrendering Collateral in Chapter 13

Posted by Kevin on June 25, 2013 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

The Simple Surrender

If you’ve decided to surrender your home, vehicle, or any other collateral that you no longer need or want to pay for, filing a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” is usually the cleanest way to go. The remaining debt on the home is mostly either discharged (legally written off)—including 2nd mortgages, judgments, utilities—or is paid off by the mortgage holder after taking back the real estate—such as property taxes and homeowner association dues.  On your vehicle loan, the often large “deficiency balance”—the amount you would owe after the creditor sells the vehicle and applies the sale proceeds to the loan balance—is discharged. You give up the collateral but you are quickly free of the debt.

The Possible Delayed Surrender

If you wanted to keep the property, Chapter 13 allows for that.  But what if you know that your job may not last for more than another year, so you’re sensibly facing the reality that at that point you would likely not be able to continue making payments on the home or vehicle?  Once again, Chapter 13 is the way to go.  It allows you to make usually reduced payments while you have your job so you can keep the home or vehicle.  Then, if you lose your job, you can convert to Chapter 7, surrender the property and have the debt discharged.  Clearly, Chapter 13 gives you a lot a flexibility under these scenarios.

Flexibility at a Price

But, as with most things in life, there is a cost factor for this flexibility.  Chapter 13 costs more in fees than Chapter 7, easily twice the cost, or more. The attorney fees are much higher because it is more work over a longer period of time.  Plus the Chapter 13 trustee receives a percentage of what you pay to the creditors. Yes, you may save some money to retain the property in Chapter 13 as opposed to what the regular payment would be; however,  those savings you may be partially or even fully offset by these higher fees.

Power to Protect Your Home Against Your Mortgage Lender and Lienholders

Posted by Kevin on June 17, 2013 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

If you want to hold onto your home, Chapter 13 gives you many extraordinary advantages.

A. If you are current on your mortgage: In most situations you will be allowed to keep making payments directly to your mortgage holder. The bankruptcy system puts a high priority on home mortgages, so almost always your Chapter 13 plan will be structured to pay your mortgage ahead of most other creditors.

B. If you are behind on your mortgage: You will likely have the whole 3-to-5-year length of your Chapter 13 case to catch up on your missed payments. Although theoretically you want to finish your case sooner than later, from a practical perspective the longer you have to catch up the less it will cost each month to do so. In fact because of this, homeowners often intentionally stay in their cases longer than their income requires just to make it easier on their monthly budget.

C. If you have a second mortgage: We may be able to “strip” that mortgage off your house, so that you won’t have to pay it. This is possible only if the home is worth no more than the balance owed on the first mortgage. And this can only be done in Chapter 13, not Chapter 7. Note that when the second (or third) mortgage is stripped off your title, you will be that much closer to eventually building some equity in your home

D. If you are behind on homeowner association dues: These special creditors usually have very aggressive collection methods available to them. But Chapter 13 can stop them and keep them at bay while you get current through payments earmarked to them through your plan.

E. If you are behind on your property taxes: Same thing. The county or other property tax agency is put on hold with any tax foreclosure or other collection procedures while the back taxes are paid through your Chapter 13 plan. Your mortgage company also sees that you are taking care of this responsibility and can monitor your performance in doing so.

F. If you have a judgment lien on your home: In many circumstances, judgment liens attached to your home can be “voided”—the lien undone and the underlying debt written off.  The debt itself is treated as an unsecured debt and is paid whatever percentage all your unsecured creditors receive through your Chapter 13 plan. Usually this does not increase how much you end up paying to the creditors, but rather just shifts how much each of your creditors gets paid (if anything at all).

G. If you have an income tax lien: Chapter 7 does not have an effective way of dealing with an income tax secured through a tax lien. Chapter 13 does. Whether the tax lien is on a tax which can or cannot be discharged, your Chapter 13 plan will arrange to pay only those taxes that must be paid during the life of your case. So at the end of your case all necessary taxes will have been paid in full and the tax lien will be released.

H. If you have a child or spousal support lien: Another situation where Chapter 7 cannot help, under Chapter 13  the ex-spouse or support enforcement agency would be stopped from enforcing the lien, you’d have the length of your case to pay the arrearage, so that by the end of the case you would be current and any lien would be released.

These are the main special powers that Chapter 13 provides to help you keep your home. Often these are used in combination, to fight back at each of the ways your home is being attacked. Whether you just need to use one or two or a bunch of them, these powers make keeping your home much more likely to actually happen.

Chapter 13 Amps Up Power of the “Automatic Stay”

Posted by Kevin on May 29, 2013 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

If Chapter 7 strengthens your hand against your secured creditors, Chapter 13 turns you into Superman.  It starts with a much more robust “automatic stay.”

The last blog explained how filing a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” gives you certain leverage over secured creditors.  In each of these areas, the Chapter 13 “payment plan” gives you many more powers to achieve your goals. Because there are so many Chapter 13 powers, these three areas will be covered in the next few blogs.

Stopping Creditors from Taking the Collateral

The “automatic stay,” which immediately stops your secured creditors from taking any action against the collateral under Chapter 7, gives you that same benefit under Chapter 13. But the “automatic stay” can be tremendously stronger in Chapter 13 for three reasons:

1. Lasts So Much Longer: Chapter 7’s “automatic stay” generally lasts only about 3 months, and sometimes not even that long if a creditor asks the court for “relief from stay” to get permission to go after the collateral. At best, Chapter 7 only pauses the action against you and the collateral. In contrast, a Chapter 13 case itself lasts usually 3 to 5 years, and the protection of the “automatic stay” is in effect that entire time, again unless a creditor is successful in getting “relief from stay.” (usually because the debtor fails to make make multiple payments to that creditor).

2. The “Co-Debtor Stay”: A Chapter 7 case does not stop a creditor from pursuing any co-signer you may have or that co-signer’s collateral. Chapter 13 does. There are limitations to this special kind of “stay,” so how much practical help it provides to you depends on the facts of each case. But at the very least the co-debtor stay immediately protects the co-signer, giving you a chance to get your Chapter 13 plan started and to see whether and/or how the creditor reacts.

As with the usual “automatic stay,” an affected creditor can ask for “relief from the co-debtor stay” to get permission to go after the co-signer or its collateral. Unless and until this motion is filed and the bankruptcy court decides to give this permission, your co-signer is protected.

3. Enables the Other Chapter 13 Powers to Work: Chapter 13 gives you many strong powers for dealing with secured creditors, many of which only work because of the long and continuous protection provided by the “automatic stay.” For example, unlike Chapter 7 which provides no mechanism for catching up on unpaid mortgage payments (other than whatever payment schedule the creditor voluntarily agrees to), Chapter 13 effectively gives you the entire length of the 3-to-5-year case to catch up. But this only works because throughout this time the mortgage holder is stopped from foreclosing by the ongoing “automatic stay.”

Another example illustrates well the crucial role of the “automatic stay” in Chapter 13. Most mortgage documents require the homeowner to pay the home’s property taxes either directly to the taxing authority or more often through an escrow account set up for that purpose. If the taxes are not paid by the homeowner, that is a separate violation of the mortgage agreement and separate grounds for the creditor to start a foreclosure against the homeowner. When the homeowner files a Chapter 13 case, this stops BOTH the mortgage creditor’s foreclosure AND any present or upcoming tax foreclosure by the county (or applicable taxing authority). The homeowner’s Chapter 13 plan shows how the back payments to both the creditor and the taxing authority will be paid.  As long as you abide by the Plan, the automatic stays continues in effect, and the taxing authority cannot foreclose.

The Nitty-Gritty about Catching Up on Your Mortgage through Chapter 13–Part 1

Posted by Kevin on August 2, 0201 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

Chapter 13 gives you up to 5 years to catch up on your past-due mortgage. How does this actually work?

You get a bunch of tools to help you keep your home when you file a Chapter 13. But the most basic of those tools is this large chunk of time—up to 5 years—to “cure the arrearage.” If you are many thousands of dollars behind on your home mortgage, you need to fully understand how this tool works before investing a lot of time and money doing a Chapter 13 case. This blog, and the next one, should answer your most pressing questions about this.

Can you give a simple example how this works?

Let’s say your monthly mortgage payment is $1,500 and you’ve missed 10 payments, so you are $15,000 behind. If this $15,000 were paid over the full 60 months of a 5-year Chapter 13 plan, that would be $250 each month. ($15,000 divided by 60 = $250.)

If you filed a Chapter 7 case instead, you’d likely be given about 10 months or so to pay that arrearage—amounting to about an extra $1,500 per month. So you’d essentially have to pay double payments, impossible for most people. An extra $250 per month through Chapter 13 may seem hard enough, but this would almost always come with the elimination or significant reduction in what you are paying to other creditors.

(To keep the above calculation simple here, we’ve not included any other fees that could be added to the mortgage arrearage. In most cases the lender would be able to add some late charges, maybe its attorney fees, and perhaps some other costs. And the Chapter 13 trustee would also be entitled to a fee as well.)

If my Chapter 13 plan proposes to catch up my mortgage in 5 years does my mortgage lender have to go along with this?

Most of the time, yes. Although the lender may be able to attach conditions in its favor.

To use the above example, the lender would almost always have to accept the $250 per month arrangement, and give you an opportunity to make those payments under your Chapter 13 plan. But if the mortgage lender is aggressive, it may be able to impose some conditions, ones that are potentially dangerous for you. For example, the lender could require conditions stating what would happen if you failed to comply precisely with the plan’s payment terms—by not being on time with either the arrearage payment or the regular monthly mortgage payment. If you did not make these payments on time, you could be given a very short last chance to pay them or else the lender would be able to start (or re-start) foreclosure proceedings.

Another way of putting this—Chapter 13 gives you a relatively long time to catch up on your missed mortgage payments, but the system is not particularly patient with you if you are then not able to keep to that payment schedule.

What if, based on my income, I’m allowed to finish my plan in 3 years instead of 5?

You’re certainly not required to use the full 5 years, if you can pay off the arrearage and the rest of your Chapter 13 obligations (such as any taxes or back support) faster. Using the above example, $15,000 in missed mortgage payments spread over 36 months would require about $417 per month (again, excluding some likely extra fees), instead of $250. Generally, you would want to finish your Chapter 13 case faster if possible, but should keep your monthly payment low enough to make more likely that you will be able to complete it successfully. If your income qualifies you for a 3 year plan, you are generally allowed to have in a plan that lasts anywhere between 36 and 60 months, depending on what your budget allows.

The next blog will cover these remaining questions:

How are back property taxes handled?

What if the mortgage lender and I don’t agree on the amount of arrearage that’s owed?

What happens if my circumstances change and I decide not to keep the house after all during my Chapter 13 case?