You Are Here: home > Blog > mortgage arrearage

Priority Debts in a Chapter 13 Case

Posted by Kevin on July 26, 2020 under Bankruptcy Blog | Comments are off for this article

Chapter 13 gives you some advantages over Chapter 7 for paying your priority debts. 

 Priority Debts under No-Asset and Asset Chapter 7

Our last two blog posts dealt with priority debts in a No-Asset Chapter 7 case and in an Asset Chapter 7 case.  While there are certain Chapter 7 strategies which may be somewhat helpful in dealing with priority debts, it is far from a panacea.  Here are some of its shortcomings.

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

The Benefits of Chapter 13

In contrast, Chapter 13, although not perfect, is better-designed for you to deal favorably with your priority debts. Here are its main benefits and advantages.

1. Ongoing Protection, for Years

The protection from creditors, called the automatic stay, lasts not 3-4 months but rather 3-to-5 years in Chapter 13. You can lose this protection under Chapter 13 if you don’t follow the requirements including making required payments in a timely fashion. But usually this sustained protection can be a powerful tool.  It forces otherwise very aggressive creditors like the IRS/state and support enforcement to cooperate, or at least to back off during the course of the bankruptcy.  Instead of these tough creditors having the law and the leverage on their side, Chapter 13 puts you much more in charge to formulate a plan that works for you.

2. Pay Monthly What You Can Afford to Pay

The practical leverage Chapter 13 gives you helps where it counts. It enables you to pay your priority debts under sensible and manageable payment terms. Priority debts are ones you have to pay regardless of bankruptcy. You mostly just wish that there was a way that you can spread these payments out. Chapter 13 can, under the right circumstances, provide that opportunity.

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

You generally pay nothing on your other unsecured debts until you pay your priority debts in full.  Under certain circumstances you may not be required to pay anything to general unsecured creditors. At the end of your case, if all payments are made and you otherwise comply with all the other requirements of Chapter 13, whatever you haven’t paid is discharged or wiped out. At that point you will have paid off your priority debts in full, and usually owe nothing to anybody.

3. Avoid Interest and Penalties

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

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

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

This combination—no accruing interest and penalties, and no penalties treated as priority—can significantly reduce how much you must pay. The less you have to pay as priority means the less you pay in your Chapter 13 payment plan. In bankruptcy speak, that means you need less money to propose a plan which is feasible.  Among other things, you need a feasible plan to be considered for confirmation.

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

If you have secured debts —a vehicle loan or home mortgage arrearage, for example—you often can pay these ahead of the priority debts. Your priority debts generally just have to wait, as long as you are appropriately following the payment plan and pay the priority debts in full by the end of the plan.  Once again, in certain circumstances, the payment of secured and priority claims can lead to a discharge even if the general unsecured claims get nothing.

Five Tremendous Tools to Save Your Home through Chapter 13

Posted by Kevin on October 3, 2019 under Bankruptcy Blog | Comments are off for this article

Powerful Chapter 13 gives you tools to solve your mortgage and other home lien problems from a number of different angles. 


The Limits of Chapter 7 “Straight Bankruptcy”

In my last blog I described how a Chapter 7 case can under certain circumstances help you enough to save your home., or, at least, delay a foreclosure for a limited time.

The Extraordinary Tools of Chapter 13

Chapter 13, on the other hand, provides you a range of much more powerful and flexible tools for solving many, many debt issues so that you can keep your home.

Here are the first five of ten significant ways that Chapter 13 can save your home (with the other five to come in my next blog).

Under Chapter 13 case you can:

1.  stretch out the amount of time for catching up on back mortgage payments for as long as 5 years. This is in contrast to the one year or so that most mortgage lenders will give you to catch up if you do a Chapter 7 case instead. This longer period can greatly lower your monthly catch-up payments, making more likely that you would succeed in actually catching up and keeping your home.

2. slash your other debt obligations so that you can afford your mortgage payments. The mortgage debt—especially your first mortgage—can’t be significantly changed under Chapter 13. So you are usually required to pay your full monthly mortgage payment, and to catch up any arrearage, but to accomplish this you are allowed to pay to most of your other debts.

3.  permanently prevent income tax liens, and child and spousal support liens, and such from attaching to your home. The “automatic stay” preventing such liens under Chapter 7 last usually only about 3 months, and there’s no mechanism for dealing with these kinds of debts. Instead under Chapter 13, these liens are prevented throughout the three-to-five-year length of the case.

4.  have the time to pay debts that can’t be discharged (legally written off) in bankruptcy, all the while being protected from those creditors attacking your home. So even if a tax or support lien is already in place before you file, you are given the opportunity to pay the debt while under the protection of the bankruptcy laws. That undercuts the leverage of those liens against your home. Then by the end of your case, the debts are paid and those liens are released.

5.  discharge (write off) debts owed to creditors which could otherwise attack your home. For example, certain (generally older) income taxes can be discharged, leaving you owing nothing. But had you not filed the Chapter 13 case, or delayed doing so, a tax lien could have been recorded, which would have required you to pay some or all of the balance to free your home from that lien. Even most standard debts can turn into judgment liens against your house once you are sued and a judgment is entered. Depending on the facts, a judgment liens may or may not be able to be gotten rid of in bankruptcy.  If instead you file a Chapter 13 case to prevent these liens from happening, at the end of your case the debt is gone, and no such liens attach to your home.

See my next blog post for the other five house-saving tools of Chapter 13.

Major Advantages of Chapter 13 “Adjustment of Debts”

Posted by Kevin on July 2, 2017 under Bankruptcy Blog | Comments are off for this article

Here are some of the other main advantages of Chapter 13:

1. You can keep your possessions that are not protected by property “exemptions,” preventing a Chapter 7 trustee from taking them from you. Thus you retain much more control over the process of saving your assets, avoiding the unknowns of negotiating payment terms with a Chapter 7 trustee in order to keep your non-exempt possessions. Also, in a Chapter 13 case, you have 3 to 5 years to pay to protect such possessions, instead of the few months that Chapter 7 trustees generally allow.

2. Similarly, if you fell behind in payments on your home’s first mortgage, you have the length of your plan—the same 3 to 5 years–to catch up. That’s in contrast to the few months of payments that a mortgage lender would generally allow if you negotiated directly with it after filing a Chapter 7 case.

3. You may be able to “strip” a second (or third) mortgage from your home’s title, and avoid paying all or most of that mortgage. This can happen if the value of your home is less than the balance of your first mortgage. Mortgage “stripping” may save you hundreds of dollars per month. This is completely unavailable in a Chapter 7 case.

4. You may be eligible for “cramdown” of your vehicle loan. If you purchased and financed your vehicle more than two and a half years before filing your Chapter 13 case, and the vehicle is worth less than the balance on the loan, your monthly payments and the total amount you pay for your vehicle can be significantly reduced.  In contrast, in a Chapter 7 straight bankruptcy case you are usually almost always stuck with the monthly payment and loan balance dictated by the vehicle loan contract.

5. In that same situation, if you are behind on the vehicle loan payments you don’t have to catch up those back payments over a few months. In a Chapter 7 case, almost always you must quickly pay off any arrearage if you want to keep the vehicle.

6. If you owe an ex-spouse non-support obligations, you can discharge (write-off) them under Chapter 13—not under Chapter 7. Non-support obligations include requirements in a divorce decree to pay off a joint marital debt or to pay the ex-spouse in return for getting more of the marital property. Discharging such debts can make a huge difference, often making Chapter 13 well worthwhile.

7. If you have any student loans, under Chapter 13, you can apply for an income driven repayment plan for federal loans and reduce payment on private loans.  In most cases, you are not going to discharge those loans, but you will be able to make affordable payments while in the Chapter 13 plan.   Also, you can use the payment history in Chapter 13 as a basis to qualify for a “hardship discharge” of your student loans.  For more information on student loan debt, please join us on

People often assume they need and want a regular Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and it’s often exactly what they do need. But the above short list gives you some idea of the benefits of Chapter 13 that may make it a much better option. That’s one of the reasons you should talk with an experienced bankruptcy attorney, and do so with an open mind. That’s because sometimes Chapter 13 can give you a huge unexpected advantage, or a series of smaller advantages, which may swing your decision in that direction.


Chapter 13 Gives You Lots More Time to Pay Crucial Creditors

Posted by Kevin on May 10, 2017 under Bankruptcy Blog | Comments are off for this article

When you’d like to favor certain important debts over others, often Chapter 13 makes this possible. 

Using the Bankruptcy Laws to Your Advantage

One of the basic principles of bankruptcy is that you usually can’t favor one debt over your other debts. However, under the Bankruptcy Code, certain creditors are recognized to be legally different. For example, secured creditors have rights over your property that you’ve given as collateral, rights that unsecured creditors don’t have. Also, bankruptcy does not discharge (write off) certain debts. These include child support, many types of taxes and many student loans, and certain other debts. These can’t be discharged while most debts can.

Chapter 13 requires that you treat certain debts differently- and that can be to your advantage.

Here are two good examples.

Catching up on Your Mortgage Arrearage

The law highly favors residential mortgage debts, especially your primary mortgage. Why?  The policy reason is that these lenders should be protected in bankruptcy to lessen their risks. Arguably this encourages more investment in the residential mortgage capital markets which makes mortgages more readily available to homeowners.

So, if you were behind on your home mortgage and wanted to keep the home, you’d have to catch up.  That is referred to in the Chapter 13 context as paying the mortgage arrearage.   You can’t escape doing so just because the home is worth less than the debt (as you often can with a vehicle loan).

In a Chapter 13, you have up to 60 months to pay your mortgage arrearage.  In New Jersey, those payments are made to the trustee while you make your regular mortgage payments going forward directly to the lender or servicer.  As long as you make these payments, the automatic stay remains in effect and your mortgage lender cannot file a foreclosure.  Moreover, the lender cannot demand payments that exceed 1/60 of the arrearage (assuming a 5 year plan) and cannot add late or other fees.

Child Support Arrearage

Another kind of debt that is highly favored in the law is child support. As a result, if you get behind on support payments, the collection procedures that can be used against you are extremely aggressive.  In New Jersey, you can go to jail, have your driver’s license suspended or have a professional license suspended.

Chapter 7 provides no direct help if you owe back support. The “automatic stay” that protects you from other creditors does not even apply to support debt under Chapter 7. This means that the aggressive collections can just continue; the bankruptcy filing has no effect on it.

But a Chapter 13 is very different. The “automatic stay” does protect you and your property from collection of the support arrearage. You ARE protected from support collections, as long as you follow some strict rules. After the Chapter 13 filing, you must pay ongoing regular support payments, and your Chapter 13 plan payments. In addition, you have to pay off the entire support arrearage before completing the case (up to 60 months).



A Sample Simple Save-Your-Business Chapter 13 Case

Posted by Kevin on April 24, 2017 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

A business Chapter 13 case does not have to be complicated. Here’s how it can work.

 It’s true that if you own a business that usually means you have a more complicated financial picture than someone punching a time clock or getting a regular salary. So usually if does take more time for an attorney to determine whether and how bankruptcy could help you and your business. But saving a business in the right circumstances can be relatively straightforward and extremely effective.

A good way to demonstrate this is by walking through a realistic Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case.

Mike’s Story

Mike, a single 32-year old, started a handyman business when he lost his job a little more than three years ago.  A hard worker and self-starter, he’d been itching to run his own business. He had decent credit at the time, owing nothing except his modest mortgage that he had never been late on plus about $2,800 spread out on a number of credit cards. Mike had always lived in the same area along with most of his extended family, so he had tons of contacts, and had a great reputation as a responsible guy who could fix anything. So Mike decided to take the risk of starting his business in spite of having very little working capital. He had $8,500 of credit available on his credit cards if he got desperate.

His business started off slowly, partly because he didn’t have the cash to invest in advertising. But he was creative in setting up a website and using social media, and worked very hard building a customer base and a good business reputation. His income crept steadily upwards, but way too slowly. Over the course of the first year, Mike maxed out his credit cards to keep current on his mortgage, feed himself, and keeps the lights on. But he simply didn’t have enough money to pay any estimated quarterly income taxes to the IRS, falling behind $3,500 to them that year.

Then during the second year of his business, Mike managed to keep current on the increased payments on his credit card debts but couldn’t pay them down any. Plus he fell behind another $6,000 in income taxes. Then recently, towards the end of his third year of business, after again failing to pay any estimated quarterly income taxes and falling another $4,500 behind, the IRS required him to start making $400 monthly payments on his $14,000 debt, plus to pay his estimated quarterly payments going forward. As a result he started not being able to keep current on his credit card payments, leading to ratcheted-up interest rates, pushing him over the credit limits and into the vicious cycle of large extra fees piling up. And now he’s missed two payments on his mortgage, putting him $3,000 in arrears.

In spite of all these distractions Mike’s business now has reasonably steady income, which continues to increase, slowly but quite consistently. His accumulated debt problems ARE taking a toll on his ability to focus on growing his business. In spite of this he still very much likes his work and being his own boss, and realistically believes he can keep increasing his income, especially as the economy improves. He very much wants to keep his business going.  But his creditors have him in an impossible situation.

The Chapter 13 Solution

If Mike met with an experienced business bankruptcy attorney, this is likely what the attorney would tell him that a Chapter 13 case would accomplish:

  • Cancel the $400 monthly payments to the IRS, giving him 5 years to pay that debt, with no additional ongoing interest or penalties during that whole time.
  • Pay the $3000 mortgage arrearages over the term of the plan.
  • Stop all collection efforts by the credit card creditors and any collection agencies. They would only receive any money after Mike caught up on the house arrearages and paid off the income taxes, and then only to the extent that Mike’s budget would allow.
  • Immediately protect all his business and personal assets—tools and equipment, his business truck and/or personal vehicle, receivables owed by customers for prior work, and his business and personal bank and/or credit union accounts.
  • Enable Mike to concentrate on his business by greatly relieving his month-by-month financial burden, as well as save him a lot of money in the long run.
  • At the end of his 3-to-5 year Chapter 13 case, Mike will be current on his mortgage, owe nothing to the IRS, and he would have paid as much as he could afford on the credit cards, with any remaining amount discharged (legally written off).

As a result the business that Mike loves and in which he has invested so much hope and effort would be thriving and providing him a decent livelihood.


Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Helps You with Special Debts When Chapter 7 Can’t

Posted by Kevin on April 11, 2014 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

Chapter 7 sometimes doesn’t help you enough with certain debts. Included are some income taxes, child and spouse support you’re behind on, home mortgage arrearage, and vehicle loans, among others.

There are times when filing a straight Chapter 7 case will help you enough by writing off your other debts so that you have the practical means to take care of the remaining special debt(s). It frees up money.   But other times you need the extra protection that a Chapter 13 payment plan gives you.


Here are the ways Chapter 7 could help with the first three of the special kinds of debts mentioned above, and ways that Chapter 13 can help more if necessary. The fourth kind—vehicle loans—are in some respects more complicated, so they’ll be addressed separately in an upcoming blog.

Income Taxes

Some income taxes can be discharged (written off) in bankruptcy, including under Chapter 7, but some can’t, generally more recent ones. If you have a tax debt that will not be discharged, but is the only debt that will not be and is small enough, you can file a Chapter 7 case and make payment arrangements directly with the IRS (or applicable state tax agency). If the monthly payment amount is manageable, this could well be the sensible way to go.

But if the tax amount is too large for what you can afford to pay, or you have a number of debts that would not be discharged under Chapter 7, then Chapter 13 would help in the following ways:

  • You would likely get more time to pay off the tax.
  • The IRS or state agency would be prevented from taking collection action without permission of the bankruptcy court.
  • Generally you would not need to pay interest and penalties from the time your case is filed, allowing you to pay off the tax debt with less money.

Child and Spousal Support Arrearage

State laws allow ex-spouses and support enforcement agencies to be extremely aggressive in their collection methods.  Sometimes you can work out a deal with these enforcement agencies, sometimes not.  If you can make a deal, then Chapter 7 may make sense for you.

But otherwise you need the extraordinary power of Chapter 13. It gives you three to five years to pay the support current, as long as you rigorously keep up with your ongoing monthly payments in the meantime. And throughout this time all of the very tough collection tools usually available to your ex-spouse or support agency are put on hold for your benefit.

Home Mortgage Arrearage

If you are behind on your home mortgage but want to keep the home, and you file a Chapter 7 case, you are at the mercy of your mortgage company about how much time you will have to catch up on the mortgage.

In contrast, similarly to what is stated above, Chapter 13 will give you three to five years to cure that arrearage. So, if you are too far behind to be able to catch up within the time you would be given under Chapter 7, then you need to file under Chapter 13.

The Most Important Choice in Bankruptcy

Posted by Kevin on October 30, 2013 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

Chapter 13 costs much more than Chapter 7, takes about 10 times as long, so you do a Chapter 7 if possible, right?

No. These two options each have advantages and disadvantages that need to be carefully matched to your immediate and long-term goals. The greater cost of Chapter 13 sometimes is far outweighed by what you may save through that procedure—possibly even by tens of thousands of dollars. The length of Chapter 13 can itself be an advantage when you’re trying to buy time or stretch payments out over a longer period to lower their monthly amount. But in other situations, Chapter 7 may be just what you need.

Be Informed, But Be Open-Minded

It’s good to inform yourself in advance about these options. But it’s also wise to have an open mind when you first go to see an attorney for legal advice. You may simply not know about a crucial advantage or disadvantage that could swing your decision one way or the other. And you don’t want to be too emotionally invested in going in one direction when the other may be a better choice.

Easy Choice, Hard Choice

Sometimes your circumstances and/or your goals push your decision strongly in one direction or the other. Sometimes you may even only qualify for one, and that one provides what you need. Or you may qualify for both, but still everything points towards either Chapter 7 or 13. In either situation, it could be a very easy choice.

But often you could go through either a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 case AND BOTH may have attractive features. So it can come down to a deeply personal choice.

For Example…

A couple of simple examples will make this clearer.

If you are behind on your home mortgage and want to hang onto the home, a Chapter 7 case would likely write off all or most of your other debts. Then you’d likely have a few months to catch up on the mortgage. In contrast, a Chapter 13 case would give you up to 5 years to catch up. And it may allow you to avoid paying a second mortgage. This choice turns to some degree on factual issue like whether you have a second mortgage that could be “avoided,” and how much you’re behind on the mortgage payments. But on a personal level it comes down on how important it is to you to keep the house, and how much you’d be willing to bet that you’d be able to do that though Chapter 7 by negotiating a relatively quick catch-up of payments instead of getting much more time and far greater protection through Chapter 13.

Similarly, if you owed some recent income taxes that would not be written off under either Chapter, you could file a Chapter 7 case and write off all or most of your other debts so that you could focus your financial resources on the IRS. You’d arrange with the IRS to make monthly payments to pay off that tax debt, plus ongoing interest and penalties.  Or you could file a Chapter 13 case and pay those taxes through a formal plan based on your own budget, usually avoiding additional interest and penalties, all the while being protected from the IRS. But you would pay extra fees for these advantages. This choice also depends on the facts, such as how much tax you owe and how much you would be able afford to pay each month once your Chapter 7 case were completed. But then it comes down to the more personal question of how confident you’d be that your present income and expenses would stay stable throughout the repayment period, so that you could make those payments no matter what.

It’s Good to Have a Choice, Even If It’s Not an Easy One

To be honest, it is not unusual for people to have some factors pointing towards Chapter 7 with others pointing towards Chapter 13. But instead of wringing your hands about having tough choices, realize it is usually a good thing to have more than one choice, even if neither is perfect. An experienced, conscientious attorney will walk you through this, help you prioritize your goals, weigh any risks, and give you what you need so that you can confidently make a smart choice.

Coming Right Up…

Because being informed is a good thing, and because this decision between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 is so important, the next few blogs will look at both the basic and some more subtle differences between them.