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Saving Your Home Through Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 in Three Scenarios

Posted by Kevin on June 28, 2017 under Bankruptcy Blog | Comments are off for this article

Here are 3 scenarios where a debtor tries to save his or her home. When is Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” enough, and when do you need Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts”? 

Scenario #1: Current on Your Home Mortgage(s), Behind on Other Debts

Chapter 7:  Would likely discharge (legally write off) most if not all of your other debts, freeing up cash flow so that you can make your house payments. Stops those other debts from turning into judgments and liens against your home.

Chapter 13:  Same benefits as Chapter 7, plus often a better way to deal with many other special debts, such as income taxes, back support payments, and vehicle loans. May be able to “strip” (permanently get rid of) a 2nd or 3rd mortgage, so that you would not have to make that monthly payment, and paying little or nothing on the balance during the case and then discharging any remaining balance at the successful completion of your case.

Scenario #2. Not Current on Home Mortgage(s) But Only a Few Payments Behind & No Pending Foreclosure

Chapter 7:  May buy you enough time to get current on your mortgage, if you’ve slipped only two or three payments behind. Most mortgage companies and their servicers (the people you actually interact with) will agree to give you several months—generally up to a year—to catch up on your mortgage arrearages. Generally called a “forbearance agreement”—lender agrees to “forbear” from foreclosing as long as you make the agreed payments. Works only if you have an unusual source of money (a generous relative or a pending legal settlement that’s exempt from the other creditors), or if filing Chapter 7 will stop enough money going to other creditors so you will have enough monthly cash flow to pay off the mortgage arrearages quickly.

Chapter 13:  Even if only a few thousand dollars behind on your mortgage, you may not have enough extra money each month after filing a Chapter 7 case to catch up quickly on that mortgage arrearages.  If lender is inflexible about giving you more time to catch up,  a Chapter 13 case forces them to accept a much longer period to do so—three to five years.

Scenario #3. Many Payments Behind on Your Mortgage(s):

Chapter 7:  Not helpful here.  Buys at best only two to three months or so. Also, no possibility of “stripping”a 2nd or 3rd mortgage.

Chapter 13:  Assumes that you can at least make the regular mortgage payment consistently, along with the arrearages catch-up payments. As stated above, gives you up to five years to pay off the mortgage arrearages,  Your home is protected from foreclosure as long as you maintain the agreed Chapter 13 Plan and mortgage payments. Does not enable you to reduce the first mortgage payment amount, although in some situations you may be able to “strip” your 2nd or 3rd mortgage.

In my 30+ years of experience as a bankruptcy attorney, have seen Scenario #1 only once (was a close friend and he is still in his home).  Usually see Scenario #3 because most debtors do not seek counsel until they are really “in the hole”.  Be smart.  When things start to go south, call an experienced bankruptcy attorney to learn your options.


Choosing Between Filing Chapter 7 and 13–Easy or Not?

Posted by on April 28, 2016 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

Chapter 7 and 13 are very different debt-fighting tools. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s obvious which is right for you.


The Not Always So Easy Choice

Once it is clear that you need bankruptcy relief, picking the right Chapter to file can be simple. Your circumstances may all point towards one option or the other. But sometimes it can be far from clear cut.


The First Impression IS Often Right

To be clear, when my clients first come in to see me, many have a good idea whether they want to file a Chapter 7 or a 13.  There is lots of information available about this, including on this website. So lots of my clients come in having done some homework. Or at least they’ve heard something about the two Chapters and have an impression which makes sense to them.   But sometimes after we have reviewed all the facts and options, the initial impression  proves wrong.


An Illustration

Let’s say you have a home you’ve been struggling to hold onto for the last year or two, but by now have pretty much decided it wasn’t worth doing so any more. You’re seriously behind on both the first and the second mortgages. Like so many other people, the home is worth a lot less than you owe. In fact, let’s say you owe on the first mortgage a little more than what the home is worth, plus another $75,000 on the second mortgage, so the home is “under water” by that amount. Although for the last couple of years you’ve been hoping that the market value will start heading back up, but it’s just held steady. You and your family would definitely like to stay there, buy you absolutely can’t pay both mortgages. Besides it makes little economic sense to keep struggling to hang onto property worth $75,000 less than what you owe. So you’ve decided it’s time to give up on the home, and just file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

But then you meet with your bankruptcy attorney and find out some surprising good news. Because your home is worth less than the balance on the first mortgage, through a Chapter 13 case you can “strip” the second mortgage off the title of your home. You no longer have to make the monthly payments on it, making keeping your home all of a sudden hundreds of dollars cheaper each month.  In return for paying into your Chapter 13 Plan a designated amount each month based on your budget, and doing so for the three-to-five year length of your Chapter 13 case, you can keep your home usually by paying very little—and sometimes nothing—on that $75,000 second mortgage. At the end of your case, whatever amount is left unpaid on that second mortgages would be “discharged”—legally written-off—so you own the home without that mortgage. You are debt-free, other than your first mortgage.

This “stripping” of the second mortgage is NOT available under the Chapter 7 that you initially thought you should file. The ability to keep your home by significantly lowering its monthly cost to you and bringing the debt against it much closer to its value could well swing your choice towards filing Chapter 13, contrary to your initial intention.

So, the Best Advice:  Meet with Your Attorney with an Open Mind


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.

Home Sweet Home in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13

Posted by Kevin on November 23, 2012 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

Bankruptcy protects your home. Both Chapter 7 and 13 do so, but which is better for you?


When you are dealing with your home, you are usually dealing with a mortgage.  So, if you are comtemplating bankruptcy, you need to consider both  the  bankruptcy trustee and your mortgage lender.  Here are 5 key questions to ask to find out whether a Chapter 7 straight bankruptcy or a Chapter 13 payment plan is what you need.


1.  Is your home worth more or less than the amount of your mortgage?

In other words, do you have equity in your home?  Many people who purchased their homes after 2000 do not have equity in their home. In that case, a Chapter 7 trustee will abandon his or her interest in your home.  That means, the trustee is not going to sell your home to pay off your unsecured creditors.  But, remember, you still have to deal with your mortgage lender.

But, if you have owned your home for a long time, and have significant equity (that means more than the mortgage $43,250 for a married couple), a Chapter 7 trustee will sell your house.  To avoid this, you should look into Chapter 13 to protect that value.

2.  Are you current on your mortgage and property tax payments, and if not will you be able to get current within a short time after filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy?

If you are not behind on your home obligations (and there is not equity in the home), in a vast majority of cases, you can continue making  payments and keep the home after you file bankruptcy, regardless whether your other circumstances point you to a Chapter 7 case or a Chapter 13 one.

And if you are not so far behind, so that you could both consistently pay the regular monthly payments and catch up on your mortgage and any property tax arrearage within a few months, your mortgage lender may enter into a forbearance agreement with you to allow you to catch up.  In those circumstances, you may want to consider filing under Chapter 7 and keep your home. However, if you would not be able to catch up within a short of period of time, you will likely need the extra power of Chapter 13 to buy more time.

3.  Do you have a second (or third) mortgage which is not covered by equity in the home?

IF you have a second mortgage and you owe more on your first mortgage than your home is worth, Chapter 13 allows you to “strip” that second mortgage from your home. This means that you would pay very little or perhaps even nothing on it during your 3-to-5-year case, and then the entire balance would be forever written off. This cannot be done in Chapter 7. So of course if you have a significant second mortgage, this is a huge reason to file under Chapter 13.

This also applies if you have a third mortgage, and you owe more on the combination of your first two mortgages than the home is worth, allowing you to “strip” the third mortgage.

4.  Do you have any current liens against your home which are not going to be resolved by filing Chapter 7?

Some debts result in liens against your home. Some of those liens can be taken care of with a Chapter 7 filing, some cannot.

For example, if in the past you were sued by a credit card company, medical provider, or collection agency, that creditor likely has a judgment lien against your home. As long as your home has no more equity than allowed by your homestead exemption (without even considering that judgment lien), you will likely be able to have that judgment lien released in a Chapter 7 case.

But, to use another example, if instead you have a lien against your home for owing back child support, a Chapter 7 is not going help you with that lien. After you file and finish a Chapter 7 case, your ex-spouse or local/state support enforcement agency may be able to foreclose on your home to enforce that lien. In contrast, a Chapter 13 case would protect you from any such foreclosure threat, while providing you a mechanism for paying off that debt while under this protection.

5.  Do you have any special debts which could threaten your home later after filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case?

Even if you do not currently have any known liens or similar threats against your home, you may have future problems if you have one or more special debts which will survive a straight bankruptcy. The prime examples are income taxes, child and spousal support obligations, construction and home repair debts, and homeowner association dues and assessments. In most states, these kinds of debts either are automatic liens against a home or can easily turn into liens. And most liens can eventually be foreclosed to pay the debt underlying the lien. Chapter 13 can either help avoid a lien from attaching to your home or can enable you to pay the underlying debt and get the lien released without it threatening your home.

The Kinds of Debts Better Handled through Chapter 13

Posted by Kevin on November 21, 2012 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

As we said in the prior blog, more complicated debts are usually handled better in the Chapter 13 context.

More complicated debts include those that 1) are not discharged (written-off) in bankruptcy or in a Chapter 7, 2) are in arrears but are secured by collateral you need to keep, and/or where the debtor has significant equity, or 3) are special situations under the Code.


Debts Not Discharged in Bankruptcy

If you owe a not-so-large recent income tax debt, or are just a little behind on your support payments, you can file a Chapter 7 case and often be able to take care of the tax or support obligation by arranging for monthly installment or catch-up payments. Using Chapter 13 in that situation would likely be unnecessary.

But if the amount you owe or are behind on is too large, or if the creditor refuses to deal, then Chapter 13 would be better. Why? Because it forces the creditor to be lots more patient. It generally gives you up to five years to pay off or catch up on these kinds of debts.

Secured Debt, Lots of Equity

This is truly tricky.  Remember, if the property has significant equity, the trustee may sell the property.  If you want to keep the property, you will have a problem in Chapter 7.  In fact, your only recourse is to make a deal by buying out the trustee’s interest.  If this turns out to be too expensive, you may be SOL.

What about Chapter 13?  Assuming you meet the debt ceiling, Chapter 13 can theoretically help.  What does that mean?  To get your Chapter 13 plan approved by the court, it has to pay out to unsecured creditors as much or more than they would have received in a Chapter 7.  So, if you have $50,000 equity in the property after the liquidation analysis, that means that your creditors in a Chapter 13 will have to get at least $50,000.  Over 3 years that is $16K+ per year, over 5 years-$10K per year.  That’s a big nut to meet every month.  So, Chapter 13, in theory, may help you, but , in reality, may be too expensive.

Secured Debts Where You Are Behind

If you want to hang onto your vehicle and/or home but you’re not current on the loan, Chapter 13 allows you to spread out the arrearages for up to the term of the plan.   If an aggressive creditor objects, so what.  You only need the Judge to confirm the plan.

Special Debts Handled Better in Chapter 13

Chapter 13 has some other features which simply are not provided in Chapter 7, much less provided outside bankruptcy.

Under certain circumstances you can “strip” your second mortgage from your home’s title, so that you pay little or nothing on that second mortgage. This can save a homeowner tens of thousands of dollars, and greatly reduce the monthly cost of the home. In New Jersey, stripping a second mortgage is only potentially available in Chapter 13, not in Chapter 7.

A vehicle “cram down”—in which the amount you owe on your vehicle is essentially reduced to the value of vehicle—is also potentially available only in Chapter 13, not Chapter 7.

If you owe any co-signed debts, they can be favored under Chapter 13 while your co-signer is protected. In contrast, in a Chapter 7 case the creditor would likely be able to pursue your co-signer.

The Limits of a Rule of Thumb

Once again, there’s so much more to deciding between Chapter 7 and 13 than looking at what kind of debts you have and whether those debts are “simple” or “complicated.” There are many other factors, and people so often have unusual combinations of circumstances. This rule of thumb—simple debts lead to Chapter 7, complicated debts lead to Chapter 13—is simply a sensible starting point for your own thinking, and for your conversation with an experienced bankruptcy attorney.