A Combination of Chapter 13 Tools for Saving Your Home, Illustrated

It’s often the combination of tools that come with Chapter 13 that allows you to keep your home. Because Chapter 7 has only some of these tools, sometimes it can’t do nearly as much for your home as Chapter 13 can.

 

Please read my last blog. There I laid out an example to illustrate how much a Chapter 13 case can do—on multiple fronts—to enable you to keep your home. That example also shows why sometimes Chapter 7 is not effective for that purpose. Today I explain how Chapter 13 can pull it off.

To summarize, here is a list of this hypothetical person’s debts:

  • first mortgage arrears: $5,000
  • first mortgage balance: $230,000
  • second mortgage arrears: $3,000
  • second mortgage balance: $50,000
  • past-due real estate taxes: $2,000
  • judgment lien from unpaid medical debt: $8,000
  • 2009 income tax with tax lien recorded against the home: $3,000
  • 2010 and 2011 income tax: $5,000 (no tax lien, yet)
  • credit cards: $18,000

A Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” would discharge (write-off) all or most of the credit card balances, as well as the medical bill that turned into the judgment, and likely even get rid of that judgment’s lien on your home title. That would save you about $26,000, and take away the threat to your home from the judgment lien.

But that still leaves both mortgage arrears, the past due real estate taxes, and many thousands of dollars of income tax debts, one holding a tax lien on the home. This debtor can afford to pay a total of $1,500 per month to all creditors, but with a $1,000 first mortgage and $300 second mortgage regular payment, that leaves only a measly $200 per month for the mortgage arrearages and all the taxes. Looks quite hopeless.

And yet, here is how Chapter 13 could be the solution:

1. Stripping second mortgage: In this example the home is now worth $225,000, less than the $230,000 balance on the first mortgage. So there is no equity in the home securing that second mortgage. Under these conditions, Chapter 13 can legally turn that second mortgage balance into an unsecured debt. (This cannot be done under Chapter 7). As a result, the debtor no longer pays the $300 monthly mortgage payment, freeing up that amount to pay other more important creditors. So instead of $200, there’s now $500 per month available to pay the remaining creditors.

2. Plan payment of $500 per month: Paying this $500 per month into a 36-month Chapter 13 payment plan results in a total of $18,000 paid ($500 X 36 = $18,000), or a total of $30,000 in a 60-month plan ($500 X 60 = $30,000). The length of a plan depends on a number of factors. But in this case let’s assume that the plan will run only as long as it takes to pay all secured and priority creditors—here, the first mortgage arrears and all the property and income taxes. That’s $5,000 of arrears, $2,000 of property tax, $8,000 for all the income taxes, or a total of $15,000. Interest needs to be paid on the property tax and on the portion of the income taxes with the tax lien, but Chapter 13 often allows those debts to be paid faster to lessen the amount of interest. The plan payments also need to pay the Chapter 13 trustee– usually a percentage of the amount flowing through the plan–plus whatever portion of the debtor’s own attorney’s fees not paid before the filing of the case. To simplify the calculations, let’s estimate that the total amount that the debtor would need to pay into the plan would be $20,000. At $500 per month, that would amount to 40 months of payments. (In some situations, the unsecured creditors would also need to be paid a certain amount of money or a certain percentage of their debt. In that situation, the $500 payments would need to be paid into the plan that much longer.)

3. Continuous protection from the creditors by the “automatic stay’: During the entire length of the Chapter 13 case—this estimated 40 months–the “automatic stay” would be in effect, preventing any of the creditors—the mortgage lenders, the property tax creditor, or the IRS—from taking any action against the debtor or the debtor’s home. So the first mortgage lender would not be able to start or continue a foreclosure because the monthly payments or the property taxes weren’t current. The property tax creditor itself could not conduct a tax foreclosure. And the IRS could not enforce its tax lien nor could it record a new one for the more recent tax debts.

4. Debt-free: At the end of the 40 months or so, the first mortgage and property taxes would be paid current, all of the income taxes would be paid in full, the tax lien would be released, and all the (remaining) unsecured debts would be discharged, leaving the debtor debt-free.  

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