ABC’s of Chapter 13 Lien Stripping

 

By Christopher C. Carr Esq., Chester County Bankruptcy Attorney (Contact info. Below)

OVERVIEW: The once obscure practice of lien stripping has more recently enabled thousands of homeowners to remove the liens of second and third mortgages forever, while paying only a small percentage of their face value. The result has been to grant a “new lease on life” to many homeowners which is after all the ultimate goal of bankruptcy.

WHAT IS A LIEN STRIP?

Lien Stripping refers to the practice permitted by 11 USC 1322(b), which provides that “wholly undersecured” (don’t worry, this term is explained below) liens against real property may be removed or “stripped,” and the debt to which they relate treated as unsecured in a Chapter 13 Plan of Reorganization. Liens may not be stripped in Chapter 7 cases. Lien stripping however has two distinct, and very desirable, benefits for qualifying Chapter 13 debtors:

(1) At the conclusion of the lien strip the underlying property is no longer be encumbered by the undersecured lien and that creditor cannot prevent the sale or refinancing of the real estate nor deduct anything from the proceeds payable to the seller; and

(2) Instead of having to pay the debt secured by that stripped lien in full, the debtor need only pay the same percentage of the claim as it plans to pay all unsecured creditors – often 10% or less plus applicable trustee fees.

FIRST MORTGAGES ONLY NEED APPLY. 

Lien stripping is permissible only for claims secured by the Debtor’s principal residence because a lien strip modifies the “total package of rights for which the claim holder bargained.”

 

CAN A PARTIAL LIEN STRIP WORK?

No. There is no such thing as a partial lien strip. Bankruptcy Courts everywhere, including the Eastern District of Pennsylvania where Chester County Bankruptcy Attorney Christopher C. Carr, Esq. primarily practices, will only allow a lien to be stripped if it is wholly “undersecured”: that is, the equity remaining after the first mortgage and all other liens on the property that are prior in interest is zero or negative. Since the majority view among the Federal circuits is that the term “undersecured” means that there is some equity to secure the lien, in order to be stripped liens must be wholly unsecured.

QUALIFYING FOR A LIEN STRIP

A lien strip can only be accomplished in the course of a confirmed Chapter 13 plan of reorganization. The practice of lien stripping refers to the splitting  of a secured interest in real or personal property into a secured and unsecured portion. The calculations behind lien stripping are simple:

V – D[- JD] ≤ $0

V: market value of a property

D: debt(s) encumbering that property

JD: Junior debt/TARGET debt (i.e. Second mortgage)

Repeat for each lien, adding “strippable” debt amounts to D. For example, add mortgage debt 2 and mortgage debt 1 to see if a lien strip for mortgage debt 3 is available.

In other words, for a lien to be stripped and the lien holder’s interest treated as unsecured, such that it receives far less than all its money plus interest, the value of the debtor’s property at the time of filing, less the fully-secured non-target debts, must be less than or equal to $0. In a rising real estate market, meeting these requirements used to be challenging, if not downright impossible. However, in market conditions such as those prevailing today where many homeowners are “underwater” as to their first mortgage and have a HELOC or second mortgage and/or even an additional mortgage in third position on top of that, the conditions necessary for a lien strip to take place are relatively straightforward and can sometimes be met without much resistance from the affected creditor, especially if there is a wide disparity between market price and first mortgage debt. [1]

STRIPPING THE LIEN – WHEN, WHERE, HOW, WHAT RESULT?

Federal Appellate circuits follow different approaches when it comes to lien stripping. Some Bankruptcy Courts, for instance, require no more than a listing in the debtor’s bankruptcy petition that bifurcates the creditor’s interest into secured and unsecured portions. Should the creditor fail to timely object, their lien is stripped virtually automatically.

On the other hand, other Courts, such as the Eastern District of Pennsylvania where Chester County Bankruptcy Attorney Christopher C. Carr, Esq. primarily practices, require that the debtor bring a motion to strip the lien. Again, if the creditor fails to respond its lien is stripped. Still other circuits, the most conservative ones, require the debtor to bring a separate adversary case against the creditor whose lien is to be stripped. Often the latter 2 kinds of situations – motions and adversary actions – become fiercely contested and require incredible amounts of preparation as well as costly expert testimony. This kind of attention and resources are required because it is the value of the underlying property that is typically in dispute. This suggests that prudent bankruptcy attorney not counsel his/her client to do a lien strip where there is a lack of solid evidence of a disparity in value vs. debt as this will only lead to litigating disputes over collateral valuation in the bankruptcy court which the bankruptcy client, already hard pressed can ill afford.  See for example: In re Heritage Highgate, Inc.,  Case No. 11-1889, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 9698 (3d Cir., May 14, 2012).

 

WHAT ABOUT TAXES?  Can they ALSO be stripped OR UTILISED?

Neither Federal nor State taxes can typically be discharged in bankruptcy and if real estate is sold or transferred following a Bankruptcy filing the taxes must still be paid – regardless of any lien strip action. So, no you cannot strip such taxes. But if properly engineered, the additional lien of unpaid property taxes can be used to create a viable lien strip where none would otherwise exist since they reduce the amount of equity in the debtor’s property.  With the addition of one additional variable the above formula above then becomes:

V – (D+PT)[-JD] ≤ $0   Where PT = property tax lien(s) value.

DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME:

Since lien stripping can be a contentious area with minefields aplenty the reader is advised to consult an experienced lawyer such as Chester County Bankruptcy Attorney, Christopher C. Carr, Esq.

CONCLUSIONS

While not unrestricted and often misunderstood, lien strips can, and ought to be used to the great advantage of Chapter 13 debtors in the proper circumstances. This will be the case so long as property values continue to be depressed and debtors find themselves squeezed between escalating obligations and dwindling home values.

cCc

Law Offices of Christopher C. Carr, MBA,  P.C., is a quality bankruptcy and debt relief practice, located in  Valley Township, west of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, where Attorney Christopher Carr, a Chester County bankruptcy attorney, who has over 30 years if diversified legal experience, concentrates on serving the residents of and businesses located within Western Chester County and Eastern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, including the communities in and around Atglen, Bird in Hand, Caln, Christiana, Coatesville, Downingtown, Eagle, Exton, Fallowfield Gap, Honeybrook, Lancaster, Lincoln University, Modena, New Holland, Parkesburg, Paradise, Ronks, Sadsbury, Thorndale, Valley Township, Wagontown & West Chester,  Pennsylvania. If you reside or do business in the area and need assistance with a legal issue, please call Mr. Carr at (610)380-7969 or write him at cccarresq@aol.com today!  


©Christopher C. Carr, Attorney at Law 2009, 2014, All Rights Reserved.


[1] As with so many other bankruptcy concepts, it seems counterintuitive but our Debtor may ultimately be unable to strip the lien of a second mortgage debt because he/she thought they were doing the right thing by conscientiously paying their first mortgage every month. Maybe had they instead spent that money in Aruba or Vegas (LOL) and let the mortgage go into arrears status and the interest, unpaid escrows and penalties build up over time, the increase would perhaps have been sufficient to absorb a higher market price.

Chapter 13 Lien Strip A to Z

By Christopher C. Carr Esq., Chester County Bankruptcy Attorney (Contact info. Below)

OVERVIEW: The once obscure practice of lien stripping has more recently enabled thousands of homeowners to remove the liens of second and third mortgages forever, while paying only a small percentage of their face value. The result has been to grant a “new lease on life” to many homeowners which is after all the ultimate goal of bankruptcy.

WHAT IS A LIEN STRIP?

Lien Stripping refers to the practice permitted by 11 USC 1322(b), which provides that “wholly undersecured” (don’t worry, this term is explained below) liens against real property may be removed or “stripped,” and the debt to which they relate treated as unsecured in a Chapter 13 Plan of Reorganization. Liens may not be stripped in Chapter 7 cases. Lien stripping however has two distinct, and very desirable, benefits for qualifying Chapter 13 debtors:

(1) At the conclusion of the lien strip the underlying property is no longer be encumbered by the undersecured lien and that creditor cannot prevent the sale or refinancing of the real estate nor deduct anything from the proceeds payable to the seller; and

(2) Instead of having to pay the debt secured by that stripped lien in full, the debtor need only pay the same percentage of the claim as it plans to pay all unsecured creditors – often 10% or less plus applicable trustee fees.

FIRST MORTGAGES ONLY NEED APPLY. 

Lien stripping is permissible only for claims secured by the Debtor’s principal residence because a lien strip modifies the “total package of rights for which the claim holder bargained.”

 

CAN A PARTIAL LIEN STRIP WORK?

No. There is no such thing as a partial lien strip. Bankruptcy Courts everywhere, including the Eastern District of Pennsylvania where Chester County Bankruptcy Attorney Christopher C. Carr, Esq. primarily practices, will only allow a lien to be stripped if it is wholly “undersecured”: that is, the equity remaining after the first mortgage and all other liens on the property that are prior in interest is zero or negative. Since the majority view among the Federal circuits is that the term “undersecured” means that there is some equity to secure the lien, in order to be stripped liens must be wholly unsecured.

QUALIFYING FOR A LIEN STRIP

A lien strip can only be accomplished in the course of a confirmed Chapter 13 plan of reorganization. The practice of lien stripping refers to bifurcation of a secured interest in real or personal property into a secured and unsecured portion. The calculations behind lien stripping are simple:

V – D[- JD] ≤ $0

V: market value of a property

D: debt(s) encumbering that property

JD: Junior debt/TARGET debt (i.e. Second mortgage)

Repeat for each lien, adding “strippable” debt amounts to D. For example, add mortgage debt 2 and mortgage debt 1 to see if a lien strip for mortgage debt 3 is available.

In other words, for a lien to be stripped and the lien holder’s interest treated as unsecured, such that it receives far less than all its money plus interest, the value of the debtor’s property at the time of filing, less the fully-secured non-target debts, must be less than or equal to $0. In a rising real estate market, meeting these requirements used to be challenging, if not downright impossible. However, in market conditions such as those prevailing today where many homeowners are “underwater” as to their first mortgage and have a HELOC or second mortgage and/or even an additional mortgage in third position on top of that, the conditions necessary for a lien strip to take place are relatively straightforward and can sometimes be met without much resistance from the affected creditor, especially if there is a wide disparity between market price and first mortgage debt. [1]

STRIPPING THE LIEN – WHEN, WHERE, HOW, WHAT RESULT?

Federal Appellate circuits follow different approaches when it comes to lien stripping. Some Bankruptcy Courts, for instance, require no more than a listing in the debtor’s bankruptcy petition that bifurcates the creditor’s interest into secured and unsecured portions. Should the creditor fail to timely object, their lien is stripped virtually automatically.

On the other hand, other Courts, such as the Eastern District of Pennsylvania where Chester County Bankruptcy Attorney Christopher C. Carr, Esq. primarily practices, require that the debtor bring a motion to strip the lien. Again, if the creditor fails to respond its lien is stripped. Still other circuits, the most conservative ones, require the debtor to bring a separate adversary case against the creditor whose lien is to be stripped. Often the latter 2 kinds of situations – motions and adversary actions – become fiercely contested and require incredible amounts of preparation as well as costly expert testimony. This kind of attention and resources are required because it is the value of the underlying property that is typically in dispute. This suggests that prudent bankruptcy attorney not counsel his/her client to do a lien strip where there is a lack of solid evidence of a disparity in value vs. debt as this will only lead to litigating disputes over collateral valuation in the bankruptcy court which the bankruptcy client, already hard pressed can ill afford.  See for example: In re Heritage Highgate, Inc.,  Case No. 11-1889, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 9698 (3d Cir., May 14, 2012).

 

WHAT ABOUT TAXES?  Can they ALSO be stripped OR UTILISED?

Neither Federal nor State taxes can typically be discharged in bankruptcy and if real estate is sold or transferred following a Bankruptcy filing the taxes must still be paid – regardless of any lien strip action. So, no you cannot strip such taxes. But if properly engineered, the additional lien of unpaid property taxes can be used to create a viable lien strip where none would otherwise exist since they reduce the amount of equity in the debtor’s property.  With the addition of one additional variable the above formula above then becomes:

V – (D+PT)[-JD] ≤ $0   Where PT = property tax lien(s) value.

DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME:

Since lien stripping can be a contentious area with minefields aplenty the reader is advised to consult an experienced lawyer such as Chester County Bankruptcy Attorney, Christopher C. Carr, Esq.

CONCLUSIONS

While not unrestricted and often misunderstood, lien strips can, and ought to be used to the great advantage of Chapter 13 debtors in the proper circumstances. This will be the case so long as property values continue to be depressed and debtors find themselves squeezed between escalating obligations and dwindling home values.

cCc

Law Offices of Christopher C. Carr, MBA,  P.C., a quality Chester County Bankruptcy Practice, is located in  Valley Township, west of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, where Attorney Carr concentrates his practice on serving the residents of and businesses located within Western Chester County and Eastern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, including the communities in and around Atglen, Bird in Hand, Caln, Christiana, Coatesville, Downingtown, Eagle, Exton, Fallowfield, Gap, Honeybrook, Lancaster, Lincoln University, Modena, New Holland, Oxford, Parkesburg, Paradise, Ronks, Sadsbury, Thorndale, Valley Township, Wagontown & West Chester, Pennsylvania. If you reside or do business in the area and need assistance with a legal issue, please call Mr. Carr at (610)380-7969 or write him at cccarresq@aol.com today!

 

©Christopher C. Carr, Attorney at Law 2009, 2014, All Rights Reserved.


[1] As with so many other bankruptcy concepts, it seems counterintuitive but our Debtor may ultimately be unable to strip the lien of a second mortgage debt because he/she thought they were doing the right thing by conscientiously paying their first mortgage every month. Maybe had they instead spent that money in Aruba or Vegas (LOL) and let the mortgage go into arrears status and the interest, unpaid escrows and penalties build up over time, the increase would perhaps have been sufficient to absorb a higher market price.

By Christopher C. Carr Esq., Chester County Bankruptcy Attorney (Contact info. Below)

OVERVIEW: The once obscure practice of lien stripping has more recently enabled thousands of homeowners to remove the liens of second and third mortgages forever, while paying only a small percentage of their face value. The result has been to grant a “new lease on life” to many homeowners which is after all the ultimate goal of bankruptcy.

WHAT IS A LIEN STRIP?

Lien Stripping refers to the practice permitted by 11 USC 1322(b), which provides that “wholly undersecured” (don’t worry, this term is explained below) liens against real property may be removed or “stripped,” and the debt to which they relate treated as unsecured in a Chapter 13 Plan of Reorganization. Liens may not be stripped in Chapter 7 cases. Lien stripping however has two distinct, and very desirable, benefits for qualifying Chapter 13 debtors:

(1) At the conclusion of the lien strip the underlying property is no longer be encumbered by the undersecured lien and that creditor cannot prevent the sale or refinancing of the real estate nor deduct anything from the proceeds payable to the seller; and

(2) Instead of having to pay the debt secured by that stripped lien in full, the debtor need only pay the same percentage of the claim as it plans to pay all unsecured creditors – often 10% or less plus applicable trustee fees.

FIRST MORTGAGES ONLY NEED APPLY. 

Lien stripping is permissible only for claims secured by the Debtor’s principal residence because a lien strip modifies the “total package of rights for which the claim holder bargained.”

 

CAN A PARTIAL LIEN STRIP WORK?

No. There is no such thing as a partial lien strip. Bankruptcy Courts everywhere, including the Eastern District of Pennsylvania where Chester County Bankruptcy Attorney Christopher C. Carr, Esq. primarily practices, will only allow a lien to be stripped if it is wholly “undersecured”: that is, the equity remaining after the first mortgage and all other liens on the property that are prior in interest is zero or negative. Since the majority view among the Federal circuits is that the term “undersecured” means that there is some equity to secure the lien, in order to be stripped liens must be wholly unsecured.

QUALIFYING FOR A LIEN STRIP

A lien strip can only be accomplished in the course of a confirmed Chapter 13 plan of reorganization. The practice of lien stripping refers to bifurcation of a secured interest in real or personal property into a secured and unsecured portion. The calculations behind lien stripping are simple:

V – D[- JD] ≤ $0

V: market value of a property

D: debt(s) encumbering that property

JD: Junior debt/TARGET debt (i.e. Second mortgage)

Repeat for each lien, adding “strippable” debt amounts to D. For example, add mortgage debt 2 and mortgage debt 1 to see if a lien strip for mortgage debt 3 is available.

In other words, for a lien to be stripped and the lien holder’s interest treated as unsecured, such that it receives far less than all its money plus interest, the value of the debtor’s property at the time of filing, less the fully-secured non-target debts, must be less than or equal to $0. In a rising real estate market, meeting these requirements used to be challenging, if not downright impossible. However, in market conditions such as those prevailing today where many homeowners are “underwater” as to their first mortgage and have a HELOC or second mortgage and/or even an additional mortgage in third position on top of that, the conditions necessary for a lien strip to take place are relatively straightforward and can sometimes be met without much resistance from the affected creditor, especially if there is a wide disparity between market price and first mortgage debt. [1]

STRIPPING THE LIEN – WHEN, WHERE, HOW, WHAT RESULT?

Federal Appellate circuits follow different approaches when it comes to lien stripping. Some Bankruptcy Courts, for instance, require no more than a listing in the debtor’s bankruptcy petition that bifurcates the creditor’s interest into secured and unsecured portions. Should the creditor fail to timely object, their lien is stripped virtually automatically.

On the other hand, other Courts, such as the Eastern District of Pennsylvania where Chester County Bankruptcy Attorney Christopher C. Carr, Esq. primarily practices, require that the debtor bring a motion to strip the lien. Again, if the creditor fails to respond its lien is stripped. Still other circuits, the most conservative ones, require the debtor to bring a separate adversary case against the creditor whose lien is to be stripped. Often the latter 2 kinds of situations – motions and adversary actions – become fiercely contested and require incredible amounts of preparation as well as costly expert testimony. This kind of attention and resources are required because it is the value of the underlying property that is typically in dispute. This suggests that prudent bankruptcy attorney not counsel his/her client to do a lien strip where there is a lack of solid evidence of a disparity in value vs. debt as this will only lead to litigating disputes over collateral valuation in the bankruptcy court which the bankruptcy client, already hard pressed can ill afford.  See for example: In re Heritage Highgate, Inc.,  Case No. 11-1889, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 9698 (3d Cir., May 14, 2012).

 

WHAT ABOUT TAXES?  Can they ALSO be stripped OR UTILISED?

Neither Federal nor State taxes can typically be discharged in bankruptcy and if real estate is sold or transferred following a Bankruptcy filing the taxes must still be paid – regardless of any lien strip action. So, no you cannot strip such taxes. But if properly engineered, the additional lien of unpaid property taxes can be used to create a viable lien strip where none would otherwise exist since they reduce the amount of equity in the debtor’s property.  With the addition of one additional variable the above formula above then becomes:

V – (D+PT)[-JD] ≤ $0   Where PT = property tax lien(s) value.

DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME:

Since lien stripping can be a contentious area with minefields aplenty the reader is advised to consult an experienced lawyer such as Chester County Bankruptcy Attorney, Christopher C. Carr, Esq.

CONCLUSIONS

While not unrestricted and often misunderstood, lien strips can, and ought to be used to the great advantage of Chapter 13 debtors in the proper circumstances. This will be the case so long as property values continue to be depressed and debtors find themselves squeezed between escalating obligations and dwindling home values.

cCc

Law Offices of Christopher C. Carr, MBA,  P.C., a quality Chester County Bankruptcy Practice, is located in  Valley Township, west of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, where Attorney Carr concentrates his practice on serving the residents of and businesses located within Western Chester County and Eastern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, including the communities in and around Atglen, Bird in Hand, Caln, Christiana, Coatesville, Downingtown, Eagle, Exton, Fallowfield, Gap, Honeybrook, Lancaster, Lincoln University, Modena, New Holland, Oxford, Parkesburg, Paradise, Ronks, Sadsbury, Thorndale, Valley Township, Wagontown & West Chester, Pennsylvania. If you reside or do business in the area and need assistance with a legal issue, please call Mr. Carr at (610)380-7969 or write him at cccarresq@aol.com today!

 

©Christopher C. Carr, Attorney at Law 2009, 2014, All Rights Reserved.


[1] As with so many other bankruptcy concepts, it seems counterintuitive but our Debtor may ultimately be unable to strip the lien of a second mortgage debt because he/she thought they were doing the right thing by conscientiously paying their first mortgage every month. Maybe had they instead spent that money in Aruba or Vegas (LOL) and let the mortgage go into arrears status and the interest, unpaid escrows and penalties build up over time, the increase would perhaps have been sufficient to absorb a higher market price.

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