HOW TO ESTIMATE YOUR CHAPTER 13 PLAN PAYMENT:

By Christopher C. Carr, Esquire, Chester County Bankruptcy Attorney:  Call (610)380-7969 or write him at cccarresq@aol.com today!  

Introduction. What does this matter?

 This exercise can be crucial to complete if you are a self filer (not recommended especially for a Chapter 13) but it is a very good idea to complete this exercise even if you have hired or plan to hire a bankruptcy attorney, because in this way you will be able to understand the general Chapter 13 process and strategy; double check his or her work-in a general sense at least – and also because it will make you aware of expenses and other offsets you might not otherwise focus upon, which could end up saving you money in the long run.  This can also be useful to help you determine whether a Chapter 13 will be advantageous for you given your particular circumstances BEFORE you retain an attorney and then file, only to find out for example that you cannot afford the monthly payment and the arrears amortization!  Bankruptcy will affect your credit and ability to borrow for at least 2 years, even if it is dismissed. Knowledge is power.

In general, it will help to remember that Part 1 of the analysis deals with repayment of secured debt (like car and home loans), whereas Parts 2 and 3 deal with unsecured debt (like credit cards, medical bills, etc) and to remember the “liquidation test” which says that the unsecured creditors cannot receive less in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy than they would have received in a Chapter 7 liquidation.

Part 1: Figuring Your Minimum Monthly Payment

Certain debts must be paid back in full through your repayment plan. This means that that the Debtor must propose a plan that pays off all of these debts within 36 months (if below the median income) or 60 months (if above the median income) regardless of income and expenses. These debts include:

  1. Priority Debts

Congress has decided that certain obligations, called priority debts, cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. Some examples of priority debts include back child support, alimony, and certain taxes. If you file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you must pay off these debts in full through your repayment plan. Enter the amount of all your priority debts in the Model[1]  where indicated.

 

  1. Mortgage Arrears

If you are behind on your mortgage and want to keep your house, you must pay off all your arrears (existing at the time of your filing) through your repayment plan within the applicable plan period (see above) . Enter all applicable mortgage arrears in the Model where indicated.

If you plan to surrender your house, you don’t have to pay back the arrears in your bankruptcy. In addition, if you are only behind on your second mortgage (or other junior lien) and you intend to eliminate that lien in your Chapter 13 through lien stripping, don’t include those arrears in your payment calculation.

 

Be aware that certain jurisdictions require you to make your regular mortgage payment through your Chapter 13 bankruptcy. In these jurisdictions, your plan payment may be very large but you would not have to make a separate mortgage payment directly to the lender.

 

  1. Car Loans or Other Secured Debts You Want to Pay Off Through Your Plan

In most jurisdictions, if you are behind on your car loan (or another secured debt other than your mortgage) and want to catch up on your missed payments, you typically have to pay off the entire loan (not just the arrears) through your plan. Keep in mind that in certain jurisdictions, you may be required to pay off your car loans through your Chapter 13 plan regardless of whether you are behind on your payments or not.  This is not the case in the EDPA where I practice.

Unless you intend to surrender the property or pay off these secured debts outside of bankruptcy (and your jurisdiction allows you to do so), enter the amount of your car loans and other secured debts in the calculator where indicated.

If you qualify to “cram down: your car loan or other secured debt, you only need to pay the lender the replacement value of the property through your repayment plan (not the entire loan balance). So include only the value of the vehicle (or other property) in the Model for all secured debts you intend to cram down.

 

  1. Administrative Fees and Interest Charges

Fees: Chapter 13 trustees get paid by taking a percentage of all amounts they distribute to creditors through your repayment plan. This percentage varies depending on where you live but can be up to 10% as it is in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania where I practice.

 

Interest: In addition, you typically have to pay interest on secured claims you are paying off through your plan. The required interest rate can vary depending on the type of claim and the rules in your jurisdiction. But in general, you can expect to pay the national prime rate plus 1% to 3%.

 

  1. Making Regular Monthly Payments on Loans. Keep in mind that if you want to keep your home, car, or other items securing  debts, you’ll have to keep making your regular monthly payments during your plan period, unless the court requires you to pay off the entire balance through your plan. As mentioned above, some courts might require you to make these monthly payments through your plan.  However, this is NOT the case in the EDPA, where generally speaking, the debtor pays arrears through the plan but is allowed to pay the monthly mortgage “outside” the bankruptcy,  g. directly to the lender/servicer.

 

THE ABOVE COMPUTATION YIELDS JUST THE MINIMUM PLAN PAYMENT: “EXCESS” DISPOSABLE INCOME (PART 2): AND NONEXEMPT PROPERTY VALUE (PART 3)  MUST BE ADDED:

So far we have only considered debts you are required to pay off in your repayment plan regardless of your income, expenses, and nonexempt property. The debts discussed above are used in calculating your minimum Chapter 13 plan payment. However, if you have disposable income or nonexempt assets, you will also have to pay back some or all of your nonpriority unsecured debts such as credit cards and medical bills. Depending on how much you have to pay your nonpriority unsecured creditors, your monthly plan payment can be much  higher than the minimum payment calculated above.  In fact many high income or equity rich debtors will end up with 100% plans…why would anyone file bankruptcy then you may ask well and  there are several reasons:

  1. To take advantage of the automatic stay in bankruptcy and thus save the family home and/or other valuable assets from the auctioneers gavel.
  2. to avoid garnishments (which can be very embarrassing and even cause job loss) or repossession of autos, boats, RV’s, etc.
  3. To avoid liens arising in their property because of lawsuits, tax liens and the like.
  4. To force mediation and a mortgage modification (in some jurisdictions)
  5. To avoid creditor dunning
  6. Because instead of having to pay back all the debt at once, they can schedule it, and,
  7. to avoid losing a drivers license, professional privileges (e.g. inability to practice medicine, law, dentistry, etc.) or even going to jail for nonpayment of alimony, support , etc.

Part 2:  Calculate Your Disposable Income and enter the excess:

 

As part of your Chapter 13 computations, you must complete Form 22C — Chapter 13 Statement of Current Monthly Income and Calculation of Commitment Period and Disposable Income. This form is also referred to as the Chapter 13 means test and is used to determine how long your plan will last and how much you must pay nonpriority unsecured creditors in your bankruptcy. Visit the U.S. Court’s website at www.uscourts.gov to find the most recent version of Form 22C.

If your average income for the six months preceding your bankruptcy is less than the median income for a similar household in your state, you are not required to fill out the entire form and will typically pay little or nothing to nonpriority unsecured creditors in your plan. However, if your income is above median, you must follow the instructions on the form to determine whether you have enough disposable income to pay back some of your nonpriority unsecured debts.

After completing the Chapter 13 means test, if you end up with a positive monthly disposable income figure, add that to your minimum plan payment calculated above because you must pay this amount towards your nonpriority unsecured debts each month.

Note: Why the means test result can vary significantly from  the Petition, Schedule J. The concepts of income and expenses for the Means Test differ from the income and expenses reported on Schedules I and J. Schedule I lists the debtor’s current income, while the Means Test requires an average from the last six months with Social Security Benefits excluded. Likewise, on the expense side, expense categories are different on the Means Test and Schedule J. Schedule J lists the debtor’s actual current expenses while the Means Test uses IRS standards (which are often much lower than the actual expenditures) for some expenses, and actual for others. Moreover, Schedule J allows the attorney more discretion in listing other types of expenses, whereas the Means Test doesn’t allow you to fill in unlimited “other” expenses.

 

Part 3:   Finally, Add the Value of your Nonexempt Property

Chapter 13 bankruptcy requires you to pay your nonpriority unsecured creditors at least as much as they would have received if you had filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This is known as the “liquidation test” but essentially means that you must pay an amount equal to the value of your nonexempt property. If you can’t exempt all of your property, divide the value of the nonexempt portion by the number of months in your repayment plan and add it to the minimum monthly payment calculated above.

Nonexempt Property Example: Say for example that you have equity in your home of $100,000 (a rarity in this day and age but quite common  few years ago).  Your state allows you to take the federal homestead exemption and it is higher than the state version, if a choice is allowed in your state. you can currently exempt $22,975 (or $45,950 if you are married and jointly filing bankruptcy) under the federal homestead exemption.  Husband and wife, using the federal exemption,  are then left with $54,050 in nonexempt debt and have a 60 month plan.  They then must add  $900.83 to the plan payment computed above.

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 ;egal 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!  

 

 

 

 

[1] This article assumes that you are using a Bankruptcy Plan Model (Model) that calculates the minimum plan payment for you. Some Models will also compute the Means Test for you.  For an easy to use estimator go to http://www.alllaw.com/articles/nolo/bankruptcy/chapter-13-plan-payment-calculator.html.  However, remember that this will just yield the Minimum payment.  To this you must add Your Excess Disposable Income and Nonexempt Property Value Parts 2 and 3 below, if applicable.

 

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Student Loan Dischargability in Bankruptcy

 

Clients frequently inquire as to whether their private and government backed student loans can be discharged in bankruptcy. Sadly for them, it is almost impossible to discharge federal student loans in bankruptcy given certain changes in the way they are structured today.  

The so called Brunner Test (named after the seminal case on the topic), which contains the standards used in bankruptcy courts to determine whether a student loan can be discharged, specifies that in order for discharge to occur, all of the following must be true:

  1. based on current income and expenses, the debtor cannot maintain a “minimal” standard of living for herself or her dependents if forced to repay the loans;
  2. additional circumstances exist indicating that this state of affairs is likely to persist for a significant portion of the repayment period for the student loans; and,
  3. the debtor has heretofore made a good faith effort to repay the loans.

Yes, you can try to prove undue hardship, under these tests, but it is now, for all practical purposes, almost impossible to do and this is why. First, under the various special repayment schemes: income based repayment, pay as you go, income sensitive repayment; you can have a zero dollar ($0) monthly payment assuming your income is low enough.  At the end of the term of these programs (20 to 25 years), any remaining student loan balance will be forgiven. So how can anyone successfully argue that a zero (or very low) monthly payment with the prospect of loan forgiveness creates an undue hardship? Secondly, now that the Dept. of Education has a workable administrative process for a disability discharge, if you are declared 100% disabled by the social security admin, you can discharge your federal student loan.  Thus, people who once would have been able to show Brunner hardships because of disability no longer need to do so.  those people don’t need bankruptcy for their student loans.

So, if you have both significant private student loans and federal loans and are a good candidate for a bankruptcy hardship discharge, you include both classes of debts in the case.   (Note:  The bankruptcy must be filed (either a 7 or 13) then an adversary proceeding (2nd lawsuit) against the student loan lenders must be filed.) Assuming you can win on undue hardship, the court is likely to only discharge the private student loans because these do not have the programs discussed above attached to them.

If you are not already on one, you need to get on a specialized repayment program.  I suggest that you visit the following site to find out more information.

            https://studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans/understand/plans/income-driven

Also, it is recommended that you discuss this issue with a seasoned bankruptcy lawyer.  I am Christopher C. Carr, Esq., a Chester County Bankruptcy Lawyer who can assist you with these and all other matters relating to bankruptcy and debt relief.. Call me at 610-380-7969 today!

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.

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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.

Credit being Properly Reported AFTER Bankruptcy? How to Find Out.

By Christopher C. Carr, Esq., Chester County Bankruptcy Lawyer,  After your Chapter 7 or 13 Bankruptcy Case is discharged, you will receive an Order of Discharge from the Courts in the mail. However, That does not mean that your credit is being properly reported to/by the credit bureaus.  Fixing any errors is up to you.  Here are the steps:

  1. 60-90 days after you receive the discharge, you should call the number provided on the www.annualcreditreport.com site and order your credit reports.  (Consumers are entitled to a free credit report every year or sooner when a negative decision is made by a creditor relying on a credit report.) You will see an option to download the report or to view it on the internet.  You should request your report be mailed to you by each of the three credit reporting agencies EquifaxExperian, and Transunion.   If you are married and filed a joint bankruptcy, both of the spouses must request their own reports.  There are many websites that will claim to be “free” but will typically start assessing a monthly fee after a trial period…don’t fall for it: www.annualcredi treport.com is the only such site authorized by federal law to provide truly free reports.
  2. You will also want to get additional reports from Telecheck, Early Warning Services, and Chexsystem if you have ever had a problem with a checking account or overdrafts.  These are the agencies that banks and credit unions rely on when the bank or credit union is making a decision about whether you can open an account with them.
  3. So, you are now up to six different reports and if married multiply this by 2.  However the review you will need to do is actually rather straightforward.  Look for a line under each of the creditors that indicates whether a balance is due.  That balance should read ZERO (unless it is a debt that is not dischargeable by law, like court ordered support, taxes, criminal fines or penalties).  There may or may not be a line saying “Chapter 7 Bankruptcy” or “Chapter 13 Bankruptcy”.  These statements refer to the reason why it is no longer a debt.
  4. If any of your creditors is still listing a balance, then the next step is to dispute the report of that creditor.  The Federal Trade Commission offers a sample dispute letter to consumers.  The sample is here.   You may alternatively use the form supplied with the report (usually found near the end of the report.)  Also send a copy of the letter to the creditor who is reporting inaccurate information.   And please, make and retain in your files two extra copies (one for your file and one for your attorney). Note that if more than one entity is reporting the debt improperly, they each must be notified separately.
  5. When a consumer disputes a credit report, the agency by law must investigate.  The creditor can either verify the accuracy, update or remove the information.   The credit reporting agency has deadlines for their response to the consumer. Generally the wrongly reported debt will now be off your report.
  6. However, if a creditor verifies the report (that is, wrongfully indicates the money is still due and owing), you should seek legal advice promptly. This is likely a violation of the discharge order of the bankruptcy court. There may also be a Fair Credit Reporting Act violation.  Your lawyer may suggest a lawsuit against the original creditor, the debt collector (if applicable) and/or the credit reporting agency.  Only a lawyer experienced in these kinds of cases can properly evaluate the situation and provide advice about your options.
  7. Just to make sure your credit is being reported correctly you may want to order your reports again in a year or whenever you are again eligible for a free report from www.annualcredi treport.com. Repeat the process above as needed.

Summary:

  1. Order your credit reports 60-80 days after your Order of Discharge
  2. Order additional reports for problem with checking account or overdrafts
  3. Carefully review  your credit reports
  4. Dispute any balances that are no longer owed with both the original creditor and the credit reporting agency.
  5. Review  responses promptly
  6. If the response says you still owe the debt, seek legal advice from an experienced attorney.
  7. Repeat in a year

This is but one of several steps I recommend you take after your bankruptcy is concluded.  For other actions you should take,  see my blog here 

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 ;egal 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!  

 

341 Meeting Readiness

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By Attorney Christopher Carr, a Chester County bankruptcy attorney.

Tel: 610-380-7969 Email: cccarresq@aol.com WHAT IS THE 341 MEETING OF CREDITORS? Regardless of whether you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you will be required to attend a “Meeting of Creditors” or a 341 hearing as attorneys call it. THIS IS A MISNOMER….IT IS NOT REALLY A HEARING! It has that name because it is held under oath (see below.) It is scheduled about 30‐45 days after your case is filed. Though it is called a “Meeting of Creditors,” creditors rarely attend. But the Trustee is there and HE represents the creditors! You, your attorney, and the trustee attend this meeting. It can seem quite intimidating if you do not know what to expect, but the 341 hearing is actually a fairly informal meeting designed to help the Trustee better understand what’s happening in your bankruptcy. A NOTE ON TIMING OF TRUSTEE PAYMENTS FOR CHAPTER 13 CLIENTS: Remember that your first payment to the Trustee is due THIRTY (30) DAYS AFTER YOUR PETITION IS FILED, irrespective of when the 341 is held.  WHAT TO EXPECT:  There will be a pile of Bankruptcy Information Sheets at the front of the room. Take one and read it.  You will be asked if you did (see below.) You will sit at a desk or table with your bankruptcy lawyer and the Trustee. Other people will be in the room with you, generally other bankruptcy filers and their lawyers. You will be asked first off to state your name and address and verify your identity by providing your social security card and drivers license. IF YOU DO NOT HAVE YOUR ORIGINAL SOCIAL SECURITY CARD AND SECOND FORM OF ID, THE MEETING WILL NOT BE HELD AND EVERYONE’S TIME WILL HAVE BEEN WASTED SO DON”T LEAVE IT AT HOME OR EXPECT A COPY TO DO. BRING THAT TATTERED ORIGINAL AND IF YOU DON”T HAVE ONE ORDER IT FROM THE SS OFFICE. The meeting will be recorded. The Trustee will start a tape recorder going. You will be sworn in; i.e. raise right hand solemnly swear and affirm to tell the truth. Dress is business casual for you. Be well groomed. I will be in my “lawyer suit” as will the Trustee, but you are not expected to wear one.  Be on time.  It may appear that I am running late but that is because I have a better idea of when the 341 will start than you do! Try to relax! WHAT CAN THE TRUSTEE ASK AT THE 341 MEETING? The trustee will ask you some basic questions about your bankruptcy.  Here are some of the common questions that trustees ask during the meeting. They are in no particular order. These are not all of the questions that the Trustee could ask, and he/she will not ask every question on this list. In other words, this is a very generic list. The items that are almost always asked are highlighted.

  • Did you sign the petition and the schedules your attorney is showing you?
  • Have you read the bankruptcy information sheet?
  • Did you review the bankruptcy petition and each of the schedules and the statement of financial affairs (SOFA). Is the information correct? The answer is always an assured “YES” because you will have typically signed the documents in my office and we will have gone over all of them in detail at that time.
  • Are there any corrections that need to be made to the Schedules?  There should be none.  See my piece on the importance of full disclosure within the Bankruptcy  Petition.
  • Did you list all income, assets, and debts on the Schedules? The answer is always an assured “YES” because you will have typically signed the documents in my office and we will have gone over all of them in detail at that time.
  • Have you filed all your taxes? Are the tax returns you supplied to the trustee true, correct and complete, including all schedules and W2s? (Typically we will have filed these beforehand.)
  • Are you entitled to any tax refunds?  This one is VERY popular around tax time. You and your Attorney should have discussed this one and its ramifications before the 341.
  • Have you previously filed bankruptcy? If so when?
  • Why are you filing bankruptcy?  You can be a bit creative here but see below.
  • Do you expect to receive an inheritance or property?
  • Are you a party to any law suits?
  • Do you have any domestic support obligations?
  • Have you have sold, transferred, or given away any property in the prior four years?
  • How long have you lived in Pennsylvania?
  • What do you plan to do with your house, cars, or other personal property?
  • Are you employed? What do you do?
  • How much do you earn?
  • Is your employment the same as when you filed?
  • Do you own your own home?
  • Do you own any motor vehicles? What are these?
  • Please provide appraisals for your cars and home. (Typically we will have filed these beforehand.)
  • Please provide insurance declaration pages for your home if owned and cars. (Typically we will have filed these beforehand.)
  • Do you have any retirement funds (IRA, Roth IRA, 401K etc.)?
  • Does anyone owe you money?
  • Is anyone holding money for you?

GENERAL TIPS AND CAVEATS: It is normal to be a bit nervous going into the 341 but just answer the questions put to you fully and honestly and be courteous to one and all! Do not over answer, the Trustee does not need to hear your life story. All of you financial information should be properly presented in the bankruptcy petition and there is no sense in trying to hide something from the Trustee. If you are uncooperative it may motivate the Trustee to investigate or scrutinize your petition further which will only mean more time and effort for you and your attorney. Always remember that the Trustee may act friendly but he is NOT your friend.  He represents the unsecured creditors and his job is to maximize their return from the bankruptcy (not your own). He gets paid a commission on assets he recovers from Debtors for them. I am on a first name basis with the Trustee but that does not mean we are friends! The time to report undisclosed assets, that big tax refund, debts to family or friends, that new job or the 1000 shares of Google.com or that partnership you forgot about is NOT at the 341. If you wear a big diamond ring to the 341 and didn’t disclose it, expect trouble! Other than that type of thing you have nothing to worry about! Should you have concerns about such matters you should be asking me about them NOW! See my piece on the importance of full disclosure within the Bankruptcy Petition.

 

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 ;egal 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!  

Not Legal Advice. Copyright © 2010, 2014 by Christopher C. Carr, Esq., All rights reserved. You may reproduce materials available at this site for your own personal use and for non-commercial distribution. All copies must include this copyright statement.

Web:westchesterbankruptcyattorney.orgBlog: christophercarrlaw.wordpress.com Member: National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, Phi Beta Kappa & Beta Gamma Sigma.*************************************** “WE SAVE HOMES”

This is a Federally Designated Debt Relief Agency which is proud to assist individuals in need in filing for bankruptcy protection.


[1] Up to ½ hour.

Prepared 2‐25‐2014.

The “A” in Bankruptcy Alphabet is for “Alimony”

By Christopher C. Carr, Esq., Chester County Bankruptcy Lawyer

One of the most disturbing changes in the Bankruptcy Code* enacted by Congress in 2005 for persons getting divorces and contracting marital debts is Section 523 (a)  which states in effect that an alimony, support or maintenance  obligation to an ex-spouse cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, but must be paid in full, with two limited exceptions:

  1. If a divorce decree specifies that an obligation to a spouse is alimony, but the obligation is not actually in the nature of alimony, then the obligation can be discharged in bankruptcy.

For example, Joe Dentist and Mary Dentist enter into a divorce decree which states that Joe Dentist is to pay a marital debt to The Joe Dentist and Mary Dentist Professional Corporation, where both practice dentistry, and further specifies that the husband’s payment of the debt shall be treated as alimony.  Joe Dentist may nonetheless be able to have this debt discharged in bankruptcy even though the divorce decree indicates that the payment of the debt is “alimony”, because such payments can be characterized as a capital contribution to the Professional Corporation and not as alimony.

2. Also, an ex-spouse may be able to discharge an alimony obligation if it has been assigned to a third party.

For example, suppose John and Mary Jones divorce. John Jones is ordered to pay Mary Jones alimony of $1,500.00 per month. John does not pay the alimony and Mary, who needs the money, assigns the right to collect alimony to her brother, Crusher Jones, who owns a profitable Junk Yard and feels the urge to pummel John. Crusher now gives Mary the $1,500.00 each and every month. Crusher now owns the right to collect the alimony from John. But John can escape the debt (if not the pummeling).  The alimony obligation can be discharged under Section 523 since it has been voluntarily assigned by Mary.

*The United States Bankruptcy Code (Title 11 of the United States Code) states in Section 523 that:

(a) A discharge under Section 727, 1141, 1228(a), 1228(b), or 1328(b) of this title does not discharge an individual debtor from any debt . . . (5) to a spouse, former spouse, or child of the debtor, for alimony to, maintenance for, or support of such spouse or child, in connection with a separation agreement, divorce decree or other order of a court of record, determination made in accordance with State or territorial law by a governmental unit, or property settlement agreement, but not to the extent that (A) such debt is assigned to another entity, voluntarily, by operation of law, or otherwise (other than debts assigned pursuant to § 402(a)(26) of the Social Security Act, or any such debt which has been assigned to the Federal Government or to a State or any political subdivision of such State); or

(B) such debt includes a liability designation as alimony, maintenance, or support, unless such liability is actually in the nature of alimony, maintenance or support . . . .

(enphasis added).

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 ;egal 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!  

I also provide Mortgage Mod Services .

©Christopher C. Carr, Attorney at Law, 2011, All Rights Reserved

For other articles on the letter A in the bankruptcy alphabet series, click here.

Other attorneys playing their “Bankruptcy A Game” include:

A is for Contract Assumption

A is for Adversary Proceeding

A is for Assets

A is for Assets

A is for Assumption

A is for Assumptions

A is for Attorney

A is for Automatic Stay

A is for Automatic Stay

A is for Automobiles

A is for Avoidance of Preferential Transfers  

A is for Avoidance

Law Offices of Christopher C. Carr, MBA,  P.C., is a quality Chester County Bankruptcy Practice, located in  Valley Township, west of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, where Attorney Carr, who has over 30 years if diversified experience as an attorney, 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, 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!

I also provide Debt Settlement; IRS Tax Settlement & Mortgage Mod Services NATIONALLY.

Photo Credit: Too Far North