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!  

 

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Now that you Have Your Bankruptcy Discharge: 10 (actually 11) Things to Do to Make the most of it!

 

By Christopher C. Carr, Esq. Chester County bankruptcy attorney.

So You Finally Got that Bankruptcy Discharge
Congratulations!
You’re on your way to a fresh start.
Now you’ve got more to do? See why below:
1. Check debts that didn’t get discharged: Child or spousal support, student loans, or taxes for years for which you did not file a return (unless the IRS exceptions are met) are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. The discharge order will not tell you which debts survive and which do not, nor will the Court provide this information so you may continue to require the services of a knowledgeable bankruptcy lawyer to help you to assess this.
2. Verify lien balances: The discharge eliminates your personal liability for dischargeable debts; liens survive. If you plan to keep a house or car encumbered with liens, find out what you owe and resume payments. Otherwise, the creditor can enforce its lien by foreclosure or repossession.
3. Reset Banking Priveleges: Online banking and automatic bill pay may have been disabled while you were in bankruptcy but can be restarted at your request now..
4. Do Some Record Keeping: Save your bankruptcy papers and keep a copy of your discharge paper handy: You’re likely to encounter efforts by buyers of to collect debts that have been discharged in your case, or so called “zombie debt”. You need to be able to show that the debt was discharged in your case. Creditors with notice of the bankruptcy, and likewise those who buy up their worthless accounts and try to collect on them, were discharged (unless they fall within Rule #1 above). The services of a knowledgeable bankruptcy lawyer may be necessary to stop these collectors, or even under some circumstances to sue them for unfair practices and potentially turn the tables by collecting from them, including your legal fees.
6. Join a credit union: Credit unions are owned by their members. They are in the business of extending credit to members (hence the name, “Credit Union’: “Credit” stands for what they do and “Union” for the members they lend to) and the profits from such loans flow to members. Rates are almost always lower and terms better than the commercial banks, savings and loans and private lenders. Start out with a savings or checking account. Sooner or later you will probably need a car loan or even a home loan. Joining now will give you the longevity that adds credibility to a credit union.
7. Maintain insurance coverage: Even though you may have elected to surrender property through the bankruptcy that still stands in your name, make sure that you are insured for liability. Liability insurance covers you for claims of anyone injured on your property. Electing to surrender property doesn’t take you off title until someone else goes on title. Post bankruptcy claims arising from property you’re trying to offload can potentially ruin the fresh start.
8. Get a credit report: Several months after your discharge, check your credit report to make sure all discharged debts reflect a zero balance. The bankruptcy history can properly remain on your credit for up to 10 years, but you are entitled to a showing that you now owe nothing on all discharged accounts (but see Factor #1 above) This is crucial because your debt to income ratio (“DTI”),one of the primary if not THE primary factor lenders look to in extending credit. Getting erroneous entries corrected may be facilitated using the services of a knowledgeable bankruptcy lawyer. You are entitled to a truly free credit report annually from each of the 3 major credit bureaus which you can get by clicking here and credit experts recommend that you check it at least once a year.
9. Budget and Learn to Spend Within Your Means: Studies have shown that people who go bankrupt only do so ONCE in their lives. WHY? Well debt relief is only one side of the coin. On the flip side are the lessons people take from bankruptcy. So, like these now money wise people, take advantage of the fresh start that bankruptcy has provided, and make lifestyle changes so that it does not happen again. Follow Rule # 10 below and stop using trade credit (AKA: Credit Cards). Get a debit card instead and be you own bank, there is no interest that way!
10. Use credit Wisely. Once Lenders see that you have received a discharge, they may well start sending you “preauthorized” credit card applications. However, if you start to load up on credit again, you will soon be right back where you started. So the rule of thumb is to have just one credit card that you keep in a drawer somewhere for emergencies; If you do use it, make it “free credit”, that is: plan to pay it all back in the same month as incurred so that you are not left carrying a balance ant interest. That way you are living within your means. See Rule # 9 above. The only other credit to use generally speaking is for major purchases such as car or home loans.
11. Build up a reserve for emergencies and start saving again. Set up automatic savings Bankruptcy probably brought home to you how little net worth you have and how thin the safety net is. Arrange for automatic savings for both an emergency fund and for retirement.
Since you no longer have trade credit, it will be easier to devote some of your income to savings…follow the rule “Pay yourself first”. Experts recommend a reserve of 6 months salary and at least a 10% savings rate. Contributions toward your IRA or 401K at work count as you can withdraw these funds (with penalty if applicable) in an emergency.
If you follow these rules, you are more likely to take full advantage of your fresh start and not ever be back to see your friendly local bankruptcy lawyer!

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!  

How Do Creditors Manage to Find Debtors with Such Seeming Ease?

By Christopher C. Carr, Esq. Chester County bankruptcy attorney.

One of the prime indicators that someone may need to file bankruptcy is when they start to get bombarded by calls and letters from creditors.

Well, just how do creditors manage to locate debtors? Especially in our mobile society where that have moved to a different city or even state, with no forwarding address.

  1. Social Media: Think creditors (and others) are not monitoring the information you post publicly?  Think again, virtually any information you might post, such as where you work, live, shop, etc., can unwittingly provide vital clues as to your whereabouts.
  2. Credit Card Applications: This is one of the most fruitful resources for your creditors. Not only is your residential address and contact information listed, so are references, contacts and acquaintances that creditors can use to track you down if you have relocated. Banks, credit references or relatives may also be detailed on the application and these also can provide promising leads.
  3. Relatives, Friends, Acquaintances, Neighbors, Etc.  These types of contacts are still acceptable if done properly. Collection agents may contact any number of people to get information on you, though there are some restrictions as to how/when they can do this under the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and correlative state laws regarding debt collection, such as Pennsylvania’s Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act.
  4. Self supplied information such as Phone Numbers. If a collection agency has or obtains your phone numbers, they may be able to then get your address using a reverse lookup. This is one reason why creditors will so frequently ask if they can add a phone number to your information on file.
  5. Voter Registration Forms: Any time you register to vote in a new area, that information can potentially be accessed by your creditors. Even if you move, your old county retains these records.
  6. Department of Motor Vehicles: These records are available to registered collection agencies in many states across the country. So when you get your license and register your car  in that new state, you may be automatically giving them the information they need to find you.
  7. USPS Change-of-Address forms: Many major credit agencies receive change of address forms when you move from your previous location. They may also take the initiative to check with the post office themselves.  Obviously, this is one of the best ways for creditors to track you down because you thereby tell them exactly where you are going.
  8. Skip Tracers:  Creditors also employ skip tracers.   These are professionals whose job it is to locate a person’s whereabouts for any number of purposes. The term “skip” refers to the person being searched for, and is derived from the idiomatic expression “to skip town”, meaning to depart (perhaps in a rush), leaving minimal clues behind to “trace” the “skip” to a new location. Records that “skiptracers” use may include phone number databases, credit reports (including information provided on a loan application, credit card application, and in other debt collector databases), job application information, criminal background checks, utility bills (electricity, gas, water, sewage, phone, Internet, and cable), social security, disability, and public tax information.  Much of this information is not available or not easily obtainable by the general public or comes from data bases that are not widely known.  Source: Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skiptrace

Once credit agencies do locate a debtor, their contacts are supposed to be in conformity with the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and correlative state laws regarding debt collection, such as Pennsylvania’s Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act (PFCEUA), both of which prohibit debtor harassment.  (The PFCEUA extends the requirements of the FDCPA to direct creditors.) However, many collectors are now evading the law by setting up shop in foregn countries and then calling in to the US.

©Christopher C. Carr, Attorney at Law 2012, All Rights Reserved

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 Modification Services.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CHAPTER 13 BANKRUPTCY

WHAT IS A CHAPTER 13 BANKRUPTCY?

By Christopher C. Carr, Esq. Chester County bankruptcy attorney.

Tel: 610-380-7969 Email: cccarresq@aol.com Web: westchesterbankruptcyattorney.org

13 by cappelmeister The avowed goal of bankruptcy is to give debtors a “fresh start.” What is a Chapter 13 bankruptcy and how does it go about accomplishing this? The “automatic stay” in bankruptcy applies immediately once a Chapter 13 case is filed and generally halts all collection activities, foreclosures, repossessions, sheriffs’ sales, and etc. while in effect. Let’s first look at the different types of bankruptcy proceedings.

The United States Bankruptcy Code offers two primary paths for consumers:

  • A Chapter 7 Bankruptcy: In a so called “straight” bankruptcy, the Trustee in bankruptcy seeks to liquidate the debtor’s non exempt property and distribute the proceeds to the creditors in order of priority, in exchange for discharge of all eligible debt. (Exemptions for various property classifications are set out in federal and state law.) However, certain debts such as guaranteed student loans and domestic support obligations are non-dischargeable in bankruptcy. Most 7’s are “no asset” bankruptcies.

Certain higher income debtors who do not meet the new Means Test must instead file a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy.

  • A Chapter 13 “debtor in possession” Bankruptcy: Here, unlike in Chapter 7 proceedings, the debtor retains possession of the assets (hence its nickname). In order to be confirmed by the court, the debtor must prove sufficient income to support a 3-5 year plan wherein payments on secured debt such as mortgages and auto loans (including arrears) and non-dischargeable items continue and unsecured creditors typically get paid a small portion of their debts. For debtors facing mortgage foreclosure, Chapter 13 may be the only choice to halt the process while seeking other remedies within or outside of bankruptcy. However, recent statistics indicate that only about 35% of all 13 plans are ever completed.

There are overall limits as to how much unsecured and/or secured debt a debtor may have and still utilize Chapter 7 or 13.

  • Chapter 11, a third type of Bankruptcy, is primarily used to help in debt businesses restructure. An example is the bankruptcy from which GM has successfully emerged with the help of a massive US bailout. It is much more complex, time consuming and expensive than Chapter 7 or 13, but is the sole resort for individual debtors with debt which exceeds the limits mentioned above.

Other than consumer perceptions that bankruptcy is somehow unethical or “wrong”, the primary issue with filing bankruptcy is that it remains on the debtor’s credit for up to 7 (Chapter 17) or 10 years (Chapter 13) from filing and may interfere with efforts to obtain credit, purchase or refinance a home or even obtain employment. However, it should be noted that most who seek this relief already have impaired credit and, more importantly, in reality new credit is generally extended to debtors who keep their payments current for a year or two following discharge. So, in effect bankruptcy can work to “repair” credit.

In summary, the automatic stay provides an effective if temporary refuge from foreclosure and other debt collection activities and many debtors ultimately do obtain the permanent solution to their debt problems, the “fresh start” which is the ultimate objective of the US bankruptcy laws.

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

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 Modification Services.

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V is for “Victory”: FINDING & RESTORING CREDIT AFTER A BANKRUPTCY FILING

 V is for “VICTORY”:   FINDING & RESTORING CREDIT AFTER A BANKRUPTCY FILING

By Christopher C. Carr, Esq. Chester County bankruptcy attorney.

Tel: 610-380-7969 Email: cccarresq@aol.com Web: westchesterbankruptcyattorney.org

Why do so many of us come this way?  Well, virtually all of us who seek a bankruptcy do so in order to get a “fresh start”.  That is precisely what the law says it is there for.  Elsewhere, I argue that without such a safety net there to catch us if we fail, WE COULD NOT AND WOULD NOT HAVE A ROBUST FREE MARKET ECONOMY.  So many of us are maxxed out on our credit cards and have no more purchasing power.  We seek fresh sources of credit for autos, schooling, even our everyday purchases.  So for better or for worse, it becomes critical for us to find our way back to the credit wellspring as soon as possible after, nay even during, our bankruptcy.

A Chapter 7 “liquidation type” bankruptcy filing remains on your credit report for 10 years from the date of filing.   A Chapter 13 “debtor in possession” bankruptcy filing will remain on your credit report for 7 years from the date of filing. It will be automatically removed after the expiration of the applicable period.
Does this mean that your credit will be impaired for 7 to 10 years? Does it mean you will not be able to purchase critical items on credit?    Absolutely not.

Note that the period starts from the date of filing not discharge so, for example, if you are in a Chapter 13 and complete a 3 year plan 3.5 years later, you will only have three and a half to go. And during this time and even before, you will, with persistence, be able to get credit for the things you really need (see below.) But, you can begin to rebuild your credit rating immediately upon the date of your discharge order. (In a Chapter 7 this will be granted 3-4 months after your petition is filed, typically.)   Actually, it will often prove easier to rebuild your credit after a bankruptcy filing because you will no longer have debts that are in excess of your credit limits.

Don’t even think about hiring a “Credit repair” agency. The money you pay to them could actually be used directly to repair your credit.  As any bankruptcy practitioner will tell you, it’s really no secret, the crucial thing you need to do to rebuild your credit quickly and at no added cost is to pay all of your future bills on time. After a bankruptcy filing, your payment history will be crucial.  If you are in a Chapter 13 your plan payments will be reported. It is common to see former clients who have rebuilt their ratings within 2 to 3 years after a bankruptcy. Their secret? They paid their mortgage and car loans ON TIME and didn’t miss a payment. Some ideas: Send the checks EARLY in case the mail is delayed. Set up an emergency fund, perhaps in a short term CD, to give yourself the “float” needed to make the payments in case you are short one month and then replenish it in flush months or with your tax refund. Have the mental discipline not to use it for anything else!

As an example, a recent Chapter 7 client finished his case; obtained his discharge order and exactly 30 months later (2 years and 6 months), purchased a new home and obtained a competitive mortgage rate for a 30 year fixed.

You will be able to get a new credit card after your bankruptcy case has been completed.   It is true that you are likely to be rejected once or twice, but you should be able to obtain approval for a small credit card as long as you are persistent. Your best bet may be to talk to that friendly bank manager you have known for years. And you may need to ask more than once.

There are also ways to surrender that car you are driving now and its high rate loan and purchase a new car even while in bankruptcy, believe it or not.  You will pay a somewhat higher interest rate but rates are at historically low levels now anyway.

You will also be able to apply for student loans, for yourself or for a child.  Specifically, the Bankruptcy Code (11 U.S.C. Section 525) prevents the government from discriminating against individuals on the grounds that they have filed for bankruptcy relief.  I have yet to hear of anyone being denied a student loan on bankruptcy grounds.

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 Modification Services.

©Christopher C. Carr, Attorney at Law 2009, 2012, All Rights Reserved

“V” Photo by Janet McKnight

J is for “Judgment” Lien and its Impact upon Homeowners.

By Christopher C. Carr, Esq. Chester County bankruptcy attorney. Tel: 610-380-7969 Email: cccarresq@aol.com Web: christopherccarrlaw.com

1.      What Is a Judgment vs. a Lien and how do they arise in Real Estate?

When you owe money and are unable to pay, the creditor, unless it is the IRS, must take you to court before levying upon your back accounts or garnishing your wages. Typically the creditor will sue you in municipal court or in common pleas court in Pennsylvania if the amount of the claim is larger than $12,000 (up to 15,000 for Philadelphia County real estate matters). When a lawsuit is initiated against you, you will be served with a Complaint. If you do not respond (by answer or other responsive pleading) within a set period of time or appear at the hearing set for your case, a default judgment will be issued against you. This judgment will be recorded by the court.

In Pennsylvania, a judgment is an automatic lien on real property owned by the defendant in the county in which the judgment is located. The lien of a judgment lasts for 5 years, 42 Pa. C.S.A. Sec. 5526, and execution must be issued against personal property within 20 years after entry of the judgment, 42 Pa. C.S.A. Sec. 5529. In addition, via a mechanism called a writ of execution liens can be transferred to other counties in Pennsylvania where the debtor owns property. A lien on real property means that the debtor cannot sell the property until all liens are paid. However, a judgment lien can only be arise in real property. If the debtor does not own real property within the applicable jurisdictional limits, the judgment lien cannot attach to anything and all the creditor has is a recorded judgment. What is the use of this?  Well, the creditor can then use this judgment to pursue garnishment where available or levy upon your Pennsylvania bank accounts. However, wage garnishment is prohibited in Pennsylvania except for certain obligations such as support.  It is critical for homeowners to respond to all lawsuits by bringing them immediately to the attention of their attorney as in this way an ordinary unsecured debt such as a unpaid credit card debt can become a lien against your home. (See final comment below.)

The filing of a bankruptcy will stay a foreclosure and the underlying debt can be discharged in a bankruptcy except for certain obligations such as domestic support obligations (DSO’s) which are non-dischargeable under Section 11 USC. 523(a) (5) of the Bankruptcy Code. (But see my blog on the effects of a Chapter 13 bankruptcy on DSO’s for further valuable information for homeowners facing support issues.) Even if these steps are taken the lien of the prior judgment will typically continue (in some some cases they can however be completely or partially removed as discussed below) and may cause difficulties for homeowners. To avoid the continuing negative financial consequences they can create, the judgment will need to be removed where possible.

2.      REASONS TO HAVE A LIEN/JUDGMENT REMOVED:

When a creditor who has obtained a judgment but the debtor subsequently files a bankruptcy, the debt underlying the judgment is discharged through the bankruptcy. However, the lien of the judgment itself will remain and will be effective against any real property in the county and will interfere with the sale of the property. A lien on real property means that the debtor cannot sell the property until all liens are paid. Understandably, a title company will refuse to clear the title for a home when the property has a judgment lien against it until the title insurer receives proof that the lien has been satisfied or discharged and this can defeat or delay a sale of the property. A lien can of course be satisfied through payment but a typical homeowner files bankruptcy precisely because they can no longer pay their mortgage.

Even if you do not own real estate, while no creditor can collect upon the judgment, it will still continue to exist on the county record. The judgment will be reported to credit bureaus as active, thus continuing to impair your credit for up to 7 years, which is the length of time a judgment can remain on your credit.

3.      WHICH JUDGEMENTS AND LIENS IN REAL ESTATE MAY/MAY NOT BE DISCHARGED BY BANKRUPTCY AND HOW IS THIS DONE?

Certain types of debt cannot be discharged through a bankruptcy. For example, back child support cannot be discharged through a bankruptcy.

The lien of a judgment which was entered before the bankruptcy was filed will appertain against real property of the debtor for at least 5 years after entry of the judgment in the county. (See above).  However, to the extent the lien impairs an exemption the lien will be subject to removal once the debt has been discharged.

The homestead exemption in bankruptcy applies to property used as your residence. As of early 2012, the federal homestead exemption is $21,625 (if both spouses file, this is doubled). State homestead exemptions vary a great deal. In some states, like Florida, there’s no limit, while in other states, like New York, the limit is $50,000 to $150,000, depending on where in the Empire State you reside.  In Pennsylvania, for example, the federal exemption may be elected. So, if you have a house with $50,000 worth of equity you are entitled to a federal exemption with your spouse of $43,250.00. If you only owe $50,000 on the property, you can petition the court and have the judicial lien removed up to the exemption amount.  The lien for the remaining $6,750 will remain on the books. Unfortunately however, few homeowners in this day and age of declining home values have sufficient equity in their homes to claim equity impairment sufficient to remove liens following bankruptcy. (See final comment below.)

This process only works when you have claimed a valid exemption relating to your principal residence in the bankruptcy proceeding and the underlying debt has been discharged. If these conditions are met, the bankruptcy court will, upon motion made by your attorney, remove the lien to the extent it impairs your homestead exemption.

A debt must have however been included in the bankruptcy for it to have been discharged.  If the creditor was not listed and the debt existed before the case was filed, the case may need to be reopened and the creditor added. (This topic will be treated in greater detail in my blog under construction with the working title: “U is for the Unlisted Creditor in the Bankruptcy Alphabet”.)

If you are involved in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which is the usual case for homeowners, you cannot receive a discharge until your plan has been completed which can take up to 60 months. A judgment cannot be removed if a discharge has not been issued. You will have to wait until your plan is completed before you will be able to remove any judgments issued against you and begin to clear your credit.

Once the discharge has been obtained, clearing a listed judgment (but not the judicial lien if you have non-exempt real estate in the county: see above) may be as simple as having your lawyer send a notice of discharge in bankruptcy to the clerk of the court of the county in which the judgment was recorded with a copy to the creditor.

Clearing debt off your credit report however can require the additional help of a credit specialist.  Certain lawyers can assist you with credit repair.

4.      CONCLUSION: DO NOT HIDE YOUR HEAD IN THE SAND:

Obviously these rules are very complicated and, while I have illustrated with examples drawn mainly from Pennsylvania where I practice, vary from state to state and even within state boundaries.  There is however one sure fire way to keep a lien from arising on your real property in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.  Never allow a judgment to be entered against you before you have the oportunity to file bankruptcy. Instead, seek the advice of a competent bankruptcy lawyer as soon as you see the first sign of a law suit looming on your horizon and start planning for a bankruptcy filing to preempt the filing of a judgment.

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 Modification Services.

©Christopher C. Carr, Attorney at Law, 2012, All Rights Reserved. See Disclaimers.

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