“R” in Bankruptcy is for Rental vs. Chapter 13 Home Retention: A Tax Benefit Analysis

  r^36 by mag3737 is for Rental vs. Home Retention

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

Deciding whether to keep your home or not  is not always a simple “Rent/bankruptcy vs. “Keep/no bankruptcy” decision: if you have regular income  and otherwise are eligible to file a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy you should also consider keeping the property in a 13. In a  13 you still have to pay principal and interest and escrows, if any but the 13 Plan, once confirmed by the Court, will allow you to hang on to this most precious of assets and pay the arrears in the plan over a 3-5 year period instead of selling at a loss and in many cases owing the deficiency to the lender.

The decision is not an easy one and there are almost always emotional ties to a home as well.  But one thing is for certain: you have to pay taxes and anything that saves you a dollar in taxes is like a dollar in your pocket right?

Some lawyers and others will, in “knee jerk” fashion, tell you that since your house is under water you should short sell and “find another place to rent”.  However, any analysis which does not “add back” into the equation the net present value of the tax advantages of home ownership at your marginal tax rate is telling you only half the story.  Renting has little or no tax advantage, mortgage payments do. (Same for state and local taxes that you pay or are escrowed by your lender)  Let’s say your mortgage is $950 a month you are in the 25% bracket for example and your property taxes are $3,600 a year or $300 a month, then the ownership “savings”  is computed as follows:  ($950 + $300) x .25 or $312.50. Another way to say it is that the government is subsidizing 25% of your ownership cost under these assumptions (not quite because as I explain below, we also have to consider insurance in the computation).

The pragmatic way to analyze this as they taught us in MBA School, is to compute  your net after tax cost of home ownership and ask yourself the question: CAN YOU REALLY FIND EQUIVALENT RENTAL HOUSING FOR A PRICE AS GOOD  or BETTER THAN YOU ARE PAYING NOW?  Let’s look again at the example I have been exploring above.  To get the full cost of ownership you have to add in home insurance (which is not tax deductible). Let’s say that is another $75 a month. So your fully loaded cost (assuming you live in a place with no association fees) is (950 + 300 + 75)-312.50 = $1012.50.  Note when you figure in the tax savings in it brings the overall cost of home ownership down to only a few dollars more than the amount of your  mortgage payment.  So ask yourself, using your actual costs and tax bracket instead, can I find adequate rental housing for that net figure (in my example $1012.50 a month)?  If not, you might want to consider a Chapter 13 to allow you to keep your current residence.

Of course, the above analysis while a good starting point, it is just one of the factors to be considered. A couple of examples: if you can strip out your second mortgage in a Chapter 13 because your home is completely under water as to the second (meaning that there is not enough equity coverage for the second and any homestead or other exemptions that are applicable in your jurisdiction), that will further reduce your ownership costs by the amount of the monthly payment you make on the second now. And if you can get rid of your credit card debt to boot, you are that much more ahead (assuming you are still paying on them).  In a 13 keep decision, these things also have to be weighed against the rental advantages. Also consider any costs of sale and the effects of the deficiency judgment (see above) that you might incur!  See my article in this series called: J is for “Judgment” Lien and its Impact upon Homeowners for more information.

One factor that may seem to favor renting is the negative impact that a decision to go bankrupt will have on your credit.  Financial advisers warn that foreclosure will leave a “strong negative” on a credit report for as long as seven years from the date of discharge (which can be longer than 5 years from the date of filing in a Chapter 13), though the impact on a borrower’s rating declines over time. But remember that if you are far behind on you payments and/or your credit cards your credit has already been affected… and, a good bankruptcy lawyer can show you ways to rebuild credit even while in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan period (3-5 years).

Whatever your decision may be, I wish you luck.

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.

Other Attorneys Blogging on the Letter R Include: .

  • New York Bankruptcy Lawyer, Jay S. Fleischman on R is for Redemptions.
  • Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska Bankruptcy Attorney, Ryan D. Caldwell on R is for Reaffirmation Agreements
  • Bay Area Bankruptcy Lawyer Cathy Moran on Retirement.
  • Colorado Springs Bankruptcy Lawyer Bob Doig on Repossession.
  • Kona Bankruptcy Lawyer, Stuart T. Ing also on Repossession

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

Photo by mag3737.

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.

 Other bankruptcy attorneys discussing the Letter “J” include: