ABC’s of Chapter 13 Lien Stripping

 

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

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

WHAT IS A LIEN STRIP?

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

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

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

FIRST MORTGAGES ONLY NEED APPLY. 

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

 

CAN A PARTIAL LIEN STRIP WORK?

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

QUALIFYING FOR A LIEN STRIP

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

V – D[- JD] ≤ $0

V: market value of a property

D: debt(s) encumbering that property

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME:

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

CONCLUSIONS

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

cCc

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


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


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

Chapter 13 Lien Strip A to Z

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

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

WHAT IS A LIEN STRIP?

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

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

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

FIRST MORTGAGES ONLY NEED APPLY. 

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

 

CAN A PARTIAL LIEN STRIP WORK?

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

QUALIFYING FOR A LIEN STRIP

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

V – D[- JD] ≤ $0

V: market value of a property

D: debt(s) encumbering that property

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME:

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

CONCLUSIONS

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

cCc

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

 

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


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

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

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

WHAT IS A LIEN STRIP?

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

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

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

FIRST MORTGAGES ONLY NEED APPLY. 

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

 

CAN A PARTIAL LIEN STRIP WORK?

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

QUALIFYING FOR A LIEN STRIP

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

V – D[- JD] ≤ $0

V: market value of a property

D: debt(s) encumbering that property

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME:

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

CONCLUSIONS

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

cCc

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

 

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


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

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When Should You Talk To A Bankruptcy Lawyer?

Attorney Christopher Carr, a Chester County bankruptcy attorney. Tel: 610-380-7969 Email: cccarresq@aol.com

In Chancery

In Chancery

Maybe the best approach to the question is to talk about when is not the best time to talk to a bankruptcy lawyer.  You were served with the foreclosure notice 6 months ago and the mortgage company has been refusing your payments and now your home is to be sold at a sheriff’s sale tomorrow.  Your car has just been repossessed and your job is now in jeopardy since you do not have transportation to work. These are bad times to be talking with a bankruptcy attorney.  Not because a bankruptcy attorney can’t still help you.  An “emergency” bankruptcy filing can still possibly help you save your home or maybe your car can be returned to you.  It is a bad time because had you consulted with a bankruptcy attorney sooner, a different plan to help you deal with your debt issues may have been available.  That is, while we may still be able to save your home in the short term, your bankruptcy may fail over the longer term whereas had you taken action earlier, a plan could have been devised to save it long term. So when should you talk to a bankruptcy lawyer?  HERE ARE SOME bASIC GUIDES: You know your finances are not what they should be.  You know that you are falling behind on your bills or are struggling to make ends meet each month.  You are juggling, you often have to choose between putting food on the table and paying your credit cards in full. You pay one card one month but not the next so you can pay another.   Or maybe you know that, even though you are current on your bills, there will be a  disruption in your income coming:  Maybe an operation that will require you or your spouse to be out of work for a time or a coming labor union strike. These are better times to be exploring options. Talk to an a compassionate, experienced, knowledgeable attorney who can look at your particular situation before absolute disaster strikes, before you are about to lose your home, car or possessions on the morrow! And it is important to recognize that ironically you must have money to file bankruptcy. If you wait till the axe has fallen, you likely will not have the funds to file:  As Max Gardner, Esq., a keen observer of trends in bankruptcy recently noted regarding the recent fall off in bankruptcy filings: A substantial number of consumers who need to file are simply too broke to file. And, those consumers who have lost homes to foreclosure during the Great Recession simply no longer care.  Simply stated, as many consumers who have lost hope for finding new employment have also lost the need for bankruptcy relief. A skilled bankruptcy lawyer can help you plan for a future filing before you reach this point of despair.  He or she can help you prioritize to help you keep things that are important to you. If the house is most important, then in order to afford the house, perhaps a vehicle can be surrendered and a less expensive vehicle obtained.  Or, the bankruptcy lawyer may tell you to stop paying your credit card or pre-Obamacare medical bills and use the money to make sure that your house payment is made.  This can ensure that you are current on your house for a bankruptcy filing so that you do not have to pay more money for mortgage arrears or that you can file a chapter 7 with a “walk through”. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say!  Merely talking to a bankruptcy lawyer does not commit you to a bankruptcy filing and many will talk to you initially for free or at a reduced charge What do you have to lose other than your current lack of knowledge?  It is not infrequently the case that we will either decide the timing is not yet ripe for a bankruptcy or that some other tool at our disposal is a better option for your particular situation.  While every case is unique, the bankruptcy lawyer will have had experience with cases like yours in the past that will have shown him or her pitfalls of various approaches both within and outside bankruptcy. For example, certain types of debt and liens which cannot be wiped out in a Chapter 7 can be discharged or removed as the case may be in a Chapter 13. Or perhaps he will guide you in the direction of combining bankruptcy with a mortgage modification to drive down your monthly payment to the mortgage company outside the bankruptcy perhaps even to the point where you ultimately can leave bankruptcy early. The alternatives to bankruptcy could include debt settlement; debt consolidation or even debt litigation. The debt settlement company (DSC) may promise over the radio that they can knock 50% off your debt but they cannot litigate or file a bankruptcy case for you. And they will not defend you if one or more of your creditors brings suit while you are in the settlement process.  A debt consolidation company may say that their solution is the most efficient  but they cannot litigate or file a bankruptcy case for you nor generally speaking can they even reduce your debt as can the DSC.  An attorney who litigates but does not file bankruptcy cases and does not have a financial background as do I may be extraordinarily skilled in the courtroom but is ill equipped to see your bigger debt picture and likely will say litigating a single debt (a costly alternative) is best when the debt could have been wiped out with a lot of other debt in bankruptcy.  An unbiased bankruptcy attorney will be part financial analyst and advisor and can lay out all avenues and recommend a path according to your needs. So, when should you talk to a bankruptcy attorney?  Many will hide their head in the sand but the early bird gets the worm…The clear answer is sooner as opposed to later.  Bankruptcy is not for everyone nor is it intended to be.  But if you have debts, and they seem out of hand, a thorough analysis of your finances should include a visit with an experienced bankruptcy attorney.

Law Offices of Christopher C. Carr, MBA,  P.C., owned and managed by Attorney Carr since 1997, a quality Chester County Bankruptcy Atttorney, with his practice located in  Valley Township, west of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, where Carr, who has over 30 years of 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!
Not Legal Advice.

©Christopher C. Carr, Attorney at Law 2013, All Rights Reserved.

 

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!  

P is for Property of the estate: The key to when a lien can be stripped by the bankruptcy court.

p from toofar north

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

When you inherited that property from your father who died in Texas, it had a second lien which was completely under water and impairs an exemption but you had no liability for the underlying home equity loan so it can’t be stripped in your Chapter 13 bankruptcy, right?  Wrong. Let’s see why.

To be “strip eligible”, a secured claim has to be an “allowed claim”. Section 506(a)(1) of the US Bankruptcy Code provides:

An allowed claim of a creditor secured by a lien on property in which the estate has an interest … is a secured claim to the extent of the value of such creditor’s interest in the estate’s interest in such property…”,

The relevant inquiry then for lien stripping is not does the “debtor” owe the debt but does the estate have an interest in the property to which the lien attaches?  For that to happen all that is required is that the subject property be in the estate created when the debtor declares bankruptcy. Here are 3 examples to better illustrate the point:

  1. Simple Inheritance Scenario. Suppose the debtor inherited a parcel of real property from her deceased father subject to a lien in favor of his creditors. In the debtor’s bankruptcy case, a lien securing the father’s promise to pay the Bank of Armadillo is just as strip eligible as if the debtor rather than her deceased father were herself the borrower. As long as the property which is collateral for the debt is properly before the court, the lien is subject to stripping.
  2. Co-Beneficiary Scenario. Take the same case but now we have two debtors, each a co tenant and heir with a sibling in the same inherited house (a duplex). Both halves of the house are subject to the BOA lien. If only one debtor files bankruptcy, only that co-tenant’s interest in the house is property of the estate, and the court can only strip the lien from the half of the property because only half is in the bankruptcy estate.
  3. Husband & Wife (certain states only) Scenario. Somewhat the reverse fact pattern is a very common one in Pennsylvania, where I primarily practice law. This can happen for example because the original owner, say the wife, upon marriage deeds the property into husband and wife form, which under Pennsylvania is called “tenancy by the entireties” and serves to protect the marital property from the creditors of the individual marriage partners. The husband is now on title to the property while the wife, the original owner, remains the only one liable on the note. If both spouses file for bankruptcy,, the real estate comes into the bankruptcy estate. Once again, it’s strippable simply because the collateral is property of the estate without reference to the locus of the debt.

Because bankruptcy is essentially “all about the debtor and his or her debts”, it is a common mistake to overlook liens that could have been stripped because the debts do not happen to “belong” to the debtor. This then is another illustration of how competent counsel, by properly identifying and claiming this benefit for you, can save you far more than any legal fee you might have to pay.

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 P Include:

  • Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska Bankruptcy Attorney, Ryan D. Caldwell: P is for Plan.
  • New York Bankruptcy Lawyer, Jay S. Fleischman: P is for Pay Advice.
  • Colorado Springs Bankruptcy Attorney Bob Doig: P is for Preferences.
  • Maui Bankruptcy Attorney, Stuart Ing: P is for Preference.
  • Southgate, Michigan Bankruptcy Lawyer, Christopher McAvoy: P is for Pride.
  • Cleveland Bankruptcy Attorney, Bill Balena: P is for Phone Call
  • Wisconsin Bankruptcy Lawyer, Bret Nason:  P is for Property of the Estate
  • San Mateo Bankruptcy Lawyer, Jeff Curl:  P is for Priority Debt
  • Metro Richmond Consumer and Bankruptcy Attorney, Mitchell Goldstein:  P is for Privacy
  • Jacksonville Bankruptcy Attorney, J. Dinkins G. Grange:  P is for Payment

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

Photo by Too Far North

L in Bankruptcy is for Long Term Payments, Chapter 13 Plans

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

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

This article deals with situations where debt repayment extends beyond the 3-5 year period allowed in a Chapter 13 and the end of the automatic stay in bankruptcy and some things that can be done about it.

The typical scenario would be where a homeowner uses a Chapter 13 to repay the arrears on their mortgage. The law states that while the arrears must be paid 100% over the course of the plan, payments on the mortgage may extend beyond that time. How could it be otherwise because almost all mortgages have a life of 30, 40 even 50 years, far longer than the maximum bankruptcy plan?

But what about a homeowner who also has non dischargeable taxes? They too can be “scheduled” and payments made over the course of the plan…but when the plan ends so does the “automatic stay” and the tax creditors will STILL be there waiting to get their money. And the IRS has an array of weapons at its disposal. For example, unlike common creditors, it can slap a lien on your home without even having to file suit to do so. And such liens can be more than just a nuisance, especially when it comes time to sell because then the title company will not issue a policy of title insurance until the lien has been paid thus in effect giving the IRS a second bite at the apple. You can try negotiating a lower tax with the Service by submitting what is called an Offer in Compromise after the bankruptcy is discharged but not everyone can qualify and a 20% nonrefundable down payment must be submitted with your offer on IRS form 656. If the IRS accepts the offer, it will want the remainder in 5 or fewer monthly installments.

But luckily there are other alternatives. The law allows a tax debtor to file under more than one chapter in bankruptcy in sequence. Many people wrongly believe that there is a waiting period after a discharge before another bankruptcy can be filed whereas the law actually reads only that you cannot receive a discharge in the second bankruptcy. However, as to non dischargeable debt, it really does not matter.

There are 2 scenarios where this strategy can be used with good effect. Suppose you file Chapter 7 to wipe out all your qualifying dischargeable debts and taxes. When the Chapter 7 is completed, some non-dischargeable taxes remain, but you could file under Chapter 13 for a repayment plan to deal with the balance. This strategy is called: “Chapter 20” (7 + 13). This stops interest and penalties.

Likewise, a “Chapter 26” (13+13) may be a way to spread paying a tax debt over a longer period– up to ten years (i.e. 2 5 year plans). This means filing one Chapter 13 and completing it, and then filing a second Chapter 13 for remaining debts. This also stops interest and penalties and most importantly liens will not attach to your property because of the automatic stay. If done quickly enough, this can be accomplished before the IRS starts up collection activity again.

As always, it is best to seek the advice of a competent bankruptcy attorney as this is a complex timing sensitive legal area.

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

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.

Others who have actually reached the letter L in the Bankruptcy Alphabet include:

St. Clair Shores MI attorney, Kurt OKeefe, who speaks the truth when he says that L is for Lie, the Big Mortgage Industry

Cleveland Attorney ( oh how I miss beautiful Cleveland on the shores of lake Erie where once I lived), Bill Balena ensures us that L is for Life Insurance

New York & California Bankruptcy Lawyer, Jay S. Fleischman who attaches great relevance to L is for Lien

Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska Bankruptcy Attorney, Ryan D. Caldwell who lays it all bare for us in L is for Lien Stripping

Honolulu Bankruptcy Attorney Stuart T. Ing also peels back the layers in L is for Lien Stripping

Marin County Attorney, Catherine Eranthe enlightens us in L is for Lift the Stay

Colorado Springs Attorney Bob Doig has gems of wisdom on why L is for Luxuries

Metro Richmond Consumer Attorney, Mitchell Goldstein who is solidly behind L is for Liquidated

Allen Park, Michigan Bankruptcy Lawyer, Christopher McAvoy enumerates how L is for List It Or Lose It

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: