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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I Want To File Chapter 7 Bankruptcy My Spouse Does Not What Should I Do?

     As a Connecticut bankruptcy attorney I sometimes meet with prospective married clients who seek to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy individually. Initially I have to bring to their attention that despite their request to file on their own their spouse's income has to be taken into consideration to determine their ability to file both under the means test which has been discussed in prior posts on this blog as well their joint income compared to their joint expenses. Assuming the non-filing spouse's income does not pose a roadblock to filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy the next issue I address with these clients is the advisability of filing jointly with their spouse instead of individually. The whole idea of the fresh start from a Chapter 7 filing is defeated if only one spouse files and receives a discharge of their debts, but the other spouse is still left with his own burdensome debt that could have been discharged in a joint filing. In these cases there is usually an initial reluctance on the part of the spouse who wants to avoid filing bankruptcy which requires my meeting with them and stressing the advantages of filing jointly to remove all of the family debts not just their spouse's. The fees and costs are almost the same for filing together so that does not pose a barrier to a joint filing. Each situation is unique and in some cases where it may be advisable for the benefit of both spouses to file jointly one spouse may just be philosophically or emotionally opposed to filing bankruptcy. In such cases I do my best to convince the reluctant spouse that their family will truly benefit from the Chapter 7 filing by filing jointly and sometimes I am successful. In other cases when I am not and one spouse still wants to proceed they can as long the other spouse is willing to cooperate to the extent of providing the necessary income and expense information for their spouse's Chapter 7 filing.

     There are clearly situations where it does make sense for only one spouse to file. One common situation is a recently married couple where one spouse has accumulated debt prior to their marriage, but the other spouse is in relatively good financial shape and their combined income still allows for a Chapter 7  filing by the one spouse. This allows the non-filing spouse to preserve their good credit. It also makes even more sense for the spouse with the problem debt to file Chapter 7 before getting married especially in cases where there may be a means test issue due to the prospective spouse's income once they are married. Another fact scenario where it is advisable for only one spouse to file Chapter 7 is where the other spouse may possess non-exempt assets that would be taken or sold for the benefit of creditors if they file jointly. There also may be situations where delaying one spouse's Chapter 7 filing to allow for a joint filing is advisable. One example of this situation is where one spouse may have tax debt that will become dischargeable if the filing is delayed. Another example is where one spouse may have made a preferential transfer payment for a debt due to a relative within the past year. When the appropriate time has expired to allow both spouses with problem debt to file it definitely makes sense to do so. Again as stated above each situation is unique based on the particular facts involved and stresses the need for any spouse considering filing bankruptcy to meet with an experienced bankruptcy attorney to determine how and when to file.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

What is a HAFA Short Sale?

     A Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternative popularly known as a HAFA short sale can provide qualified distressed homeowners who are not able to modify their mortgages or file Chapter 13 bankruptcy to save their homes the ability to sell their homes with no deficiency and receive up to $3,000.00 in relocation funds from their lender.
     Some of the main requirements are:  
       The borrower must still occupy the property;
       The mortgage loan cannot be guaranteed by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae;
       The mortgage was taken out prior to January 1, 2009;
       The mortgage is either past due or loan is about to go into default;
       The amount  owed on the first mortgage is equal to or less than:
              - $729,750 for a single-family home
              - $934,200 for a 2-unit property
               - $1,129,250 for a 3-unit property
              - $1,403,400 for a 4-unit property;
        There is a hardship such as a reduction of income, medical expenses or a divorce; and
        The property isn't condemned.
     An additional benefit of a HAFA short sale is up to $8,500.00 may be deducted from the reduced payoff to the first mortgage to cover subordinate mortgages and other liens. In order to be considered for a HAFA short sale a request must be submitted before December 31, 2013 and the transaction closing date must be on or before September 30, 2014. In order to receive the relocation benefits the borrower(s) must provide proof of occupancy which is usually a utility bill in the name of the borrower-occupant. If you are already in foreclosure in order to be considered for HAFA eligibility, a request for HAFA:
   Without a purchase offer – must be received greater than or equal to 60 calendar days from the foreclosure sale date or law day for Connecticut borrowers(if applicable)
     With a purchase offer – must be received greater than or equal to 7 calendar days from the foreclosure sale date or law day for Connecticut borrowers (if applicable). 
     The assistance of an experienced attorney can help borrowers satisfy the sometimes difficult requirements both substantive and bureaucratic that can make obtaining HAFA approval more difficult than it should be. Furthermore, in Connecticut a short sale is a foreclosure alternative that is an acceptable matter to be included in the court's foreclosure mediation process. This mediation process allows the borrower defendant to negotiate and obtain short sale approval while the foreclosure process is put on hold with the help and assistance of a court mediator and in many cases their own attorney who can help guide them through the process. For more information about HAFA short sales please go to the following link:  Please do not consider my use of a link to a Bank of America HAFA site as an endorsement in any way of this particular lender since the opposite is true based on the hardships my clients have experienced in dealing with this lender. 


Monday, March 4, 2013

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy or Mortgage Modification What is My Best Option?

            In a perfect world every delinquent homeowner borrower would receive a timely mortgage modification from their lender which neatly fits their current financial situation to save their home. Unfortunately many homeowners who have applied for mortgage modifications have found out that the process moves incredibly slowly especially with the major lenders with the most delinquent loans. Furthermore, when and if a mortgage modification is finally offered it does not offer the relief needed for them to keep their home for the long term. One of the problems is the size of the mortgage arrearage that has accrued during the drawn out mortgage modification process. With government programs like HAMP that  generally do not provide mortgage principal balance reduction the size of these arrearages can offset the effect of  the interest rate deduction and extension of maturity date on the new monthly mortgage payment being offered to homeowners. The problem is when the mortgage arrearage is added to the current principal balance this increase in the principal balance negates the potential reduction offered by the lowered interest rate and extended maturity date. The net result is the borrower being offered a new loan with a principal balance well in excess of the current value of their home with a slightly reduced new mortgage payment. This type of modified loan does not offer any real true benefit to a delinquent homeowner borrower. Therefore, before starting the mortgage modification process with a lender a borrower needs to find out the potential modification programs available for their loan and approval timelines if at all possible. The borrower than should next consult with a bankruptcy attorney to  determine if a Chapter 13 filing is a better option for them than pursuing what may turn out to be a dead end modification.
          The best candidate for a Chapter 13 is a debtor who has suffered a temporary income setback that caused their default, but has now returned to work and said default was not directly attributable to the terms of loan itself. That is it was not an 80/20 high interest loan combination, but instead a loan with a reasonable fixed rate of interest with a monthly payment that now that the borrower is working again is a reasonable amount to pay. The borrower must also have the current ability to pay the extra monthly amount required into a Chapter 13 plan to at least bring the mortgage arrearage current upon completion of the plan. This is an extremely important point. If a borrower does not have sufficient income to fund a plan than a mortgage modification with the necessary lowering of the mortgage payment, if attainable, is the only real option they can pursue to save their home.  However, a borrower who has the current ability to fund a Chapter 13 plan needs to make an important decision. Do they risk applying for a mortgage modification only to be rejected or offered an unacceptable modification and forgo their opportunity to file a Chapter 13 later due to the increase in the mortgage arrearage making it not feasible for them to fund a Chapter 13 plan.  Realistically I have not seen delinquent homeowner borrowers demonstrate the ability to set aside the necessary monthly mortgage payments while applying for a modification to offset the increase in the mortgage arrearage to keep their ability to file Chapter 13 viable. This decision of Chapter 13 versus mortgage modification needs to be made with the advice of bankruptcy counsel who can review the debtor's financials and provide them with a realistic opinion as to the feasibility and success of filing a Chapter 13. The advantage of a Chapter 13 bankruptcy versus a mortgage modification is that the only real party in interest you have to satisfy is the Chapter 13 trustee and the debtor is not subject to the whims of the mortgage lender. If the debtor has sufficient income to support their plan as determined by debtor's counsel and provided to the Chapter 13 trustee the plan will be confirmed. Additional benefits of a Chapter 13 include the possibility of discharging some or all of a debtor's unsecured debt dependent on their assets and income. If a plan is going to include the discharge of unsecured debt wholly unsecured second mortgages can be deemed unsecured by the plan as well judgment liens which impair a debtor's homestead exemption. I have written this blog article based on my experience with debtors over the past several years since the mortgage crisis first started who after one or more years of unsuccessful attempts to obtain a mortgage modification contacted me regarding Chapter 13 as an option only to be told it was no longer feasible due to the amount of their mortgage arrearage. It is my hope that any borrower who is not too delinquent and is weighing their options will consult with a bankruptcy attorney first before blindly applying for a mortgage modification so they can make an informed decision what option best fits their situation.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What Should I file Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

               An initial question that needs to be addressed when a consumer debtor wants to file bankruptcy is what Chapter they should file under. In practically all consumer cases Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 are the two options that may be available. Chapter 7 is usually the preferred alternative for debtors with significant unsecured debt. In Connecticut qualified debtors can file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and have their discharge entered within sixty days of the 341 creditors meeting. This usually results in a discharge being entered less than four months from the date of filing. From that point forward the debtor’s credit will start to improve as long as they do not incur delinquent debt going forward. In most consumer cases debtors can retain their property in a Chapter 7 including even homeowners’ current with their mortgage payments by applying the appropriate exemption to said property.
Chapter 13 is a payment plan bankruptcy that is most commonly used by homeowners to save their homes from foreclosure. Homeowners who have had a disruption in their income or medical crisis causing them to default on their mortgage can file a three to five year payment plan to catch up on their mortgage and stop the loss of their home by foreclosure if they have sufficient income to fund a plan. Depending on the amount of non-exempt assets, if any, and the debtors' income and expenses a debtor may be required to pay from zero to one hundred percent of their unsecured creditors under their plan. For debtors with high unsecured debt who do not qualify for Chapter 7 due to the means test or possible asset issues Chapter 13 may be their only bankruptcy option. In their Chapter 13 they will usually be required to pay some or all of their unsecured debts over a five year period and the discharge of any debt is delayed until the completion of their plan. The Chapter 13 trustee’s goal is to maximize the recovery for creditors so the monthly plan payments may stretch the debtor’s budget thin for that five year period and it may require some belt tightening for the successful completion of their plan. Chapter 13 involves more work than a Chapter 7 and consequently the legal fees are higher. This does not mean Chapter 13 is not a good option for debtors. As indicated above it clearly serves the homeowners best who have suffered an interruption in their income and fallen behind on their mortgages allowing them stop foreclosure and catch up. For those with unsecured debt who do not qualify for Chapter 7 a Chapter 13 does provide an ordered plan to pay back this debt while stopping the accumulation of high penalty interest and late charges with the benefit of the bankruptcy stay preventing and stopping any collection litigation and any post judgment wage garnishments and bank executions. Any debt not paid through the plan is discharged including debts from unsecured creditors who fail to file proofs of claim by the court appointed deadline.  The key difference in the two Chapters is that Chapter 7 debtors’ fresh start will begin approximately four months from their filing date while Chapter 13 debtors are looking at a minimum of three years of plan payments before they can put their financial problems behind them.