I have posted before about the more common strategy of stripping completely unsecured second mortgages in Chapter 13 bankruptcies to treat them as unsecured debts with the positive results in many cases that little to none of this now unsecured debt needs to be paid by debtors through their Chapter 13 plans. There is also the less common, but very beneficial option to cram down first mortgages in Chapter 13 when the facts support it. I will not try to get too technical with code cites and case law that supports it other than it is based on the interworkings of Sections 1322(c)(2) and 1325(a)(5) of the Bankruptcy Code and for Connecticut residents In Re Latimer, 395 B. R. 304 (Bankr. W. D. N. Y. 2008) a widely respected decision in the Second Circuit which Connecticut is a part of. The term "cram down" means reducing the total amount of the mortgage debt paid thru the Chapter 13 plan. This option is available to debtors whose first mortgage debt has either matured already or matures and is payable in full during the the three to five year term of their plan. The debtor may owe a first mortgage debt well in excess of the market value of their home and this option would let them reduce the total mortgage debt due to the value of their property to be established by an appraisal. This cram down will not work for all debtors since it will depend upon the value of their property and the ability of a particular debtor to payoff this debt in equal monthly installments over the term of their plan. For example, let's take homeowners who did a mortgage modification with a short term balloon payment coming due at maturity during their plan which together with the existing mortgage debt is well in excess of the value of their property:
Regular Mortgage Debt: $200,000.00
Balloon Payment: 75,000.00
Total Due: $275,000.00
Property Market Value: $150,000.00
Mortgage Debt reduced by $125,000.00 to $150,000.00 by cram down motion
$150,000.00 = $2,500.00 monthly plan payment toward mortgage for 5 year plan
In this example the $125,000.00 reduction will be treated as unsecured debt so best case scenario is a debtor who has enough monthly income to pay the reduced mortgage debt thru their plan with little to nothing else left to pay unsecured creditors thereby discharging unsecured claims upon completion of their plan. Another point to keep in mind is that with this cram down plan the debtor is only making their plan payments to completely pay off the mortgage debt unlike the more common Chapter 13 plans where debtors make their plan payments toward the mortgage arrearages due at time of filing combined with their regular montlhy post-petition mortgage payments going forward outside of their plans. In summary, if you have an underwater property you want to try and keep with a mortgage maturity date coming due in close to 5 years the exploration of this cram down option with an experienced bankruptcy attorney in your area is advisable.