Can Bankruptcy Stop Foreclosure?

Rental property and personal bankruptcy

Can Bankruptcy Stop ForeclosureForeclosures continue to occur at an alarming rate in many parts of the country. Many homeowners who obtained subprime mortgages earlier in the past decade or who now find themselves unemployed or underemployed because of the depressed economy are unable or unwilling to make their monthly mortgage payments

State and federal programs for distressed homeowners to assist in loan modifications are available to some but you may not qualify. For others, a short sale transaction is a way to extricate themselves from a home whose value is less than the loan amount, but these can be complicated and may not work for any number of reasons.

As a result, many people facing overwhelming financial pressures turn to bankruptcy as a solution, but can a bankruptcy stop foreclosure?

The Foreclosure Process

Once you miss at least 3-4 consecutive mortgage payments and the lender has sent you notices warning you of possible foreclosure, the lender will generally begin the process to repossess your home. This can take several months and in some instances more than one year.

Minnesota is a non-judicial foreclosure state, meaning that there is usually no court action. When the foreclosure is done without court action, it is called a “foreclosure by advertisement.” Mortgages typically have a power of sale clause allowing an attorney to foreclose on your home. A lender may choose, however, to go to court in a judicial foreclosure to obtain a judgment of foreclosure.

If your home is taken, there are certain reporting and notice requirements before the lender can sell it at an auction conducted by the sheriff, usually at a greatly reduced price. In Minnesota, as long as it’s a foreclosure by advertisement, you are not subject to a deficiency judgment if the sale is for less than the loan amount.  This means that most of the time, as long as there is only one mortgage, a homeowner in Minnesota can walk away from a house free and clear.  If  there is a second mortgage, however, watch out.  These days the holders of second mortgages are suing people in large numbers after the first mortgage has foreclosed.  Sometimes they don’t even wait for the first mortgage to foreclose if the payments are not up to date.

Accordingly, if you are facing foreclosure, can a bankruptcy stop the foreclosure or benefit you in some way?

Can a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Stop a Foreclosure?

Whenever you file for bankruptcy protection under a Chapter 7, an automatic stay of all legal proceedings, including foreclosures, goes into immediate effect. A Chapter 7, if you qualify, allows you to discharge most if not all of your debt.

Unfortunately, the lender is allowed to file a motion to lift the automatic stay as it pertains to your property as the lender can otherwise suffer economic harm. In this instance, a Chapter 7 will only temporarily delay the foreclosure.

It is very difficult to fight the motion to lift the automatic stay.  About the only practical way to stop the motion is to get the payments up to date or make arrangements to bring the payments up to date.  In a Chapter 7 the automatic stay ends when the discharge is granted, usually around three months after the case is filed.  This means that most of the time lifting the stay doesn’t mean much anyway, because the stay was going away by itself.

At the least, you may be able to save thousands of dollars while not making any mortgage payments and take the time to look for alternative housing.  Once the foreclosure is stopped, many lenders are very slow to get it started again.  While the automatic stay officially only stops things for about three months, you will very likely gain much more time than that.

Can a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Stop a Foreclosure?

The other bankruptcy filing available to a homeowner is Chapter 13. Under this plan, you must submit a repayment plan that includes all your creditors and that is approved by the bankruptcy trustee. The automatic stay also goes into immediate effect once you file.

Unlike a Chapter 7, this chapter allows you to keep your home but you must have proof of sufficient income to not only maintain the current mortgage payments but to make up the arrearages over the life of the repayment plan. Many repayment plans are for the maximum 60 months. Under a Chapter 13, then, you may be able to stop the foreclosure so long as the indicated conditions are met.

In a Chapter 13 it might also be possible to do a lien strip.  We’ll know for sure when the Eighth Circuit Court of appeals finally decides the Fisette case.  A lien strip would benefit homeowners with multiple mortgages. It would eliminate payments on all mortgages except the first one. If your home’s value has declined and the first mortgage has secured all the home’s equity, if any, then the other mortgages  would be considered unsecured debt and will be discharged.

In any case involving a foreclosure, consult with an attorney to explore all your legal options.

 

How Much it Costs to File Bankruptcy

I often receive phone calls where the first thing I hear is “how much does it cost to file bankruptcy?” It’s very hard for me to provide a simple answer.  Bankruptcies aren’t like cans of beans which I keep here on a shelf already stamped with a price.

If the caller will let me ask a series of questions so that I can get an idea of what kind of case it would be, then I might be able to suggest what the fee would probably be. If the caller wants a number right away, the conversation usually ends fairly quickly. My fees are not the lowest in the area, and if that’s all someone is looking for, then I’m not the lawyer they want.  All I can do in this situation is say “Can I ask you a few questions?” and see if they want to discuss it or not.

Lawyer fees in bankruptcy are a matter of public record. In every case the petition includes information on what the lawyer has charged. When it comes to Chapter 13 cases, it’s true that there is what is called the “no-look fee.” This is the amount that the judges have agreed a lawyer can charge without having to provide a detailed explanation. In Minnesota this has not gone up for a long time, and I often hear complaints from my colleagues that it is too low. Several lawyers I know make it their policy to provide a detailed billing for every Chapter 13 case so they can go higher than the no-look fee. For many of the more complicated cases, such as a case involving a lien strip, I can certainly see this might be an appropriate thing to do.

Personally, however, I have always so far just charged the no-look fee. Right now as of the date of this writing, the no-look fee in Minnesota is $2,500 for a below median Chapter 13 and $3,000 for an above median Chapter 13. The court filing fee is always additional.  BUT in a Chapter 13 part of the lawyer’s fee can be put into the Chapter 13 Plan so that the client does not have to pay it before the case is filed. In most Chapter 13 cases, putting part of the attorney fee in the Plan just means that the creditors get that much less. So from the point of view of my client, the part that goes into the Plan might as well be free. The result is that in most of my Chapter 13 cases, I wind of asking for less before filing than I do in the Chapter 7s.  The current court filing fees are $281 for a Chapter 13 and $306 for a Chapter 7.  Whatever it is that I’m charging, the court filing fee has to be put on top of that.

For most of the Chapter 7 work that I do, my fees are lower than they are for the Chapter 13s. There’s a good reason for that: in the Chapter 13 case I am responsible for the case for between three and five years. Chapter 7s are over usually in a matter of months. My fees for the Chapter 7s are competitive, but not the lowest in town. I dare not say much more than that without having a specific situation in mind.  Every case is so much different from every other case that I’ve never been able to come up with a one size fits all fee schedule. But I’m always glad to discuss my fee with anyone who can take a few minutes to chat about their situation on the phone, and for those chats on the phone I don’t charge a thing.

I should mention here that there is a counseling requirement that must be satisfied in both Chapter 7 and 13. There is one counseling course that must be done before filing, and another that must be done after filing. That’s two (2) courses that must be done before the process is complete.  My clients can go anywhere they want for the counseling, as long as the agency has been approved by the US Trustee’s office. The agency I recommend charges $40 per course if I sign the client up for the course, and $10 more per course if the client goes there on their own. It can be done on line and over the phone without leaving home.  I don’t get any sort of commission or referral fee from the counseling people, although they did send me some cookies one Christmas. When you count the before filing and the after filing courses together, this is another $80 of total cost.

I am not comfortable with filing anything with the court unless I have given it the proper amount of attention, so I know it’s done right and likely to go smoothly. I tell my clients that we are going to do the work in my office before filing the case, so that we don’t have to do a lot of extra work at the courthouse after the case is filed.  By the time we get to the hearing, also known as the first meeting of creditors, I want the case to be the most boring and plain vanilla thing the Trustee has ever seen. If the Trustee almost falls asleep during the hearing, I did it right. My clients often say after the hearing, “is that all there is to this?” Most of the time at that point it is all there is, because I did all the sweating over the case before it was filed.

By the time I get to the courthouse, it is likely that I will have spent as many as 15 hours on a case, sometimes much more than that. I will have had at least four face to face meetings – often many more than that – with my client, probably a couple hours each time.  Recently I checked my calendar and found that I had met with one client 11 times before the case was ready to file.  A bankruptcy petition has somewhere in the range of 500 questions, and tends to run between 50 and 65 pages in length. These questions are answered under penalty of perjury.  An incorrect answer can be a crime for my client.  When I sign the petition, I also am certifying that everything in it is correct.  I can be sanctioned, perhaps severely, if it’s not. A client asked me recently, after the case was completed, “Kelly how can you sleep at night with all this stuff to keep track of?” All I can say is that I sleep better when I know I’ve given it my best.

Should I File for Bankruptcy?

Should I file for Bankruptcy?

Should I file for Bankruptcy?This is a difficult question. As you can imagine, I get asked this a lot. Usually “Should I File For Bankruptcy?” is asked as one of the first questions when a new prospective client calls or emails me. Most of the time, the question is too complicated for dealing with by email, so early on in the exchange of emails I am very likely to suggest that the person just call me on the phone.

I usually break the conversation down into two issues: First, can these people file for bankruptcy – are they eligible; and second, we answer the question “should I file for bankruptcy”.

For details of the technicalities of eligibility, you should look at my pages devoted specially to Chapter 13 and Chapter 7. Almost everyone qualifies for one or the other, although I do run into a few who don’t qualify for either.

Assuming that a person qualifies, the question of should I file for bankruptcy is probably harder to figure out. In my opinion nobody should file any kind of a bankruptcy if they have any other options available to them. How does one know if there are any other options? After all there are adds on the TV and the radio for debt management programs and debt consolidation programs.

In my opinion you are out of other choices if your dischargeable unsecured debt – the debt that usually can be gotten rid of in a bankruptcy – equals or exceeds one half of your annual gross income.

So first I will try to figure out how much your annual income is right now, and then I will want to start adding up the debts. When I add up the unsecured debt, I do not include the student loans, because they will still be there after the bankruptcy is finished. I also would not include child support arrearages and most taxes for the same reason. As a practical matter, however, lots of student loan debt or other nondischargeable debt may lower ratio of how much other debt as compared to annual gross income would justify filing in my opinion. The higher the student loan debt, the lower the dischargeable unsecured debt to income ratio I would want to see before taking the case.

What Does The Law Say about Filing for Bankruptcy?

The law doesn’t help answer the question of Should I File for Bankruptcy. It provides for no minimum amount of debt which is required to be there before one can file a bankruptcy.

Every case is different, and there has never been a foolproof mathematical formula that has seemed to work for me. But here’s what I am really trying to figure out:  as a practical matter can these people live long enough and work hard enough to pay off this debt by some time within their reasonable life expectancy?

If the answer is no, then I recommend that either a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 be filed. What I find is that most of the people who call me have passed the point of no return some time ago.

If you need to talk to a professional about whether or not you should file for bankruptcy, give me a call today at: 952-544-6356

Or Fill Out Our Contact Form Here

Eligibility Requirements for Filing a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition

Debt Relief, MN Bankruptcy

Debt Relief, MN BankruptcyIf you are one of many people across the country who are suffering from more debts and obligations than your budget can seem to handle, you are probably thinking about seeking the protection of a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Like most, you may also be wondering if there are specific rules or regulations that determine your eligibility to file a petition.

In order to file a petition for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you need to meet certain conditions defined within the bankruptcy codes. To begin with, your level of income must fall below a specific amount, and if so, you next have to pass another set of eligibility standards called the ‘means test’. However, the bankruptcy laws also state that the bankruptcy court can dismiss your petition if you have previously filed for bankruptcy during a specific length of time. The bankruptcy court can also dismiss your petition if feels you might be defrauding your creditors.

In previous bankruptcy laws prior to 2005, the judge presiding over the case could dismiss any Chapter 7 petition if you had enough disposable income to finance a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy repayment schedule to your creditors. With the new bankruptcy laws in effect, there are much clearer guidelines that determine if you will be allowed to remain in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, or if you might be required to petition for a Chapter 13. Only disabled veterans who have built up debts while on active duty, and people who have taken on too much debt because of a struggling business are allowed to submit an uncontested Chapter 7 petition.

These new guidelines for filing a Chapter 7 petition begin by determining how your ‘current monthly income’ amount compares to a standard or ‘median’ income level, and is it also based on your particular household size in your state. This amount is also calculated by averaging your total earnings during the previous six months prior to filing your petition. If your earnings happen to fall below or are equal to this median amount, you will certainly be able to qualify for a Chapter 7 petition.

On the other hand, if your earnings are above this median figure, then you must meet the next challenge by passing the ‘means test’ required in the up-dated bankruptcy guidelines. The means test is used to find out whether you have enough disposable income, after deducting living expenses and other debts like child support or alimony for instance, to repay your creditors over a three to five year repayment plan in a Chapter 13 petition. These guidelines were designed to keep people with higher levels of income from filing for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

The new bankruptcy laws also state that you may not file a Chapter 7 petition if you have already received a discharge of your debts in a Chapter 7 case within the previous 8 years, or in a Chapter 13 within the previous 6 years. In addition, you cannot file if either a previous 7 or a 13 was dismissed anytime within the previous six months because you violated a court order, you committed any fraudulent activities, or you dismissed your case because a creditor sought relief from the protection provided by the automatic stay.
Finally, the bankruptcy court can also have your case dismissed if it is felt you attempted to commit fraud against your creditors, or tried to conceal your assets or personal property from the bankruptcy court in order to avoid the liquidation process. The liquidation of your assets is necessary so that the court-appointed trustee on your case can repay as much of your unsecured debts as possible to your creditors.

It is important to remember that simply because you qualify under the means test guidelines does not mean you should automatically file a petition for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The test is only intended to confirm that you are eligible to file. Any decision to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy should be made only after considering all other options and possible alternatives, and only after discussing these options with knowledgeable and qualified bankruptcy attorney.

If your would like to know more about Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and your Eligibility, Call David Kelly Today at: 952-544-6356

Or Fill Out Our Online Contact Form

New Median Income Figures

Just learned that the US Trustee’s Office is issuing new median income numbers effective May 1st. They are going up for all household sizes. This is a good thing.

Please keep in mind that I’m only talking here about the figures for Minnesota.

For a household of one, the present number is $46,161, but after May 1st it will be $47,618. For a household of two it goes from $61,170 to $63,101. For household of three it increases from $71,784 to $74,050, and for household of four it goes from $84,251 to $86,910.

For every additional family member in addition to four, add another $7,500.

I thought right away of one person who I had just spoken with who was discouraged over being just a little over the median. So I called that person just now with the news that now the family is probably a bit under the median.

In case you are wondering, the big deal is that as long as your income is under the median, you can avoid being subjected to what can sometimes be a very difficult means test.

Lien Stripping Update in "Minnesota Lawyer"

Just noticed that Minnesota Lawyer has a good recent article on the subject of lien stripping and the status of the availability of this process for Minnesota residents. This is a process in Chapter 13 bankruptcies involving people who have second mortgages. It has to be a situation where the value of the house is less than the balance on the first mortgage. The theory is that in cases where the homestead is worth less than the balance on the first mortgage, then the second mortgage is not really a secured debt.

One prepares and files a Chapter 13 bankruptcy in which the second mortgage is put in with the unsecured debts. If it succeeds, the debtors should be able to come out the other end – usually after paying in on a Chapter 13 plan for five years – with only one mortgage on their house instead of two. This could really help a lot of people. The trouble right now is that the availability of the process is still under appeal. Besides that, the exact procedure for clearing the lien of the second mortgage from the title as a matter of real estate law is still under discussion.

Once the appeals are over and both the bankruptcy laws and the real estate laws have been fully nailed down, this could be really something. For now I have not found myself willing to subject a client of mine to all the risks involved in this procedure. To me it just doesn’t seem quite ready for prime time. I know lawyers who are going full steam ahead with this, however, and I could refer you to one it you’d like to at least look into it.

Mentioned in Lien Strip article – Not exactly a Claim to Fame

Seems I was quoted in an article in yesterday’s Sunday Pioneer Press. The topic was a process called lien stripping. It involves taking a second mortgage in a Chapter 13 case and throwing it in with the unsecured debts. The second mortgage gets treated as if it were a big credit card instead of a mortgage. At least in theory, at the end of the Chapter 13 payment plan, the mortgage is then just gone. This can only be done in a case where the value of the homestead is less than the balance owing on the first mortgage. The bankruptcy court is asked to treat that second mortgage as if it was unsecured, because as a practical matter there is no security.

I say “in theory” in the above paragraph because the situation is that this process is so new – at least here in Minnesota – that nobody knows quite for sure exactly how it should be done. That is still being worked out. For one thing, the case (Fisette) which says we can do it is being appealed. I don’t expect it to be overturned, but that could happen. For another thing, nobody knows for sure how to clear the title of the second mortgage. The mortgage can be gone as a matter of bankruptcy law, but still be a problem as a matter of real estate law. Real estate law is as if it’s on a different planet than bankruptcy law – maybe in a different solar system. There’s a need for adjustments between the two legal systems before lien stripping can be expected to go smoothly. While those adjustments might be in process, they are certainly not completed at this time.

The whole thing is a bit too up in the air for me, and so far I have been reluctant to try doing any of this. I have been explaining it as a possible option, and I have been referring people who are interested to some of the lawyers who have been doing them – such as Mr. Theisen and Mr. Andresen. People like them should be given credit for having the gumption to push for this, particularly Craig Andresen who is the one who has the case on appeal.

This is a developing area and I’m sure to have more to say about it later.

At the Bankruptcy Institute Today

You might find it hard to get a hold of me today. I’ll be in classes all day at the Bankruptcy Institute. This is an annual event sponsored by the Minnesota State Bar Association’s Minnesota Continuing Legal Education. I was here all day yesterday too.

The highlights yesterday for me were the case law update and the session on “Advanced Chapter 13 Plan Drafting.” Another good session was the one on business owner bankruptcies. Today so far the best thing has been a joke one of the presenting judges just told: something about how what a judge needs is grey hair so he looks serious and hemorrhoids so he looks concerned.

More later.

Harleys and Bankruptcies Don’t Mix

At least that would be the general rule. All rules of course have exceptions.

I just spoke by phone with a person who needs a bankruptcy. The trouble is that he or she is the owner of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. It’s not paid for. There’s still a loan on the bike with a monthly payment. The usual story in that situation is that if you want to file a bankruptcy – any kind of bankruptcy – the bike has to go. Sell it or surrender it, but it has to go before we can file.

Most of the time when I explain this to the owner of a Harley, it’s the last I hear from that person.

I just spent a very quiet and peaceful weekend at a campground in southern Minnesota. I found that there happened to be a group of over 100 bikers there, mostly if not all riding Harley-Davidsons. I barely noticed them. They partied and carried on, but in a quiet and respectful way. In fact they were some of the most well behaved people I’ve ever seen. I learned later that they were a group of retired police officers, some from Minnesota and some from Chicago. Most of them were dressed in typical biker attire, including jackets and hats bearing one or more variation of the Harley-Davidson logo. Those bikes were obviously an important part of their social life.

Powerful attachment to a Harley-Davidson motorcycle is a phenomenon I’ve seen repeatedly. Often as with the retired cops it can be a really good thing. But I can’t change the way the bankruptcy trustees view these things. In a bankruptcy case, unless it’s paid for and so old that it’s not worth much, a Harley tends to be an asset that they want to seize or a frivolous expense that they won’t allow or both. It’s just not a good thing for anybody contemplating bankruptcy.

Two pro se cases not heard last Thursday

I was at the Federal Courthouse in Minneapolis last Thursday for a meeting of creditors. The room was full and I was planning for a long wait with my client.

To my surprise the trustee – who is the person who runs such proceedings – stood up and asked two apparently married couples to leave. These individuals were there without a lawyer and were obviously pro se – or in other words representing themselves. From the words that were exchanged it sounded as if they had gone to some sort of a non-lawyer document preparation service.

Apparently whoever they had gone to had neglected to tell them that they were supposed to provide a copy of their most recent tax return to the trustee well in advance of the date of the meeting of creditors.

I expect that those parties will be allowed to provide their tax returns to the trustee and reschedule their meeting of creditors – which those who know me know I often call the “hearing,” because that word is a good one to describe what happens. I can’t help but wonder what else might be wrong with those bankruptcy filings.

I’ve been concerned for some time that some of these document preparation outfits are dangerous. If you search this blog I believe you’ll find something from a while back where I was carrying on about such a service located in India which had contacted me and wanted to essentially use my name.