It is common for someone who is about to file Chapter 7 Bankruptcy to have a pending or upcoming foreclosure auction. It is also common for the debtors to have a house that is “underwater”, i.e., to owe more on their first mortgage than their house is worth. It is also common for the debtors to have a second mortgage such as a standard mortgage, line of credit, or a home equity line of credit. If the first mortgage exceeds the value of the home, it is clear that the second mortgage has no equity in the house to support it, and is fully unsecured.
Once the debtors or their bankruptcy attorney realize the above, the debtors have a choice to make. They can file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, assuming that they can pass the means test. If the debtors are eligible for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, their personal liability under both mortgages can be eliminated. Then, the debtors can decide to pay the first mortgage only. They may also decide to take a calculated risk that the second mortgage holder would try to foreclose on its mortgage. But would the lender actually commence a foreclosure? Initially, unless the second mortgage holder acquires the first mortgage, it would end up with a house subject to a first mortgage that exceeds what the house is worth. That would likely make any such attempted foreclosure a money-losing proposition. Also, if the first mortgage holder forecloses, that foreclosure would eliminate the second mortgage.
Another option that the debtors have is to file Chapter 13 Bankruptcy. While Chapter 13 will carry with it a repayment plan that may last as long as 5 years, it also allows for “lien stripping”, otherwise known as “Pond” motion. In Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, the totally unsecured mortgage is wiped away and no longer a lien on the debtors’ home. Then, the second mortgage is treated as unsecured debt that gets repaid in the bankruptcy in accordance with the terms of their repayment plan. According to bankruptcy courts’ decisions, the debtors have to receive a Chapter 13 discharge before the lien is stripped.
Most of the decisions addressing Chapter 7 Bankruptcies hold that the debtors cannot “strip” their fully second unsecured mortgage in a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy case.
One important reason for many debtors to stay in their house after Chapter 7 is that it may cost them less to pay the mortgage than to rent another place to live. The second mortgage becomes a lot less important since the debtors may be able to strip it right away in Chapter 13, and, if economic conditions don’t improve, the debtors might be able to strip it 4 years from the date they filed their chapter 7 case – when they are eligible for a discharge under Chapter 13.
Another option that may be available to some debtors is to have their mortgage recast under the new Home Mortgage Modification Program. In my experience, here in Rochester, lenders are willing to work with debtors to recast their mortgages. Assuming that the debtors have ability to pay their mortgage, and meet other financial requirements, their mortgage may be modified by their lender.
If you are contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, New York, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.