Chapter 13 is often your best option for holding onto your home. That may be simply because it solves one of your major home debt problems, or instead because it solves a bunch of them all in one package.
If you’ve heard that Chapter 13 bankruptcy—the three-to-five year plan for “adjustment of debts”—is a good way to save your home, you’re probably thinking of a particular problem that you heard it solves. But the true beauty of Chapter 13 is in how many different kinds of problems it can handle all at the same time. So even if your home is being attacked from multiple directions, this bankruptcy option can often successfully defend against all those attacks.
But don’t get the false impression that if you are in danger of losing your house, Chapter 13 can necessarily save it. Even with all of the different ways it can help, this type of bankruptcy has its limits. Your situation has to fit for it to work.
I have a list of ten distinct ways that Chapter 13 can save your home, five covered in this blog and then five in the next one. This list of ten will give you a good sense of the multiple powers of Chapter 13, but also some sense of their limits.
1. Stretch out mortgage arrearage payments: This is the one you likely hear about most often: reduce what it costs you each month to catch up on your back mortgage payments by using up to five years to do so. This is in contrast to the much shorter time you’d have to catch up—likely a year or less—on the back payments, and the much, much higher monthly payments you’d have to pay to do so, if you had instead filed a Chapter 7 case.
2. Junior mortgage strip: Through Chapter 13—but not Chapter 7—you can “strip” a second or third mortgage lien off your home title. This often saves you hundreds of dollars monthly that you could instead pay to other more crucial obligations—or to your living expenses. And in the long run it can often save you thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. Very importantly, getting rid of some of the debt on your home can either create equity in your home where you did not have any, or at least make it less underwater than it had been.
3. Flexibility in buying more time for your home: There are all kinds of situations in which you need to buy time for your home, but not just the straightforward one for catching up on the mortgage arrearage. If you need to stop your house from being foreclosed to have time to sell it, or if you want to delay selling your home until two years from now when a child graduates from a local school, or when you qualify for retirement or expect some other definite change in your finances, Chapter 13 can often give you more control of the situation. Instead of being under the protection of the bankruptcy court for only the three months or so of a Chapter 7 case, you can potentially be protected for years under Chapter 13. Mind you we would have to formulate a plan to keep the mortgage creditor happy during this time. But the point is that there may well be creative ways to meet your goals without just being at the mercy of your lender, as you would pretty much be after, or even sometimes during, a Chapter 7 case.
4. Property taxes: When you fall behind on mortgage payments, at the same time you can also fall behind on your property taxes. Not paying a property tax payment on time is usually a separate breach of your contract with your mortgage lender, giving it another reason to foreclose on the property. Chapter 13 provides an excellent way to catch up on those taxes, while at the same time preventing the lender from using your missed tax payment as a reason to foreclose in the meantime. And because interest on property taxes is often higher than other secured debts, in your Chapter 13 Plan you may well be able to save money by paying off this tax debt earlier than other obligations.
5. Income tax liens: While I’m talking about taxes, Chapter 13 is also often the best way to satisfy an income tax lien which has attached to the title of your home. IRS and other possible state tax liens are generally not shielded by a homestead exemption, and have to be paid even if the underlying tax would otherwise have been discharged in bankruptcy. After a Chapter 7 case, you are left to fend against the tax authority on your own, facing the potential seizure of your home, with that used as intense leverage against you. In contrast, in Chapter 13 you are protected from such seizure, and as with property taxes can generally earmark payments towards the tax lien before most other creditors so that it gets paid off. It’s a much less worrisome and sensible way of taking care of this kind of scary debt.
These are the first five powerful ways that Chapter 13 can solve debt problems involving your home. Please come back in a couple days for the other five.