It’s often the combination of tools that come with Chapter 13 that allows you to keep your home. Because Chapter 7 has only some of these tools, sometimes it can’t do nearly as much for your home as Chapter 13 can.


Please read my last blog. There I laid out an example to illustrate how much a Chapter 13 case can do—on multiple fronts—to enable you to keep your home. That example also shows why sometimes Chapter 7 is not effective for that purpose. Today I explain how Chapter 13 can pull it off.

To summarize, here is a list of this hypothetical person’s debts:

  • first mortgage arrears: $5,000
  • first mortgage balance: $230,000
  • second mortgage arrears: $3,000
  • second mortgage balance: $50,000
  • past-due real estate taxes: $2,000
  • judgment lien from unpaid medical debt: $8,000
  • 2009 income tax with tax lien recorded against the home: $3,000
  • 2010 and 2011 income tax: $5,000 (no tax lien, yet)
  • credit cards: $18,000

A Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” would discharge (write-off) all or most of the credit card balances, as well as the medical bill that turned into the judgment, and likely even get rid of that judgment’s lien on your home title. That would save you about $26,000, and take away the threat to your home from the judgment lien.

But that still leaves both mortgage arrears, the past due real estate taxes, and many thousands of dollars of income tax debts, one holding a tax lien on the home. This debtor can afford to pay a total of $1,500 per month to all creditors, but with a $1,000 first mortgage and $300 second mortgage regular payment, that leaves only a measly $200 per month for the mortgage arrearages and all the taxes. Looks quite hopeless.

And yet, here is how Chapter 13 could be the solution:

1. Stripping second mortgage: In this example the home is now worth $225,000, less than the $230,000 balance on the first mortgage. So there is no equity in the home securing that second mortgage. Under these conditions, Chapter 13 can legally turn that second mortgage balance into an unsecured debt. (This cannot be done under Chapter 7). As a result, the debtor no longer pays the $300 monthly mortgage payment, freeing up that amount to pay other more important creditors. So instead of $200, there’s now $500 per month available to pay the remaining creditors.

2. Plan payment of $500 per month: Paying this $500 per month into a 36-month Chapter 13 payment plan results in a total of $18,000 paid ($500 X 36 = $18,000), or a total of $30,000 in a 60-month plan ($500 X 60 = $30,000). The length of a plan depends on a number of factors. But in this case let’s assume that the plan will run only as long as it takes to pay all secured and priority creditors—here, the first mortgage arrears and all the property and income taxes. That’s $5,000 of arrears, $2,000 of property tax, $8,000 for all the income taxes, or a total of $15,000. Interest needs to be paid on the property tax and on the portion of the income taxes with the tax lien, but Chapter 13 often allows those debts to be paid faster to lessen the amount of interest. The plan payments also need to pay the Chapter 13 trustee– usually a percentage of the amount flowing through the plan–plus whatever portion of the debtor’s own attorney’s fees not paid before the filing of the case. To simplify the calculations, let’s estimate that the total amount that the debtor would need to pay into the plan would be $20,000. At $500 per month, that would amount to 40 months of payments. (In some situations, the unsecured creditors would also need to be paid a certain amount of money or a certain percentage of their debt. In that situation, the $500 payments would need to be paid into the plan that much longer.)

3. Continuous protection from the creditors by the “automatic stay’: During the entire length of the Chapter 13 case—this estimated 40 months–the “automatic stay” would be in effect, preventing any of the creditors—the mortgage lenders, the property tax creditor, or the IRS—from taking any action against the debtor or the debtor’s home. So the first mortgage lender would not be able to start or continue a foreclosure because the monthly payments or the property taxes weren’t current. The property tax creditor itself could not conduct a tax foreclosure. And the IRS could not enforce its tax lien nor could it record a new one for the more recent tax debts.

4. Debt-free: At the end of the 40 months or so, the first mortgage and property taxes would be paid current, all of the income taxes would be paid in full, the tax lien would be released, and all the (remaining) unsecured debts would be discharged, leaving the debtor debt-free.  

A mere list of the many ways that Chapter 13 can help save a home can start sounding dry. So here’s a powerful example that shows off some of its extraordinary advantages.


Let’s start by setting the scene. Say you lost your job in early 2010 and, except for temporary, part-time work, you did not find new full-time employment until 3 months ago. It pays less than your old job.

  • While you weren’t working full-time, you used up your savings and then borrowed on your credit cards to try to pay the house payments. That seemed to make sense at the time because you kept getting promising job leads, none of which panned out until you finally got hired for your present job. So you owe $18,000 on the credit cards, with minimum payments totaling $550 per month.
  • After your savings and available credit ran out, you still fell $5,000 behind on your first mortgage and $3,000 behind on your second. They are both starting to send papers sounding like they are going to start foreclosing.
  • Because there wasn’t enough money in your property tax escrow account with your first mortgage lender to pay the recently due annual $2,000 property tax bill, the lender is demanding that you pay that right away. It is threatening to foreclose for this separate reason if you don’t.
  • You had some medical problems soon after losing your earlier job, while you had no medical insurance, resulting in a $7,500 medical bill. That went to a collection agency, turned into a lawsuit, and then recently into an $8,000 judgment lien against your home.
  • Money had been tight even back before you’d lost your job because of cutbacks in hours, so you cut your tax withholding way back, so that you owed $2,000 to the IRS for 2009 income taxes. You couldn’t make the agreed monthly installment payments, and have just found out that that a tax lien has been recorded against your home in the amount of $3,000, after adding in all the accrued penalties and interest.
  • While you were working temporary jobs during 2010 and 2011, you were desperate for every dollar you could bring home, and so didn’t have any taxes withheld. As a result you owe the IRS another $2,500 for each year, or a total of another $5,000 that you have not even filed tax returns for yet.  You’re afraid to because you have no money to pay it and are afraid of more tax liens against your home.
  • Your home was worth $300,000 in 2008, but has lost about 25% of its value by now, so is worth $225,000. You owe $230,000 on the first mortgage, with monthly payments of $1,000, and owe $50,000 on the second mortgage, with monthly payments of $300.
  • With your current reliable income, after paying modest but reasonable living expenses, you have $1,500 available monthly for all creditors, including the two mortgages. That’s only $200 per month beyond the two mortgage payments, a drop in the bucket considering this mountain of debt:
    • credit cards: $18,000
    • first mortgage arrears: $5,000
    • second mortgage arrears: $3,000
    • property tax arrears: $2,000
    • judgment lien: $8,000
    • 2009 income tax with tax lien: $3,000
    • 2010 and 2011 income tax: $5,000

That’s a total debt of $44,000, besides the $230,000 first mortgage and $50,000 second mortgage.

  • Last fact: your two school-age kids live with you, they’ve lived in this home their whole lives, and have gone to the good local public schools for years, with their friends who live in the neighborhood. So more than anything you want to maintain this home and the stability it brings to their lives (and yours!). But it sure seems hopeless.

A Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” would help by discharging (writing off) tens of thousands of dollars, but NOT likely help nearly enough for you to be able to keep the home. A Chapter 7 case would likely discharge all or most of the credit card balances, as well as the medical bill that turned into the judgment, and likely even get rid of that judgment’s lien on your home title. That would save you about $26,000, and take away one threat to your home. But with only $200 to spare after paying the current first and second mortgage payments, that $200 is just way too small to even begin to satisfy the mortgage lenders or the IRS, much less both.

So after your Chapter 7 case would be completed, the IRS would attempt to collect the 2009 debt through garnishments of your bank account or wages, and sooner or later you’d have to deal with the 2010 and 2011 taxes, possibly resulting in them at some point turning into tax liens. And sooner or later your home would be foreclosed because you would have no way to catch up on the mortgage arrears.

However, if INSTEAD you filed a Chapter 13 case, under these circumstances you very likely you WOULD be able to keep your home, cure the mortgage arrears, and pay off all the taxes. And all this would happen while you and your home was protected from collection efforts by any of your creditors. How could that possibly be? I’ll show you in my very next blog. Sorry to keep you hanging, but today’s blog is way too long already.

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.


Although Chapter 13 is often the go-to prescription for hanging onto a home in financial distress, like most strong medicine it comes with side-effects. The simpler Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” may be the better solution for both short-term relief and long-term financial health.


Chapter 13, the three-to-five year version of consumer bankruptcy, arms you with a remarkable set of tools for dealing with your mortgage lender and with other creditors related to your home. I’ll talk about them in upcoming blogs.

But you should absolutely not enter into a Chapter 13 case without understanding it thoroughly and considering it very practically. The fact is that a large percentage of them do not make it all the way to completion, often wasting the debtors’ money and delaying for years their final relief from creditors. Chapter 13 is awesome medicine, but only for the right patients in the right circumstances.

So in what circumstances should you very seriously consider Chapter 7 instead of Chapter 13?

1. If you are behind on your mortgage payments, but could realistically catch up on that arrearage within about a year—after writing off the rest of your debts in Chapter 7, and being very disciplined during that one year:  Depending on your lender, your payment history, and similar factors, most mortgage lenders will allow you to enter into a “forbearance agreement” after you file a Chapter 7 case. That agreement allows you to stay in your home and to catch up on your mortgage arrearage by paying a certain amount extra per month. Given the cost savings of a Chapter 7 over a 13, and the benefit of getting to your fresh start in a year instead of three to five years, you should very seriously consider with your attorney whether that one year of extra effort would 1) be doable, and 2) be worth the effort and risk.

2. If your chances of keeping your house through a Chapter 13 case are unrealistic: As powerful as Chapter 13 is, it certainly has its limitations. Think long and hard about whether you will be able to consistently meet the terms of your proposed payment plan. Consider your deeper motivations and fears, and you may find better ways of meeting your and your family’s true needs. With the helpf of your attorney try to ground yourself with brutal honesty about what is realistic in the short term and also two or three years out. Although “desperate times call for desperate measures,” a desperate mind doesn’t tend to make wise choices. Chapter 13 should almost never be a “Hail Mary pass,” a last-ditch long-shot. Be very clear about the consequences of that long-shot not panning out, and you may well realize it’s not worth it.  

So, aim towards a Chapter 7 instead of a Chapter 13 case if you really don’t need the extra length of time and other benefits that Chapter 13 provides. And the same thing if you are trying to hang onto a house that you very likely can’t hang on to even with all the help that Chapter 13 provides.

Here are the other 5 powerful home-saving tools. Chapter 13 isn’t for everyone. But these tools, especially in combination, can often give you what you need to tackle and defeat your mortgage and other home-debt problems.

In my last blog I gave you the first five of ten distinct and significant ways that Chapter 13 can save your home. I’ll summarize those here briefly, and then give you the other five in more detail.

Chapter 13 enables you:

1…. to stretch out the amount of time you are given to catch up on missed mortgage payments, giving you as long as 5 years to do so.

2. … to slash your other debt obligations so that you can afford your mortgage payments.

3…. to permanently prevent income tax liens, child and spousal support liens, and judgment liens from attaching to your home.

4…. to have the time you need to pay debts that cannot be discharged (legally written off) in bankruptcy, all the while being protected from those creditors messing with your home.

5…. to discharge debts owed to creditors which could have otherwise put liens on your home.

6…. to get out of paying all or some of your 2nd or 3rd mortgage ever again—IF the value of your home is no more than the balance of your 1st mortgage. This “stripping of junior mortgages” under Chapter 13 continues being used more and more as home property values continue to head downward in so many parts of the country.

7…. to take extra time to pay back property taxes, while protecting the home from tax and mortgage foreclosure. This is particularly important if you have a mortgage on your home. That’s because virtually all mortgages require you to keep current on the property taxes. So not only does Chapter 13 protect you from the property tax authority itself, more importantly it prevents your mortgage lender from using your property tax arrearage as a justification for foreclosing on your home.

8…. to favor many home-related debts—such as property taxes, support liens, utility and construction liens– that you probably want to pay. You generally can’t get rid of these special kinds of liens on your home, but Chapter 13 allows—indeed requires—you to pay them in full before you pay anything to your other creditors. So in many situations your regular creditors’ loss is your home creditors’ gain, and thus your gain, too.

9…. to get rid of judgment liens in many situations, so that they no longer attach to your home. Although this can also be done in Chapter 7, it’s often all the more helpful in a Chapter 13 when used in combination with these other tools.

10…. to sell your house without the pressure of a foreclosure sale, either just a short time after filing the Chapter 13 case, or sometimes even three, four years later. You may need to or be willing to sell and downsize, but not until a kid finishes high school or you reach an anticipated retirement date. Chapter 13 may allow you to delay selling and curing part of your mortgage arrearage until then, allowing you to preserve your family home in the meantime.


When does filing a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case help you enough so that you don’t need a 3-to-5-year Chapter 13 case?

If you are behind on your mortgage payments but want to keep your home, you have likely heard that a Chapter 13 “payment plan” is what you need. And that IS a powerful package, with an impressive set of tools to deal with a wide variety of home-related problems—everything from the mortgages themselves to property taxes, income tax liens, and judgment liens.

But what if you need to discharge other debts to get a fresh financial start, and have managed to fall only a couple of months behind on your mortgage? Or what if you are not keeping the house, but just need a little more time to find another place to live?

Then you may well not need a Chapter 13 case, and can maybe avoid the disadvantages it comes with—mostly, that it takes so much longer and generally costs lots more than Chapter 7. This extra time and cost can be well worthwhile when you need the great advantages of Chapter 13, but let’s look at ways that Chapter 7 can do enough for your home:

In a Chapter 7 case:

1. The “automatic stay”—the bankruptcy provision that stops virtually all actions by creditors against you or your property—applies to Chapter 7 just as it does to Chapter 13. So the filing of a Chapter 7 case STOPS a foreclosure in its tracks, just as quickly as a Chapter 13 filing. But if you are just trying to buy time to save money for a rental, the tough question is HOW LONG that break in the mortgage company’s foreclosure efforts will last, and how much extra time it’ll buy you. An aggressive creditor could quickly ask the court for “relief from the stay”—permission to resume the foreclosure process—thus potentially getting you only a few extra weeks. Or on the other extreme, a mortgage creditor could just do nothing for the 3 months or so until your Chapter 7 case runs its course and the “automatic stay” expires with the completion of your case. So, Chapter 7 often does not come with much predictability about how much time you’d gain. On the other hand, your bankruptcy attorney may well have experience in how fast certain mortgage lenders tend to ask for “relief from stay” under facts similar to yours.

2. Chapter 7 stops—at least briefly—not only mortgage foreclosures, but also prevents other potential liens from being placed against your house, including the IRS’s tax liens and judgment liens. But why would the few weeks or months that Chapter 7 gains make any difference with these kinds of creditors? In the right set of facts, it can make many thousands of dollars of difference.

• A timely filing of a Chapter 7 case can prevent you from having to pay a debt that would otherwise have become a lien against your house. For example, let’s say you have an older IRS debt that meets the necessary conditions for discharge, and you also have a little equity in your home but not more than your homestead exemption allows. If you waited until after the IRS recorded a tax lien for that debt against your house, that lien would continue being attached to your house even if you filed a bankruptcy and would eventually have to be paid. However, if your Chapter 7 filing happened before the IRS recorded a tax lien, the “automatic stay” would prevent that tax lien from being filed, the tax debt would be discharged forever, and your home’s equity would be preserved.

• Or if instead let’s say you have a debt that is NOT going to be discharged in bankruptcy—say a more recent tax debt—but you also had some assets that you were going to have to surrender to the Chapter 7 trustee, what we call an “asset case.” If again you filed the bankruptcy case before the recording of the tax lien, your Chapter 7 trustee could well pay those taxes as a “priority” debt in front of any of your other debts, potentially leaving you with no tax debt at the completion of your case.

3. Chapter 7 allows you to concentrate on your house payments by getting rid of your other debts. If you’ve managed to keep current on those mortgage payments, but don’t know how long you will be able to do so, the relief you get from discharging your other debts greatly improves your odds of staying current on your home long term. Or if you have missed only a few mortgage payments, AND can reliably make future ones, PLUS enough to catch up on your arrearage within year or less, then Chapter 7 would like very likely do enough for you. Most mortgage creditors will let you enter into an agreement –often called a “forbearance agreement”—to catch up the missed payments by paying a sufficient specific amount extra each month until you’re caught up, again, as long as that period of catch-up time is relatively short. Otherwise, you may well need a Chapter 13.


When does filing bankruptcy save your home?  When is “straight bankruptcy”—Chapter 7—the right tool, and when do you need Chapter 13?  

If your most important goal is to preserve your home, here’s how each kind of bankruptcy helps (or doesn’t help) in different circumstances.

1. If you’re current on your home mortgage(s) but struggling to keep that up, and are behind on some or many of your other debts:

Chapter 7:  Would likely discharge (legally write off) most if not all of your other debts, freeing up cash flow so that you can make your house payments. Would also stop those other debts from turning into judgments, which would likely be liens against your home. May also enable you to avoid falling behind on other obligations—income taxes, support payment, utility bills—which could also otherwise turn into liens against your home.

Chapter 13:  Does the same as above, plus is often a better way to deal with many other special debts, such as income taxes, back support payments, and vehicle loans. May be able to get rid of a second or third mortgage.  Is better at protecting assets, if you either have more equity in your home than your homestead exemption allows or have any other “non-exempt” asset(s).

2. If you’re not current on home mortgage(s) but are only very few payments behind, with no foreclosure started:

Chapter 7:  May buy you enough time to get current on your mortgage, if you’ve slipped only two or three payments behind. Most mortgage companies will agree to give you several months—sometimes up to a year—to catch up on your mortgage arrears. That’s a “forbearance agreement”—they agree to “forbear” from foreclosing as long as you make the agreed payments. Tends to work only if you have an unusual source of money (a generous relative or a pending legal settlement that’s exempt from the other creditors), or if the Chapter 7 filing will allow you to stop paying enough to other creditors so you will be able to pay off the mortgage arrearage quickly.

Chapter 13:  Even if you’re only a few thousand dollars behind, you may well not have enough extra money each month to catch up quickly on that mortgage arrearage.  Lenders seldom voluntarily give you more than 10-12 months to catch up, but a Chapter 13 forces them to give you a much longer period to do so—three to five years. That greatly reduces how much you need to pay towards the arrears every month, often turning the impossible into the achievable.

3. If you’re many payments behind on your mortgage(s), regardless whether a foreclosure has started:

Chapter 7:  Not helpful here unless you have some extraordinary means for paying off the large mortgage arrears. Buys only a few weeks of time, at most three months or so (if the mortgage lender chooses to do nothing while your bankruptcy case is pending). Also, cannot get rid of a second or third mortgage.

Chapter 13:  Again, gives you the option of up to five years to slowly but surely pay off the mortgage arrearage, during all of which time your home is protected from foreclosure as long as you maintain the agreed Chapter 13 Plan payments. Assumes that you can at least make the regular mortgage payment consistently, along with the arrearage catch-up payment. Does not, under current law, enable you to reduce the first mortgage payment amount, although again might be able to get you out of your second or third mortgage

If any of this looks like it could provide the help that your home needs, please give me a call. Remember: these are just the broad rules. There are lots of other twists and turns which will likely apply to you. To understand the advantages and disadvantages of each option, and to get practical advice about what direction to go, you should see an attorney. Let me show you how the law can help meet your needs.


Here’s how to focus on running your business, by stopping your creditors from taking the wind out of your sails.

In the last few blogs I’ve been talking about some of the extra considerations that come into play when you own a business, are having financial troubles, and wonder if bankruptcy can help. No question—most of the time, having a business adds an extra layer of issues for me to help you work through in deciding whether bankruptcy is the best option, and then putting your case together if it is. But a business Chapter 13 case does not have to be complicated. Let’s take a very simple business situation, and walk it through a Chapter 13 case, to get a practical feel for how it works.

So let’s say Mark, a single 30-year old, started a handyman business when he lost his job three years ago. Before that he’d done about ten years of all kinds of construction and maintenance work, already owned all the tools he needed, and had even taken a few courses at the local community college in small business management because he’d always wanted to run his own business. He had good credit at the time, owed nothing but about $3,000 on some credit cards, plus had never been late on his modest mortgage. Mark had lived all his life in the same city, was the kind of guy who knew tons of people, and had well-earned reputation that he could fix anything. He put a lot of time into putting together a detailed and realistic business plan. He knew he should have some money saved up to get him past the start-up phase, but then the recession hit, he was out of work, and decided it was now or never. Besides, he had $7,000 of credit available on his credit cards if he got desperate.

His business started off slowly, partly because he didn’t have any money for advertizing. But he was creative and worked very hard building a customer base and a good business reputation. His income was creeping steadily upwards, but way too slowly. Over the course of the first year Mark maxed out his credit cards, and simply didn’t have enough money to pay income taxes to the IRS, falling behind $7,000 to them. Then during the second year he managed to service the credit card debt but couldn’t pay it down any, and fell behind another $7,000 to Uncle Sam. Then this last year, the IRS forced him to start making $500 monthly payments on his $14,000 debt, plus the estimated payments for the current year so that he didn’t continue falling further behind with them. As a result he’d gotten spotty on his credit card payments, which jacked up the interest rates and pushed him over the credit limits, piling on all kinds of fees. And now he’s missed a total of 4 payments on his mortgage, putting him $6,000 in arrears.

In the midst of all this his business now has steady—and still slowly increasing—income, Mark enjoys his work in spite of all the financial pressures, and believes he can keep growing it, especially if/when the economy improves. But the IRS has him in a vice, the credit cards creditors are sending their accounts to collection agencies, and his home is heading sooner or later to foreclosure.

A Chapter 13 case filed now for Mark would:

  • Stop the pressure by the IRS on the $14,000 debt, by cancelling the $500 payments, and giving him much longer—3-to-5 years—to pay that debt, usually with NO additional ongoing interest or “failure to pay” penalties, thus reducing the total amount to be paid to the IRS.
  • Stop collection efforts by the credit card creditors and collection agencies, who would only receive money AFTER he caught up on the house arrearage AND paid off all the taxes, with the amount received depending on what Mark could afford and how much in assets he needed to protect.
  • Immediately and consistently protect all his business and personal assets—tools and supplies, his business truck and/or personal vehicle, receivables owed by customers for prior work, and his business and personal bank and/or credit union accounts.
  • Allow him to focus on his business instead of his creditors, giving that business much more of a chance at success.
  • Get him debt-free–at the end of the 3-to-5 years Chapter 13 Plan, his mortgage would be current, he would owe nothing more to Uncle Sam, and he would have paid as much as he could afford on the credit cards, with the rest written off.

And the business that he loves, and in which he invested so much hope and dedication, would be alive and well.

In my experience the number one reason people choose to file Chapter 13 instead of Chapter 7 is to save their home. And it’s not just because it gives you a bigger hammer against your mortgage company. It gives you a hammer, but also a whole bunch of other tools. Some are more subtle but just as important in the right case. Each person’s situation probably doesn’t call for more than a few of those tools, but it’s great to have them all in the tool chest. So let’s look at the ten main ones, the first five in this blog and the other five in my next one.  

1.  The one tool most people know about is that in most circumstances you are given the length of your Chapter 13 Plan–as long as 5 years—to cure your mortgage arrears, the amount you are behind on your mortgages at the time your case is filed. Outside of Chapter 13, mortgage companies seldom let you have more than a few months to pay the arrears, an impossible task if you are not expecting to receive some windfall of money. During the entire repayment time that a Chapter 13 allows, you are protected from foreclosure and most other collection efforts, just so long as you play by the rules laid out in your Plan. If you do play by those rules, you will be completely current on your home when you finish your case.


2.  A benefit of Chapter 13 which has become tremendously helpful during these last few years of shrinking home values is the “stripping” of junior mortgages. If your home is worth no more than the amount of your first mortgage, then any second mortgage can be “stripped” of its lien against your home and treated in your Chapter 13 case like a “general unsecured creditor.” That means that the second mortgage balance is lumped in with the rest of those bottom-of-the-barrel creditors, and whatever portion of the balance is not paid during your case is written off at the end of it. This is not available in Chapter 7.


3. Both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 prevent federal and other income tax liens from attaching to your home, but, assuming the lien would be on a tax that cannot be written off in bankruptcy, Chapter 7’s protection lasts only a few months. The tax lien can be imposed against your home just as soon as the Chapter 7 case is over, usually only about three months later. This gives the IRS or other taxing authority lots of additional leverage against you, requiring you to pay lots more interest and penalties, AND putting your house in jeopardy. In contrast, if you file a Chapter 13 case before a tax lien is recorded, there will never be a tax lien against your home. That’s because this tax will be paid off in your Chapter 13 case as a “priority creditor,” without any additional interest or penalties, with no tax enforcement—including a tax lien recording—permitted throughout the process.


4. Chapter 13 is also the better route if your home already has an unpaid income tax lien against it before you file bankruptcy. Again assuming that lien was imposed for a tax that cannot be written off in bankruptcy, Chapter 7 case neither provides you a way to pay this tax nor protects you from the full force of tax collection for any longer than a few short months. In contrast, Chapter 13 both provides you a mechanism to pay these inescapable debts on a reasonable timetable and protects you while you do so.


5. A key point of Chapter 13 is that it slashes your other debt obligations so that you can gain the needed monthly cash flow to better be able to afford your necessary home obligations. Amazingly, in many cases you can have more room in your budget to pay towards your home even than if you had filed a Chapter 7 case. That’s because if you owe certain kinds of debts that would not be written off in a Chapter 7 case—such as an ongoing vehicle loan, certain taxes, child or spousal support arrears, and most student loans—Chapter 13 could well allow you to pay less each month on those obligations, leaving more for the home.