Chapter 13 provides awesome tools for hanging onto your home. Yet sometimes Chapter 7 is enough and better.


Chapter 13 and Your Home

Chapter 7—sometimes called “straight bankruptcy—is much simpler and takes much less time than Chapter 13, the version of bankruptcy with a three-to-five-year court-approved payment plan. But Chapter 13 can help in so many ways with home-related debts that people who are behind on their mortgage or have other kinds of liens on their home tend to leap to that option.

In upcoming blogs I’ll talk about all the many ways that Chapter 13 can help. But to give you a taste of them, some of the main ones include:

1. More time to catch up on any back mortgage payments: Chapter 7 gives you a limited amount of time, usually a year at the most, to catch up. Chapter 13 often gives you years, which greatly reduces how much you have to pay each month to eventually get current.

2. Stripping second or third mortgage:  Under Chapter 7 you have to simply pay any junior mortgages. Chapter 13 gives you the possibility of “stripping” a second or third mortgage lien off your home title, potentially saving you hundreds of dollars monthly, and thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars in the long run.

3. The flexibility that comes from getting extended protection from your mortgage holder(s): Chapter 7 gives you at most only about three or four months while your mortgage holder can’t foreclose and your other creditors can’t take action against you or your home. In contrast, under Chapter 13 you could potentially be protected for years. This can often give you creative ways to meet your goals, such as letting you delay selling your home for several years.

4. A good way to catch up on any back real property taxes: Filing a Chapter 7 case doesn’t protect you from property tax foreclosure—beyond the three, four months that the case lasts. Chapter 13 protects you and your home while you gradually catch up on those taxes, in a court-approved plan that also incorporates your mortgage(s) and all other debts.

5. Protects your home from previously recorded and upcoming income tax liens: Chapter 7 usually does nothing to address tax liens that have already been recorded on the home, or to stop future tax liens on income taxes that you continue to owe after the bankruptcy case is completed. In contrast Chapter 13 provides an efficient and effective procedure for valuing, paying off, and getting the release of tax liens. And the IRS/state cannot record a tax lien on income taxes while the Chapter 13 case is active.

That may all sound pretty good (and there’s more). But still, Chapter 13 may be neither necessary nor appropriate in your situation.

Consider Chapter 7 Instead of Chapter 13 When Chapter 7 is Enough

If you are behind on your mortgage payments, but could realistically catch up within about a year, you may not need the stronger medicine of Chapter 13. If you could catch up after writing off all or most of your debts in a Chapter 7 case, and by being financially very disciplined for that one year, that would likely be the wiser way to go.

Most mortgage lenders will negotiate a “forbearance agreement” with you after you file a Chapter 7 case, allowing you to stay in your home and to catch up on your mortgage arrearage by paying a certain amount extra per month. How much time you will have to get current on your mortgage depends on your lender’s practices, your payment history with that lender, and other related factors.

Considering the benefit of getting to your fresh start in a year or so, instead of three to five years, be sure to carefully discuss with your attorney whether solving your mortgage arrearage problem through Chapter 7 looks feasible. Of course also look at all the other advantages and disadvantages of these two options in light of all the rest of your financial circumstances.

Consider Chapter 7 When Chapter 13 Will Not Likely Do Enough

As powerful as Chapter 13 can be, it has its own limitations regarding home debts. For example, it does not have the ability to reduce your first mortgage payment or mortgage balance. It can’t reduce your annual property taxes or discharge (legally write off) any property taxes.  And if you subsequently cannot maintain the payments you agree to in your Chapter 13 plan, you could very well lose the protection against foreclosure and other collection efforts against you.

Especially if your home is under water—you owe on it more than it’s worth—try to think practically about whether the effort to keep the property will be worth the effort. Even if you do have some equity in the property, if you are really going way out on a limb to catch up on the mortgage arrearage and other debts related to the home, carefully consider whether you will really be able to pay what you are arranging to pay. If you pay a bunch of extra money over the course of a year or two only to not be able to maintain the necessary payments and lose the home, you could waste a lot of your time, money, and effort.

As you honestly discuss with your attorney your financial goals, consider whether filing a Chapter 7  case and letting your house go would actually be a better way to meet your (and your family’s) real needs. Chapter 13 should not be a last-ditch long-shot. Be honest with yourself that you may be trying to hang onto a house that you won’t be able to even with all the help that Chapter 13 can provide.


Powerful Chapter 13 gives you tools to solve your mortgage and other home lien problems from a number of different angles. 


The Limits of Chapter 7 “Straight Bankruptcy”

In my last blog I described how a Chapter 7 case can under certain circumstances help you enough to save your home. Or in other situations it can at least help you delay a foreclosure for as long as you need.  But Chapter 7 can only give limited help, maybe enough if you aren’t too far behind on your mortgage circumstances, or you don’t have other kinds of lienholders causing problems.

The Extraordinary Tools of Chapter 13

Chapter 13, on the other hand, provides you a range of much more powerful and flexible tools for solving many, many debt issues so that you can keep your home.

Here are the first five of ten significant ways that Chapter 13 can save your home (with the other five to come in my next blog).

Under Chapter 13 case you can:

1.  stretch out the amount of time for catching up on back mortgage payments for as long as 5 years. This is in contrast to the one year or so that most mortgage lenders will give you to catch up if you do a Chapter 7 case instead. This longer period can greatly lower your monthly catch-up payments, making more likely that you would succeed in actually catching up and keeping your home. Very importantly, throughout this catch-up period your home is protected from foreclosure as long as you stay with the payment plan, one that you propose. Within limits you can later modify that plan if your circumstances change.

2. slash your other debt obligations so that you can afford your mortgage payments. The mortgage debt—especially your first mortgage—can’t be significantly changed under Chapter 13. So you are usually required to pay your full monthly mortgage payment, and to catch up any arrearage, but to accomplish this you are allowed to pay to most of your other debts.

3.  permanently prevent income tax liens, and child and spousal support liens, and such from attaching to your home. The “automatic stay” preventing such liens under Chapter 7 last usually only about 3 months, and there’s no mechanism for dealing with these kinds of debts. Instead under Chapter 13, these liens are prevented throughout the three-to-five-year length of the case.

4.  have the time to pay debts that can’t be discharged (legally written off) in bankruptcy, all the while being protected from those creditors attacking your home. So even if a tax or support lien is already in place before you file, you are given the opportunity to pay the debt while under the protection of the bankruptcy laws. That undercuts the leverage of those liens against your home. Then by the end of your case, the debts are paid and those liens are released.

5.  discharge (write off) debts owed to creditors which could otherwise attack your home. For example, certain (generally older) income taxes can be discharged, leaving you owing nothing. But had you not filed the Chapter 13 case, or delayed doing so, a tax lien could have been recorded, which would have required you to pay some or all of the balance to free your home from that lien. Even most standard debts can turn into judgment liens against your house once you are sued and a judgment is entered. Depending on the facts, a judgment liens may or may not be able to be gotten rid of in bankruptcy.  If instead you file a Chapter 13 case to prevent these liens from happening, at the end of your case the debt is gone, and no such liens attach to your home.

See my next blog post for the other five house-saving tools of Chapter 13.


A short sale might be your best alternative. But they can be hard sales to close, and may not accomplish what you hope.


Someone Doesn’t Get Paid

In a short sale, you sell your house by “shorting”—underpaying—one or more of the lienholders, because the sale price is not enough to pay everyone in full.

In the depths of the recent real estate crash, a large percentage of home sales were short sales because the value of so many houses had fallen below what was owed on them. Even though property values have climbed in many parts of the country, there are still millions of homes “under water,” and so can only be sold in a short sale.

Why Short Sales Are Harder to Close

You can imagine that if a mortgage holder or someone else has a lien on your home and a legal right to be paid in full, it will be reluctant to take anything less than payment in full before releasing its lien. And these lienholders can include not just voluntary ones like your first and maybe second mortgage, but also judgments, income taxes, support obligations, unpaid utilities, and property taxes. Generally all lienholders must consent and release their liens, or the sale cannot occur.

Their Benefits

Beyond getting out of a house that you can’t afford, the main benefit of a successful short sale is that it avoids a foreclosure on your credit record. Although in general that is a sensible goal, a short sale is also likely detrimental on your credit record—after all you are not paying one or more of your creditors in full. Also, given how many millions of foreclosures occurred in the last 5-6 years, there is some indication that there is and will continue to be less credit record difference between a short sale and a foreclosure. Depending on the rest of your credit record, now and in the future, focusing on avoiding foreclosure may not be as important as you may think.=

Short Sales Often Do Not Come Together

Most short sales take much more effort and time to pull off than expected, so they usually take longer, and then often fail to close, putting the homeowners further behind and no better off. The reasons they often don’t work are:

  • Unhelpful and slow mortgage lenders: In a short sale usually the first mortgage holder has to give some money from the sale proceeds to a junior lienholder or two. The only reason the first mortgage holder would do that is if getting a little less out of the sale is better than going through the delay and cost of a foreclosure. Although many mortgage lenders have gotten better organized and staffed to process short sales, working with them can still be like pulling teeth.
  • Any lienholders can refuse to cooperate and kill the deal: When the pie that is too small, it’s hard to make everybody happy and cooperative. Any lienholder can refuse to take the proposed reduction in payment and jeopardize the closing.
  • The realtors and other middlemen often have the most to gain: Realtors and others in the real estate sales industry often benefit more from a short sale than you do. There are good reasons that unbiased observers—like bankruptcy judges—tend to discourage short sales.

Short Sales Can Be Dangerous

You could end up legally liable to those lienholders who were not paid in full, and could also potentially owe extra income taxes.

  • Unpaid balances on the junior mortgages and liens: You may be told that you will not be liable on debts that aren’t paid in full from the home sale, but that’s not always true. You need to be sure that the settlement documents and the applicable law in fact cut off any liability. Be careful about feeling forced to accept some remaining liability just to get the deal done.  
  • Potential tax consequences: This issue is a complicated one that can’t be covered here in adequate detail. The main point is that debt forgiveness can be treated as income subject to taxation unless you fit within one of the exceptions. Make sure you talk with an appropriate tax specialist about this before investing any time or expectations in the short sale option.  

Short sale attempts often fit two wise rules of thumb: 1) desperate actions often lead to no good, and 2) if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.


Here are 3 common scenarios. When is Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” enough, and when do you need Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts”? 


Assuming that your most important goal is saving your home, here’s how each kind of bankruptcy helps with that goal.

Scenario #1: Current on Your Home Mortgage(s), Behind on 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. Stops those other debts from turning into judgments and liens against your home. May also allow you not to fall behind on other obligations—income taxes, support payment, utility bills—which could also otherwise turn into liens against your home.

Chapter 13:  Same benefits as Chapter 7, plus 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 “strip” (permanently get rid of) a 2nd or 3rd mortgage, so that you would not have to make that monthly payment, and paying little or nothing on the balance during the case and then discharging any remaining balance at the successful completion of your case.  Is better at protecting assets than Chapter 7, if you either have more equity in your home than your homestead exemption allows or have any other asset(s) not protected by other property exemptions.

Scenario #2. Not Current on Home Mortgage(s) But Only a Few Payments Behind & No Pending Foreclosure

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 and their servicers (the people you actually interact with) will agree to give you several months—generally up to a year—to catch up on your mortgage arrearage. Generally called a “forbearance agreement”—lender agrees to “forbear” from foreclosing as long as you make the agreed payments. Works 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 filing Chapter 7 will stop enough money going to other creditors so you will have enough monthly cash flow to pay off the mortgage arrearage quickly.

Chapter 13:  Even if only a few thousand dollars behind on your mortgage, you may not have enough extra money each month after filing a Chapter 7 case to catch up quickly on that mortgage arrearage.  Lenders seldom voluntarily give you more than about a year to catch up, but if you file a Chapter 13 case that forces them to accept a much longer period to do so—three to five years. That greatly reduces what you need to pay towards the arrears every month, often making it affordable.  

Scenario #3. Many Payments Behind on Your Mortgage(s):

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, or at most three months or so (if the mortgage lender chooses to do nothing while your bankruptcy case is pending). Also, no possibility of “stripping”a 2nd or 3rd mortgage.

Chapter 13:  As stated above, gives you up to five years to pay off the mortgage arrearage, 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 enable you to reduce the first mortgage payment amount, although in some situations you may be able to “strip” your 2nd or 3rd mortgage.


CAUTION: these are just the very basic advantages and disadvantages. There are lots of other twists and turns which will likely apply to your unique scenario. Be sure to meet with an attorney for the best game plan for you to meet your goals. 


The U. S. Constitution doesn’t talk about it, so how does filing bankruptcy give you the power to stop a foreclosure?

As you’ve probably heard, bankruptcy is explicitly covered in the Constitution. But not much.  All it says is that Congress has the power “to establish… uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States.”  (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 4.) Not a word about the rights and obligations of the person filing bankruptcy. Nor about the rights and obligations of creditors.

The Fifth Amendment talks about the rights of creditors when it says that a person shall not “be deprived of… property, without due process of law.”  So let’s say you have entered into a contract to pay a loan taken out on the purchase of your home, and that contract includes a condition that the creditor can take your home when you don’t maintain the payments on the loan.  If indeed you do not make payments, the creditor’s contractual ability to take your home is a property right it then owns. It bargained for that right with you when it lent you the money to purchase the home.

But you’ve heard that bankruptcy DOES have the power to stand in the way of your mortgage holder’s right to foreclose on the mortgage. Where does that power come from?

According to the U. S. Supreme Court, which dealt with this issue a number of times during the Great Depression in the 1930s, that power “incidentally to impair or destroy the obligation of private contracts… must have been within the contemplation of the framers of the Constitution.” Continental Bank v. Rock Island Ry., 294 U.S. 648, 680-81 (1935). The Court’s rationale was that because Congress was given “the express power to pass uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies,” delaying the exercise of creditors’ rights “necessarily results from the nature of the power.”

But, showing this isn’t so straightforward, later that same year the Supreme Court struck down an amendment to the bankruptcy law that had been enacted in 1934 to address the massive number of farm foreclosures. One of the reasons the law was ruled unconstitutional is because it took away from the mortgage-holding bank a property right: the “right to determine when such [foreclosure] sale shall be held, subject only to the discretion of the court.” Louisville Joint Stock Land Bank v. Radford, 295 U.S. 555, 594 (1935).

So Congress quickly changed the law that same year to try to meet the Court’s objections. When that new law came before the Court, this time it was upheld, in an opinion written by the same justice, the eminent Justice Louis Brandeis, who had written the above opinion striking down the earlier law.

This time the bank holding the farmer’s mortgage based its argument that the law was “unconstitutional… mainly upon the… assertion is that the new Act in effect gives to the mortgagor [the farmer filing bankruptcy] the absolute right to a three-year stay; and that a three-year moratorium cannot be justified.”

After listing numerous ways in which the three-year stay was conditioned for the protection and benefit of the creditor, Justice Brandeis concluded that this stay, and the entire new law, was constitutional, as follows:

The power here exerted by Congress is the broad power “To establish… uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States.” The question which the objections raise is… whether the legislation modifies the secured creditor’s rights…  to such an extent as to deny the due process of law guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. A court of bankruptcy may affect the interests of lien holders in many ways. To carry out the purposes of the Bankruptcy Act, it may direct that all liens upon property forming part of a bankrupt’s estate be marshalled; or that the property be sold free of encumbrances and the rights of all lien holders be transferred to the proceeds of the sale. Despite the peremptory terms of a pledge, it may enjoin sale of the collateral, if it finds that the sale would hinder or delay preparation or consummation of a plan of reorganization. It may enjoin like action by a mortgagee which would defeat the purpose of [the new law] to effect rehabilitation of the farmer mortgagor. For the reasons stated, we are of opinion that the provisions of [the new law] make no unreasonable modification of the mortgagee’s rights; and hence are valid.

Wright v. Vinton Branch of Mountain Trust Bank of Roanoke, 300 U. S. 440, 470 (1937)(emphasis added, internal case citations omitted).

That why your bankruptcy filing powerfully stops a home foreclosure, even though the Constitution doesn’t say anything directly about this, and even though stopping that foreclosure impinges on a property right of your foreclosing mortgage lender.

In bankruptcy, are you allowed to favor: 1) creditors with collateral, so that you can keep the collateral; 2) creditors toward whom you have special loyalty; and 3) creditors who have extraordinary leverage against you?

When clients first talk with me about filing bankruptcy, they are often very concerned about what will happen to debts that they want to keep paying. In fact sometimes people believe that bankruptcy is not a serious option for them because they are afraid of what will happen with these debts that are so important to them. As their legal counselor, my job is to respect and understand these fears.  Then I can make recommendations about how to best deal with these debts.

These special debts fall into three categories.

1. Debts You Care About Because of Crucial Collateral

Before getting to the point of seriously considering bankruptcy, you may have been doing everything possible to keep current on your home or vehicle. You may have made the decision that holding on to your home for the sake of your family is your absolutely highest priority. Or you may feel the same way toward your vehicle, because you need to be able to get to work and/or to keep your family or personal life sane.

Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 both have ways that you can help keep your home and vehicles. Sometimes these involve not paying other creditors so that you can pay the mortgage or vehicle loan. In other situations you may be able to keep your home and vehicle while paying significantly less to do so. Overall, bankruptcy usually allows you to focus your limited financial resources on these kinds of debts if they are your highest priority.

2. Debts You Care About Because of Moral Obligation

Many of my clients feel different levels of loyalty to different creditors. Some even feel guilty about feeling that way. But it is perfectly human to feel differently about a personal loan owed to a family member than about a credit card balance owed to a national bank. Or how you feel towards a medical debt owed directly to your long-time family doctor compared to how you feel towards a debt that is now at a second or third collection agency and you don’t even know which medical provider they are collecting for. 

If you feel an absolute moral obligation to pay a debt regardless whether or not you file bankruptcy, there are safe ways to do so and very dangerous ones. I’ll tell you about this in an upcoming blog. In any event, be sure you tell your attorney about this because it can effect whether you file a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13 case, and sometimes also the timing of your filing.

3. Debts You Care About Because of Extra Creditor Powers

Although one of the most basic principles of bankruptcy law is that your creditors must be treated equally, the more accurate version of that principle is that legally equal creditors must be treated equally. And because the law is filled with legal distinctions among creditors, some debts are more dangerous than others, both inside and outside of bankruptcy. You may well have heard about or directly experienced the extraordinary collection powers of the taxing authorities, support enforcement agencies, or student loan creditors, for example. You may also be aware that some debts cannot or might not be written off in bankruptcy. Understandably you’re concerned what will happen with these debts if a bankruptcy won’t help you with them.

The reality is that usually a bankruptcy will help you with even the most aggressive creditors, even those whose debts will not be discharged. Almost always there are sensible ways to deal with these special creditors. Sometimes it involves using the bankruptcy system’s own substantial powers to gain important advantages over these creditors. Sometimes it involves reasonable payment arrangements after completing a Chapter 7 case, when you have no other debts. Sometimes it involves directly favoring these creditors by paying them before or instead of other creditors in a Chapter 13 case, while under continuous protection from the bankruptcy court. Overall, usually bankruptcy provides you a manageable way to handle these legally favored creditors.

The next few blogs will give you specific information on how bankruptcy can help you keep valuable collateral, satisfy your moral obligations, and deal with your most aggressive creditors.

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.

Your vehicle loan, home mortgage, account at the appliance or electronics store, and maybe a debt that’s resulted in a judgment lien—these debts with collateral are the ones that grab the most attention during a bankruptcy case. And that includes the attention of the creditors, very interested in “their” collateral.


General unsecured debts, which I talked about in the last two blogs, are pleasantly boring in most bankruptcy cases. In a Chapter 7 case, they are generally discharged (legally written off) without any opposition by the creditors, who usually get nothing. And in a Chapter 13 case, general unsecured debts are often just paid whatever money is left over after the secured and priority debts, and trustee and attorney fees, are paid. Nice and boring. That’s because the creditors don’t have much to fight about.

But with secured debts—debts with collateral—both sides have something to fight about—the collateral. The creditors know that the vehicle or house or other collateral is the only thing backing up the debt you owe to them, so they can get quite pushy about protecting that collateral.

The next few blogs will be about how you use either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 to deal with the most important kinds of secured debts. Today we start with a few basic points that apply to just about all secured debts.

Two Deals in One

It helps to look at any secured debt as two interrelated agreements between you and the creditor. First, the creditor agreed to give you money or credit in return for your promise to repay it on certain terms. Second, you received rights to—and usually title in—the collateral, with you in return agreeing that the creditor can take that collateral if you don’t comply with your first agreement to repay the money.

Generally, bankruptcy will absolve you of that first agreement—your promise to pay—but the creditors’ rights to collateral survive bankruptcy (except in certain rare situations we will highlight later). Your ability to discharge the debt gives you some options, and can sometimes give you a certain amount of leverage. But the creditors’ rights about the collateral give them certain options and leverage, too. You’ll see how this tug-of-war plays out with vehicle and home loans, and few other important secured debts.

Value of Collateral

In that tug-of-war between your power to discharge the debt and a creditor’s rights to the collateral, how much the collateral is worth as compared to the amount of the debt becomes very important. If the collateral is worth a lot more than the amount of the debt, the creditor is said to be well-secured. It has a much better chance of having the debt be paid in full. You’ll really want to pay off the relatively small debt to get the relatively expensive collateral free and clear of that debt. Or if you didn’t make the payments the creditor will get the collateral and sell it for at least as much as the debt.

If the collateral is worth less than the amount of the debt, the creditor is said to be undersecured. It is much less likely to have this debt paid in full. You’ll be less likely to pay a debt only to get collateral worth less than what you’re paying. And if you surrender the collateral the creditor will sell it for less than the debt amount.

Depreciation of Collateral, and Interest

With the value of the collateral being such an important consideration, the loss of value through depreciation is something that creditors care about, a concern which the bankruptcy court respects. Also, in most situations secured creditors are entitled to interest. So, you’ll see that in fights with secured creditors, this issue about the combined amount of monthly depreciation and interest often comes into play.


Virtually every agreement with a secured creditor—certainly those involving vehicles and homes—requires that you carry insurance on the collateral. If the collateral is damaged or destroyed, this insurance usually pays the debt on the collateral before it pays you anything. And, if you fail to get the required insurance—or sometimes even if you simply don’t inform the creditor about having the insurance—the creditor itself is entitled to buy “force-placed” insurance to protect only its interest in the collateral, AND charge you the often outrageously high premium.


With these points in mind, the next blog will tell you your options with your vehicle loan under Chapter 7.

Homeowners who lost their homes to foreclosure may need to commit perjury to get restitution payments though the settlement.  That would be the deepest kind of insult on injury.

In the last blog, I explained what a homeowner who lost a home to foreclosure (from 2008 through 2011) will have to assert to get his or her small share of that $1.5 billion pot of money:

1. “Borrower lost the home to foreclosure while attempting to save the home through a loan modification or other loss mitigation effort.”

2. “Servicer errors or misconduct in the loss mitigation or foreclosure processes affected the borrower’s ability to save the home.”

While these may seem superficially sensible, in practice they are very troublesome, especially because the statements must be made under penalty of perjury.

As to the first statement, what “other loss mitigation effort” “to save the home” will be considered sufficient to be able to make that statement? Must that effort have continued right up to the foreclosure date to be considered to have “lost the home to foreclosure while attempting to save the home”?  How is the former homeowner to know whether he or she can make this statement truthfully?

The second statement is even more of a problem. How can the former homeowner know whether “servicer errors or misconduct in the loss mitigation or foreclosure processes affected the borrower’s ability to save the home”? The robo-signing of foreclosure documents—mortgage servicers’ false assertions made under oath by the thousands—were only discovered through borrowers’ attorneys’  aggressive discovery efforts during litigation. In this nationwide settlement, the five banks are not admitting ANY wrongdoing or liability. (For example, see the non-admission clause in the Federal Release, Exhibit F in the Wells Fargo settlement documents, paragraph F on page F-11, which is page 232 of the 315 pages of those documents.) Presumably the banks are not now going to start admitting wrongdoing on a case-by-case basis so that borrowers can answer this statement accurately.

So to receive the restitution payment a former homeowner will have to sign a statement under penalty of perjury affirming the truthfulness of one statement that is so vague as to be in many situations meaningless, and the truthfulness of a second statement the accuracy of which is unknowable.

There may yet be a partial solution, to at least the first required statement about the extent of borrowers’ efforts to save the home. The claim form to be sent out to the borrowers’ by the yet-undesignated Settlement Administrator may give enough guidance about this. A tentative 3-page claim form has been prepared by the Monitoring Committee for possible use by the Settlement Administrator. It may create a bright line between qualifying and non-qualifying borrower efforts. We don’t know yet because although this tentative claim form is being made available for companies applying to become the Settlement Administrator (the application deadline is April 30, 2012), it is not being released to anyone else.

But even so, I see no conceivable way that the second statement about “servicer error or misconduct” can be made known to the borrowers in order for them to be able to assert that under penalty of perjury. The banks are not going to admit to wrongdoing as to two million or so homeowners in direct contradiction of their non-liability assertion in the settlement documents.

So here’s the moral irony:

1. The banks were accused by the federal government and 49 states of a long list of allegations of serious wrongdoing which take 10 pages to detail (see pages F-2 through F-11 of the Federal Release in the settlement documents referred to above). These allegations include fraud and misrepresentations of numerous kinds, including in the form of many thousands of perjured documents submitted to courts over an extended period of time. The banks do not admit to any of these allegations or to any resulting liability.

2. Now the banks have negotiated with the governmental entities to pay restitution for their extensive alleged wrongdoing, and in particular to homeowners who’ve already lost their homes to foreclosure. But as a precondition to receiving that restitution, these former homeowners will in many cases be faced with a moral dilemma: can they sign a statement under penalty of perjury asserting that their “ability to save the home” was affected by “servicer errors or misconduct” when they do not know whether such errors or misconduct happened as to their mortgage, and if so whether it had any effect on their “ability to save the home.”

3. Because the “Monitoring Committee” has made clear that the “Settlement Administrator” will not be required to get documentation from borrowers about their statements on the claim forms, borrowers are seemingly being encouraged to make statements that will in many cases be vague and factually unverifiable, while asserting the truthfulness and accuracy of those statements under penalty of perjury.

4. The banks, having admitted to no fault, having paid their modest penalty, and having foisted this moral conundrum onto the foreclosed borrowers, can now wash their hands entirely of the matter. They no longer care how each borrower handles the matter since the pot of money does not change. The money just shifts out of the hands of the perhaps more carefully honest borrowers who disqualify themselves by admitting that they cannot swear to the fact that they lost the property because of lender wrongdoing.

5. Thus this settlement process has lowered borrowers—through circumstances almost entirely outside their control—to the moral level of the original robo-signers: “just sign here and don’t worry what the statements say or what they mean.”