Stop Foreclosure, Bankruptcy Filing and Loan Modification FAQ
Attorney Malik Ahmad Las Vegas, NV
- 1.) What exactly is bankruptcy?
- 2.) Will filing for bankruptcy protect me from creditors’ efforts to collect what I owe?
- 3.) What is the difference between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy?
- 4.) What might I lose if I file for bankruptcy?
- 5.) How Creditors Can Get Around the Automatic Stay?
- 6.) Will bankruptcy stop a foreclosure?
- 7.) What is a Short Sale?
- 8.) What type of situation is the short sale best for?
- 9.) How does a homeowner benefit from a short sale?
- 10.) Why would a bank or mortgage lender want to do a short sale?
- 11.) Will a short sale “save my credit”?
- 12.) What is a discharge in bankruptcy?
- 13.) When does the discharge occur?
- 14.) How does the debtor get a discharge?
- 15.) Are all of the debtor’s debts discharged or only some?
- 16.) Does the debtor have the right to a discharge or can creditors object to the discharge?
- 17.) Can a debtor receive a second discharge in a later chapter 7 case?
- 18.) Can the discharge be revoked?
- 19.) May the debtor pay a discharged debt after the bankruptcy case has been concluded?
- 20.) What can the debtor do if a creditor attempts to collect a discharged debt after the case is concluded?
- 21.) May an employer terminate a debtor’s employment solely because the person was a debtor or failed to pay a discharged debt?
- 22.) How can the Debtor obtain another Copy of the Discharge Order?
What exactly is bankruptcy?
Bankruptcy is a federal court process designed to help people eliminate their debts or repay them under the protection of the bankruptcy court. Bankruptcies can generally be described as “liquidation” or “reorganization.”
Will filing for bankruptcy protect me from creditors’ efforts to collect what I owe?
When you file bankruptcy, an “automatic stay” goes into effect. The automatic stay prohibits most creditors from taking any action to collect the debts you owe them unless the bankruptcy court lifts the stay and lets the creditor proceed with collections.
What is the difference between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy?
In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you ask the bankruptcy court to discharge most of the debts you owe. In exchange for this discharge, the bankruptcy trustee can take any property you own that is not exempt from collection, sell it, and distribute the proceeds to your creditors. In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you file a repayment plan with the bankruptcy court to pay back your debts over time. The amount you’ll have to repay depends on how much you earn, the amount and types of debt you owe, and how much property you own.
What might I lose if I file for bankruptcy?
* You may be able to exempt all of your homes equity.
* Insurance. You usually get to keep the cash value of your policies.
* Retirement plans. Pensions which qualify under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) are fully protected in bankruptcy. So are many other retirement benefits; often, however, IRAs and Keoghs are not.
* Personal property. You’ll be able to keep most household goods, furniture, furnishings, clothing (other than furs), appliances, books and musical instruments. You may be able to keep jewelry only worth up to $1,000 or so. Most states let you keep a vehicle with more than $2,400 of equity. And many states give you a “wild card” amount of money — often $1,000 or more – that you can apply toward any property.
* Public benefits. All public benefits, such as welfare, Social Security, and unemployment insurance, are fully protected.
* Tools used on your job. You’ll probably be able to keep up to a few thousand dollars worth of the tools used in your trade or profession.
* Wages. In most states, you can protect at least 75% of wages that you have earned but not yet received.
How Creditors Can Get Around the Automatic Stay?
Usually, a creditor can get around the automatic stay by asking the bankruptcy court to remove (“lift”) the stay, if it is not serving its intended purpose. For example, say you file for bankruptcy the day before your house is to be sold in foreclosure. You have no equity in the house, you can’t pay your mortgage arrears, and you have no way of keeping the property. The foreclosing creditor is apt to run to court soon after you file for bankruptcy, to ask for permission to proceed with the foreclosure – and that permission is likely to be granted.
Will bankruptcy stop a foreclosure?
Yes and No. A home is an asset usually secured by a deed of trust. The mortgage company is entitled apply to the court for relief from the automatic stay, the order preventing creditor action by virtue of the bankruptcy. Depending upon several factors, you may be able to prolong a foreclosure until you have received your discharge from bankruptcy. Usually, to keep a home that is in foreclosure you will have to make a deal with the mortgage company. This is the key, you still must work something out with the mortgage company to repay the past due amount. This is why we say filing for Bankruptcy is like putting a band aid on a bullet wound. it may help you at first but major surgery is still required.
The bottom line is that Bankruptcy may buy you a small amount of time but negotiations will still need to be made with the Mortgage Company to enable you to keep your home. Most people who file Bankruptcy to save heir home from Foreclosure wish they had not because in most cases they are in a worse position that when they started. Filing Bankruptcy removes your leverage and places your fate in someone else’s hands. Your best option is for you to stay in control, and allow your attorney to work something out for your prior to filing.
What is a Short Sale?
A short sale is the process by which a homeowner can sell a house for less money than he actually owes on the mortgage(s). This is done by the buyer or investor providing proper documentation to the mortgage lenders to convince them to reduce the mortgage balance to allow the sale. The mortgage lender (or bank) actually takes a loss (or write-off) on the mortgage because the value of the home has fallen below the mortgage balance AND the homeowner is in a poor financial condition that will not allow him to continue to pay on time. If the bank approves the discount on the mortgage, the home can be sold for a lower price without the seller having to come up with cash to cover the shortfall, and the mortgage is satisfied and the foreclosure process stops.
What type of situation is the short sale best for?
Most short sales are done on properties in foreclosure. This means the homeowner is at least 3 payments behind and the foreclosure suit has been filed by one of the mortgage lenders. Recently, more mortgages that are simply behind or “in default” are considered short sale candidates without actually being in foreclosure. Also, the homeowner typically has negative equity or no equity in the home. In other words, the total balance owed on the mortgages is equal or greater than the price at which the house can be sold. This situation is growing increasingly common due to the easy availability of 100% mortgages (no money down) as well as the recent decline in prices.
How does a homeowner benefit from a short sale?
First and foremost, it relieves the stress of being in foreclosure and being hounded by the mortgage lender; and it allows homeowners to get rid of their big mortgage payment and move on with their lives. A short sale allows you to stop the foreclosure and get a fresh start. In my experience, this is the primary benefit to homeowners. They are tremendously thankful to just relieve the burden that their home and mortgage have become. A short sale also prevents additional damage to your credit. Having some late payments and a foreclosure filed has already done damage to your credit. However, a completed foreclosure will do much more damage and lower your credit score tremendously. Obviously, if you have to declare bankruptcy, that is a huge black mark on your credit. A short sale results in the mortgage actually being paid off, which reflects positively compared to a foreclosure.
Why would a bank or mortgage lender want to do a short sale?
A common saying is that banks are in the business of lending money and do not want to own real estate. This is slightly misleading but is essentially true. When a bank takes a property back via foreclosure, it is a long and expensive process and often results in holding the property in their inventory as a non-performing asset. Banks have a limit to the amount of non-performing assets they want to hold. Once this limit is exceeded, they have strong incentive to get rid of the properties at discount prices. For a lender, doing a short sale avoids many of the costs associated with the foreclosure process. Attorney fees, delays from borrower bankruptcy, damage to the property, costs associated with resale, property tax, insurance, etc. In a short sale scenario, the lender is able to cut its losses by getting rid of the property faster.
Will a short sale “save my credit”?
The short answer is yes and no, a short sale can save you from the worst credit disasters. By defaulting on mortgage payments and having a foreclosure filed against your property, you have already done damage to your credit. Your credit score has declined and those negatives will stay on your credit report for some time. However, it will get much worse if you allow the foreclosure to continue and do not try to short sale the property. Once a foreclosed property is sold at auction, your credit score is further reduced and when the foreclosure is completed via eviction and repossession of the home, your credit will be even further damaged. If you can complete the short sale BEFORE either of these takes place, then you can prevent that further damage to your credit. In addition, when the short sale is completed, it shows up on your credit as a “Paid” mortgage and a canceled foreclosure, which shows future creditors that you did take care of your obligations. If your situation eventually winds up in bankruptcy, then that is the worst item that could appear on your credit report and it will remain there for years and cause numerous difficulties in getting future credit.
What is a discharge in bankruptcy?
A bankruptcy discharge releases the debtor from personal liability for certain specified types of debts. In other words, the debtor is no longer legally required to pay any debts that are discharged. The discharge is a permanent order prohibiting the creditors of the debtor from taking any form of collection action on discharged debts, including legal action and communications with the debtor, such as telephone calls, letters, and personal contacts.
Although a debtor is not personally liable for discharged debts, a valid lien (i.e., a charge upon specific property to secure payment of a debt) that has not been avoided (i.e., made unenforceable) in the bankruptcy case will remain after the bankruptcy case. Therefore, a secured creditor may enforce the lien to recover the property secured by the lien.
When does the discharge occur?
The timing of the discharge varies, depending on the chapter under which the case is filed. In a chapter 7 (liquidation) case, for example, the court usually grants the discharge promptly on expiration of the time fixed for filing a complaint objecting to discharge and the time fixed for filing a motion to dismiss the case for substantial abuse (60 days following the first date set for the 341 meeting). Typically, this occurs about four months after the date the debtor files the petition with the clerk of the bankruptcy court. In individual chapter 11 cases, and in cases under chapter 12 (adjustment of debts of a family farmer or fisherman) and 13 (adjustment of debts of an individual with regular income), the court generally grants the discharge as soon as practicable after the debtor completes all payments under the plan. Since a chapter 12 or chapter 13 plan may provide for payments to be made over three to five years, the discharge typically occurs about four years after the date of filing. The court may deny an individual debtor’s discharge in a chapter 7 or 13 case if the debtor fails to complete “an instructional course concerning financial management.” The Bankruptcy Code provides limited exceptions to the “financial management” requirement if the U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator determines there are inadequate educational programs available, or if the debtor is disabled or incapacitated or on active military duty in a combat zone.
How does the debtor get a discharge?
Unless there is litigation involving objections to the discharge, the debtor will usually automatically receive a discharge. The Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure provide for the clerk of the bankruptcy court to mail a copy of the order of discharge to all creditors, the U.S. trustee, the trustee in the case, and the trustee’s attorney, if any. The debtor and the debtor’s attorney also receive copies of the discharge order. The notice, which is simply a copy of the final order of discharge, is not specific as to those debts determined by the court to be non-dischargeable, i.e., not covered by the discharge. The notice informs creditors generally that the debts owed to them have been discharged and that they should not attempt any further collection. They are cautioned in the notice that continuing collection efforts could subject them to punishment for contempt. Any inadvertent failure on the part of the clerk to send the debtor or any creditor a copy of the discharge order promptly within the time required by the rules does not affect the validity of the order granting the discharge.
Are all of the debtor’s debts discharged or only some?
Not all debts are discharged. The debts discharged vary under each chapter of the Bankruptcy Code. Section 523(a) of the Code specifically excepts various categories of debts from the discharge granted to individual debtors. Therefore, the debtor must still repay those debts after bankruptcy. Congress has determined that these types of debts are not dischargeable for public policy reasons (based either on the nature of the debt or the fact that the debts were incurred due to improper behavior of the debtor, such as the debtor’s drunken driving).
There are 19 categories of debt excepted from discharge under chapters 7, 11, and 12. A more limited list of exceptions applies to cases under chapter 13.
Generally speaking, the exceptions to discharge apply automatically if the language prescribed by section 523(a) applies. The most common types of nondischargeable debts are certain types of tax claims, debts not set forth by the debtor on the lists and schedules the debtor must file with the court, debts for spousal or child support or alimony, debts for willful and malicious injuries to person or property, debts to governmental units for fines and penalties, debts for most government funded or guaranteed educational loans or benefit overpayments, debts for personal injury caused by the debtor’s operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated, debts owed to certain tax-advantaged retirement plans, and debts for certain condominium or cooperative housing fees.
The types of debts described in sections 523(a)(2), (4) and(6) (obligations affected by fraud or maliciousness) are not automatically excepted from discharge. Creditors must ask the court to determine that these debts are excepted from discharge. In the absence of an affirmative request by the creditor and the granting of the request by the court, the types of debts set out in sections 523(a)(2), (4) and (6) will be discharged.
A slightly broader discharge of debts is available to a debtor in a chapter 13 case than in a chapter 7 case. Debts dischargeable in a chapter 13, but not in chapter 7, include debts for willful and malicious injury to property, debts incurred to pay non-dischargeable tax obligations, and debts arising from property settlements in divorce or separation proceedings. Although a chapter 13 debtor generally receives a discharge only after completing all payments required by the court-approved (i.e., “confirmed”) repayment plan, there are some limited circumstances under which the debtor may request the court to grant a “hardship discharge” even though the debtor has failed to complete plan payments. Such a discharge is available only to a debtor whose failure to complete plan payments is due to circumstances beyond the debtor’s control. The scope of a chapter 13 “hardship discharge” is similar to that in a chapter 7 case with regard to the types of debts that are excepted from the discharge. A hardship discharge also is available in chapter 12 if the failure to complete plan payments is due to “circumstances for which the debtor should not justly be held accountable.”
In chapter 7 cases, the debtor does not have an absolute right to a discharge. An objection to the debtor’s discharge may be filed by a creditor, by the trustee in the case, or by the U.S. trustee. Creditors receive a notice shortly after the case is filed that sets forth much important information, including the deadline for objecting to the discharge. To object to the debtor’s discharge, a creditor must file a complaint in the bankruptcy court before the deadline set out in the notice. Filing a complaint starts a lawsuit referred to in bankruptcy as an “adversary proceeding.”
The court may deny a chapter 7 discharge for any of the reasons described in section 727(a) of the Bankruptcy Code, including failure to provide requested tax documents; failure to complete a course on personal financial management; transfer or concealment of property with intent to hinder, delay, or defraud creditors; destruction or concealment of books or records; perjury and other fraudulent acts; failure to account for the loss of assets; violation of a court order or an earlier discharge in an earlier case commenced within certain time frames (discussed below) before the date the petition was filed. If the issue of the debtor’s right to a discharge goes to trial, the objecting party has the burden of proving all the facts essential to the objection.
In chapter 12 and chapter 13 cases, the debtor is usually entitled to a discharge upon completion of all payments under the plan. As in chapter 7, however, discharge may not occur in chapter 13 if the debtor fails to complete a required course on personal financial management. A debtor is also ineligible for a discharge in chapter 13 if he or she received a prior discharge in another case commenced within time frames discussed the next paragraph. Unlike chapter 7, creditors do not have standing to object to the discharge of a chapter 12 or chapter 13 debtor. Creditors can object to confirmation of the repayment plan, but cannot object to the discharge if the debtor has completed making plan payments.
Can a debtor receive a second discharge in a later chapter 7 case?
The court will deny a discharge in a later chapter 7 case if the debtor received a discharge under chapter 7 or chapter 11 in a case filed within eight years before the second petition is filed. The court will also deny a chapter 7 discharge if the debtor previously received a discharge in a chapter 12 or chapter 13 case filed within six years before the date of the filing of the second case unless (1) the debtor paid all “allowed unsecured” claims in the earlier case in full, or (2) the debtor made payments under the plan in the earlier case totaling at least 70 percent of the allowed unsecured claims and the debtor’s plan was proposed in good faith and the payments represented the debtor’s best effort. A debtor is ineligible for discharge under chapter 13 if he or she received a prior discharge in a chapter 7, 11, or 12 case filed four years before the current case or in a chapter 13 case filed two years before the current case.
Can the discharge be revoked?
The court may revoke a discharge under certain circumstances. For example, a trustee, creditor, or the U.S. trustee may request that the court revoke the debtor’s discharge in a chapter 7 case based on allegations that the debtor: obtained the discharge fraudulently; failed to disclose the fact that he or she acquired or became entitled to acquire property that would constitute property of the bankruptcy estate; committed one of several acts of impropriety described in section 727(a)(6) of the Bankruptcy Code; or failed to explain any misstatements discovered in an audit of the case or fails to provide documents or information requested in an audit of the case. Typically, a request to revoke the debtor’s discharge must be filed within one year of the discharge or, in some cases, before the date that the case is closed. The court will decide whether such allegations are true and, if so, whether to revoke the discharge. In a chapter 11, 12 and 13 cases, if confirmation of a plan or the discharge is obtained through fraud, the court can revoke the order of confirmation or discharge.
May the debtor pay a discharged debt after the bankruptcy case has been concluded?
A debtor who has received a discharge may voluntarily repay any discharged debt. A debtor may repay a discharged debt even though it can no longer be legally enforced. Sometimes a debtor agrees to repay a debt because it is owed to a family member or because it represents an obligation to an individual for whom the debtor’s reputation is important, such as a family doctor.
What can the debtor do if a creditor attempts to collect a discharged debt after the case is concluded?
If a creditor attempts collection efforts on a discharged debt, the debtor can file a motion with the court, reporting the action and asking that the case be reopened to address the matter. The bankruptcy court will often do so to ensure that the discharge is not violated. The discharge constitutes a permanent statutory injunction prohibiting creditors from taking any action, including the filing of a lawsuit, designed to collect a discharged debt. A creditor can be sanctioned by the court for violating the discharge injunction. The normal sanction for violating the discharge injunction is civil contempt, which is often punishable by a fine.
May an employer terminate a debtor’s employment solely because the person was a debtor or failed to pay a discharged debt?
The law provides express prohibitions against discriminatory treatment of debtors by both governmental units and private employers. A governmental unit or private employer may not discriminate against a person solely because the person was a debtor, was insolvent before or during the case, or has not paid a debt that was discharged in the case. The law prohibits the following forms of governmental discrimination: terminating an employee; discriminating with respect to hiring; or denying, revoking, suspending, or declining to renew a license, franchise, or similar privilege. A private employer may not discriminate with respect to employment if the discrimination is based solely upon the bankruptcy filing.
How can the Debtor obtain another Copy of the Discharge Order?
If the debtor loses or misplaces the discharge order, another copy can be obtained by contacting the clerk of the bankruptcy court that entered the order. The clerk will charge a fee for searching the court records and there will be additional fees for making and certifying copies. If the case has been closed and archived there will also be a retrieval fee, and obtaining the copy will take longer. The discharge order may be available electronically. The PACER system provides the public with electronic access to selected case information through a personal computer located in many clerk’s offices. The debtor can also access PACER. Users must set up an account to acquire access to PACER, and must pay a per-page fee to download and copy documents filed electronically.