Chapter 13 can work much better than Chapter 7 if you have a second mortgage, get behind on property taxes, or have a tax lien on your home.
The last two blog posts were about situations in which a homeowner is current on the mortgage but has other debts on the home. We showed how Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” can work well enough in the 6 debt situations we covered.
But Chapter 7 is often not the best option when you have a lien on your home. Chapter 13 comes with better tools for dealing with such debts against your home. Even if you’re current on the mortgage itself, these tools may make Chapter 13 highly worthwhile for you.
We’ll show how Chapter 13 helps in the same 6 debt situations covered in the last two blog posts about Chapter 7. We’ll cover the first 3 today and the other 3 in a couple days.
Here are the first 3 debt situations:
- Second or third mortgage
- Property tax
- Income tax lien recorded on your home
1. Second or Third Mortgage
Chapter 13 helps in two major ways with a second or third mortgage that aren’t available under Chapter 7.
First, you may have the option to “strip” a junior mortgage from your home’s title. If so, that debt would no longer be secured by your home. You would not have to pay your monthly 2nd/3rd mortgage payment. You would only pay on the 2nd/3rd mortgage balance during your Chapter 13 payment plan to the extent you had available funds to pay it, if at all. Then at the end of your case the remaining balance would be “discharged”—legally, permanently written off.
Your home qualifies for a 2nd mortgage “strip” if it is worth less than your first mortgage debt balance. Then Chapter 13 allows you to have the bankruptcy judge declare that the second mortgage debt is unsecured. After all, then there’s no remaining equity for the second mortgage. (This also works with a third mortgage if the home is worth less than the combination of the first and second mortgage debt amounts.)
The second way that Chapter 13 works better on a second or third mortgage is if you’re way behind on the monthly payments. Chapter 7 is fine if the lender will give you enough time to catch up at a reasonable pace. But second and third mortgage lenders usually have more exposure than first mortgage lenders. They have less equity protecting them. They could lose their entire debt by being foreclosed out by the first mortgage lender. So second/third mortgage lenders tend to be more demanding and less flexible about catch-up payments.
Chapter 13 is a great way to force them to give you more time—up to 5 years if needed. Plus, your Chapter 13 catch-up payments can work around other important debts that you need to pay.
2. Property Tax
If you fall behind on your home’s property taxes, your mortgage lender will become quite unhappy very quickly. Even if you’re current on your mortgage, falling behind on property taxes is a separate basis for your lender’s foreclosure. It usually takes years of being behind before your property tax authority itself would do a tax foreclosure. But your mortgage lender gets very nervous because if that were to ever happen it would lose rights to the property as well. Plus, your lender sees falling behind on property taxes as a sign you’re not financially responsible or capable. For these reasons it’s a breach of your mortgage contract.
After falling behind on property taxes it’s difficult to catch up in the midst of your other financial pressures. Chapter 13 can help tremendously through a combination of two benefits. First, you get up to 5 years to catch up, making doing so more feasible. Second, you are protected from BOTH a tax foreclosure and your lender’s foreclosure. So using Chapter 13 to bring our property taxes current is often the best way to do so.
3. Income Tax Lien
Chapter 13 can be the best way to deal with an income tax lien on your home, in various scenarios.
First, consider if there’s no equity in the home covering that tax lien and the tax itself is dischargeable. (There’s no equity because the mortgage and any other prior liens total more than the home’s value. The tax itself is discharged usually because it’s old enough.) If so, then in Chapter 13 that tax is treated as a general unsecured debt. It’s lumped in with your other general unsecured debts, usually not increasing how much you pay into your plan.
Second, if equity in your home covers the full amount of the tax lien, Chapter 13 provides a flexible and safe way to pay the tax. The IRS/state loses most of its scary leverage over you. You simply arrange to pay the tax (and interest) over the 3-to-5-year life of your Chapter 13 payment plan. You protect your home while fitting that tax obligation into your budget and around any other urgent debts.
Third, if equity in your home covers a portion of the tax lien, you only pay that portion as a secured debt. And as just stated, you pay this through your plan safely and flexibly. This is much better than being leveraged into paying the full amount at the risk of losing your home.