Many individuals end up in my office when they fall behind on their mortgage. It is a common problem. The most frequent cause is a temporary lose or reduction in employment. Several months of unemployment can quickly lead to a family facing a foreclosure, which are sometimes filed within 3 months of the first missed payment. Fortunately, the Bankruptcy Code can help, whether you want to save the home you have fallen behind on, or if you simply want to walk away from it.
What if you are behind on your mortgage, and you don't want to stay in the home? Chapter 7 bankruptcy can help. When a debtor falls several or more months behind on a mortgage, a foreclosure proceeding will often commence. A foreclosure allows the lender (usually a bank or mortgage company) after a series of court filings, to seize the home, sell it at auction, and then go after you personally if the sale price does not cover all of the mortgage and expenses. Certain lenders and law firms specialize in doing just this.
Homes often sell for very low prices in these sales, and if the mortgage was large, this could lead to a huge "deficiency judgment" against you. The lender will be able to put liens on your property (or future property) or even freeze your bank account. And these deficiency judgments do not go away. However, Chapter 7 bankruptcy can wipe out these deficiency judgments, no matter how large they become. When there is a large deficiency, bankruptcy may be the only option allowing you to go on with your financial life. The process is very straightforward, and you can even continue to live in the home until it is sold at auction. This is often months down the line. As long as you are willing to ultimately surrender the home, Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the perfect option.
On the other hand, what if you are behind on your mortgage and you want to save your home? You will need to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Chapter 13 bankruptcy is more complicated, but it has many benefits. You can catch up on mortgage arrears by paying them back over 3 to 5 years, without interest or further penalties. Spreading out the amount owed over a period of 60 months can make repaying even large arrears feasible. For instance, if you are one year behind on a $1,000/month mortgage, you can catch up the arrears for $200 over 5 years. While this may not be possible if you have not started working, it is often very workable when full employment returns.
Another important feature of using Chapter 13 bankruptcy when you are behind on your mortgage is that it can stop a sheriff sale up until the very moment the gavel goes down, and it does not require negotiation with the lender. Loan modifications are often endless (and useless) endeavors. However, under Chapter 13 bankruptcy, there is no such negotiations. As long as the lender is paid under the terms of the mortgage, and all arrears are accounted for, they must accept the filing. Chapter 13 bankruptcy can help in all but the most hopeless situations.
Contact us if you have fallen behind on your mortgage and you wish to discuss your options. Whether you want to save your home, or surrender it, bankruptcy has an option for you.