Many people who own a home have more than one loan secured against their residence. These junior liens (a consensual lien against real property is also called a mortgage) may be home equity lines of credit, business loans where the lender insisted on a personal residence as security, judgment liens, and so on. Judgment liens can be “stripped off” (the security interest ended) in either a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 if it cuts into the debtor’s exemption. 11 USC Sect 522(f)(A). However, voluntary liens (one the debtor consented to) are more challenging.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals made clear that voluntary security interests against real estate in this neck of the woods (including Kentucky) cannot be stripped off in a Chapter 7. In re Talbert, 344 F.3d 555 (6th. Cir. 2003). They stuck with the pre-code rule that “real property liens emerge from bankruptcy unaffected.” Id. at 561. This case focused on the role of 11 USC Sect. 506 which provides for the determination of a secured debt status.
So, if the only way to save your home is to get rid of (strip off) a second or third mortgage, you must file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. However, the relief provided in a 13 is limited as well. If the loan is secured solely against the debtor’s real property which is also their principal residence, then the loan cannot be modified. 11 USC Sect. 1322(b)(2). The one exception to that takes us back to 11 USC Sect. 506: If the loan is completely underwater – that is, if there is zero equity in the property for the security interest to attach to (and I mean not even $1), then even such a loan can be stripped off and treated as wholly unsecured debt in the Chapter 13. When home prices were dropping consistently, this was a more common occurrence but it still happens.
What can be done with junior loans where there is some equity to which their lien attached? Well, this is where your bankruptcy attorney needs to take a careful look at the promissory notes, mortgages, and secured property. In an interesting case coming out of Ohio, the Sixth Circuit took a look at the meaning of the words “only”, “real property” and “principal residence” and found that they all three must come together for the 1322 protection to come into play. The In re Reinhardt, 563 F.3d 558 (6th. Cir. 2009) case involved a loan secured against a mobile home and the real property upon which it sat. Most would see that as real property which is the principal residence, but under Ohio law, the mobile home was personal property. Just like in Kentucky, that mobile home only became real property (affixed thereto) when the title was surrendered and the proper documents filed with the County Clerk.
Because the Reinhardt’s never surrendered the title of the mobile home, the loan was secured BOTH in the real property and an item of personal property. Therefore, the terms of the loan could be modified by the Chapter 13 plan. Basically, this means that the loan could be valued under 11 USC Sect. 506 and split into a secured claim and an unsecured claim. The part that was secured (equal to the value of the property at the time of the filing) would be paid in full (not necessarily in the plan though) and the rest would be paid pro-rata as with all the other unsecured debts. The other place where it is common for a loan to be secured against both one’s principal residence real estate and other property is with business loans. These lenders often want security in the home and in any assets of the business. However, this makes those loans vulnerable to modification (cram down).
Be sure that you bankruptcy attorney takes a careful look at all the factors that come into whether a secured debt with a lien against your home can be stripped off or crammed down.
I just wrote about purchase money security interests (PMSI) and bankruptcy for the post-Christmas filer and offer this tidbit in follow-up. If you did make some PMSI purchases for the holidays and you want to make sure you or the person you gave it to is able to keep the items, then there are two options that can still offer some relief.
First, you may want to look at is 11 USC Sect. 506. This provisions allows the debt secured against most items (there are exceptions related to cars and residences) to be “crammed down”. This means that the amount that is secured is no more than the actual value of the item on the date of filing. This is helpful in a Chapter 13 because you may have purchased a $1,500.00 television, but when you file a little more than three months later (this time will be explained in another post) the television is worth only $500.00, then the amount that must be paid in order to keep the television is only $500.00 over the course of the plan.
Section 506 also comes into play in Chapter 7 in conjunction with 11 USC Sect. 722. This provision gives the debtor the right to redeem personal property that would ordinarily be exempt property by paying the creditor a lump sum in the amount of the value of that property.
There are some bankruptcy code provisions that take on extra significance for the Debtor who files Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 in the weeks following the Christmas season. People tend to rack up greater debt and on higher priced items during this season. It is hard to resist the lure of commercialism, even when one is already feeling the squeeze of debt. Even then, folks want to give good gifts to their children, extended family, and friends.
The code provision I want to highlight today is 11 USC Sect. 522(f)(B). Ordinarily, this provision is used to “strip off” (make unsecured) a secured debt on exempt household goods. However, this only applies to NONpurchase money debts. These are ones where you already had the item and went to a lender who then asked to put up your property as collateral. Purchase money security interests (PMSI), however, create a security interest at the moment of purchase. This matters because even though your personal obligation to repay the debt gets discharged in the bankruptcy, the lender continues to have an interest in the property.
So, even if your go through a bankruptcy and it seems to all be over and done, that creditor can still come back and demand the property be surrendered to them (no deficiency debt would exist though). This can be very troubling if you really want to hang on to that particular item or if you gave that 60 inch HD television to your retired dad so he can watch The Price Is Right in high-definition down in the basement.
The only way you may know that a PMSI exists on a particular item is if you have the receipt and any other paperwork you signed when you purchased it. You may only have a recollection that you had to sign two places instead of one. That second signature would have been the security agreement. Regular credit card purchases rarely involve a PMSI, but in-store credit or store specific credit cards often do involve purchase money security interests.
Certain provisions of the bankruptcy code bear special scrutiny when someone is filing bankruptcy in the weeks following the Christmas holiday season. This is because people tend to rack up higher debt during this season and tend to purchase higher priced items. Even folks struggling with a debt load find it hard to resist the lure of commercialism. They hope to still give great gifts to their children, family and friends.
The first provision to be aware of in a post-Christmas bankruptcy filing is 11 USC Sect. 522(f)(B). Ordinarily, 522(f) is the code section that allows one to strip off (turn from secured to unsecured) a debt that has household goods as collateral. However, 522(f)(B) clearly applies only to debts that were NOT purchase money security debts. The reason this matters just after Christmas is that many large price purchases come with a purchase money security interest (PMSI) forcing you to either pay the debt or cough up the goods purchased. This can be embarrassing when you purchased a nice, large screen TV for your retired dad so he can watch the Price is Right in high-definition.
So, how do you know if a PMSI attached to you gift purchase? The only way to know for sure is if you still have the receipt and any other paperwork you signed when you bought the item. Ordinarily, regular credit cards do not involve PMSIs on their purchases, but in-store credit or store specific cards often do attach PMSIs to goods. Your only clue that you are actually giving the creditor a security interest in the item you are buying may be when you have to sign two different places instead of just one. At some stores, the security agreement prints out on receipt paper just like the ordinary receipt which you sign whenever you make a credit purchase. Or, nowadays, you may be asked to sign an electronic signature device twice to complete the transaction.
PMSI debts do get discharged in a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 as to your personal obligation to repay, but the security interest remains attached. So, even after the bankruptcy is over and done and you think all is well, the creditor can still show up and demand the property be surrendered to them. They cannot demand you repay them, but they do have a right to the stuff.
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