Making a Choice Between Bankruptcy and Short Sale

Homeowners who are underwater on their home mortgages (underwater mortgage means that the homeowner owes more than his/her house is worth) often attempt to do a short sale. A short sale occurs when the homeowner sells the home to a third party for less than what is owed on the note, and the mortgage lender accepts the proceeds of the sale in full satisfaction of the note. The mortgage lender must approve the short sale before it can go through. A short sale can be a good option for homeowners who do not want to keep their homes, and are willing to move out almost right away.

However, before going through with a short sale, a homeowner should see if Chapter 7 Bankruptcy would be a better option. In a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, the homeowner’s liability on the note is discharged and the home does not have to be surrendered right away and the homeowner does not have to immediately move out of the house. The homeowner can continue to live in the house without making any payments while the lender goes through the lengthy process of foreclosure. In New York, foreclosures can take years before the mortgage lender can hold a foreclosure sale. Even after the house is sold at foreclosure sale, the new buyer (which is often the mortgage lender itself) has to start eviction proceedings to evict the homeowner from the home. This may give the homeowner time to save up money for a move or a new home. Any shortfall that may result from the sale of the house is eliminated in the bankruptcy, meaning the homeowner owes the mortgage lender nothing when they move.

A final, and highly significant, difference between Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and short sale is tax advantages of a bankruptcy filing. When a mortgage lender accepts a short sale, the homeowner will have to pay taxes on the amount forgiven by the lender. Under the tax code, debt forgiveness is considered income and the mortgage lender will generally send the homeowner IRS Form 1009-C form for it. The homeowner will have to report it as income on his/her tax return. As a result, the amount of forgiven debt will be added to the homeowner’s income as miscellaneous income, and while not subject to self-employment or social security tax, it will be subject to income taxes. If the amount of the forgiven debt is significant, the debtor may face an unexpected tax liability amounting to thousands of dollars. In a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, there is no tax liability for the debt that is eliminated as a result of the filing.

Deed in lieu of foreclosure is similar to a short sale. The main difference is that unlike short sale where the property is transferred to a third party, in deed in lieu of foreclosure, the property is transferred directly to the lender. It has tax consequences identical to those of a short sale.

Short sales and Chapter 7 Bankruptcies are both good options for homeowners who want to walk away for their homes and their mortgages. When your home is underwater and you are considering a short sale, it is important to talk to an experienced bankruptcy lawyer first. That way you can review your options and make an informed decision.

If you contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

Should 401k Loans Be Used to Avoid Bankruptcy?

Once in a while I am asked whether 401k loans should be used to pay off credit card debt and, therefore, avoid bankruptcy. In my opinion, it is a bad idea.

Filing for bankruptcy under either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, is a difficult decision, and most of the time debtors will try to do just about anything to avoid filing. However, if you earn $50,000 in gross income, and you are $50,000 in debt, because of interest and other carrying costs, it is unlikely that you will be able to pay off that debt within a reasonable period of time. Thus, a debtor may think that whatever money he has in his 401k will save him from having to file bankruptcy. Unfortunately, for most people, this is unlikely to come true.

Initially, if 401k loan is used to pay off credit card debts, there is now a significant debt owed to the 401k plan. Usually, 401k loans carry lower interest rates than credit cards. However, while having a lower interest rate, 401k loans have to be paid back over a shorter period of time.

If a loan is taken out and not repaid, it is treated as income, and debtor will incur a 10% early withdrawal penalty since it is a distribution from a tax-deferred plan, and also will have to pay income taxes on the unpaid amount.  Unpaid amount of the loan is treated as additional income, and it is likely to increase debtor’s income tax rates as well.

If you quit working or change employers, the loan must be paid back right away. It’s not uncommon for plans to require full repayment of a loan within 60 days of termination of employment. If you can’t repay the loan, it is considered defaulted, and you will be taxed on the outstanding balance, including an early withdrawal penalty if you are not at least age 59 ½.

However, if the debtor decides to file bankruptcy, under either Federal exemptions or New York exemptions, 401k is completely exempt. If you file for bankruptcy, the credit card debt will be gone, and you will be able to retain the money in your 401k plan.

If you are contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

Bankruptcy, Cancellation of Debt and Tax Issues

I am often asked if the debt discharged in bankruptcy is treated as debtor’s income and is subject to taxes.  The answer to that question under the Bankruptcy Code, for both Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy is unequivocally no.  Debt discharged in bankruptcy does not result in taxable income to the debtor.

While I have written previously about the problems with debt settlement, this is one more advantage that bankruptcy has over various debt settlement arrangements.  If the debtor has his debt reduced or cancelled, the creditor may issue an IRS Form 1009-C form and the debtor would have to report it on his taxes.  As a result, the amount of cancelled debt will be added to the debtor’s income as miscellaneous income, and while not subject to self-employment or social security tax, it will be subject to income taxes.  If the amount of the cancelled debt is significant, the debtor may face an unexpected tax liability amounting to thousands of dollars.

One exception to the above is cancellation of mortgage debt. The Mortgage Debt Relief Act of 2007 generally allows debtors to exclude income from the discharge of debt on their principal residence. Debt reduced through mortgage restructuring, as well as mortgage debt forgiven in connection with a foreclosure, qualifies for the relief as well.

This provision applies to debt forgiven in calendar years 2007 through 2012. Up to $2 million of forgiven debt is eligible for this exclusion ($1 million if married filing separately). The exclusion does not apply if the discharge is due to services performed for the lender or any other reason not directly related to a decline in the home’s value or the taxpayer’s financial condition.  For a detailed discussion of IRS’ position on these issue, please follow this link.

Occasionally, even the debtor who filed fro bankruptcy may receive 1099-C from one of his creditors. Nonetheless, if the debtor received a discharge as a result of either Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, the debtor is able to file IRS Form 982, which will inform the IRS that the debtor went through the bankruptcy and any discharged debt should not be included in his gross income.  If you are considering your options between a bankruptcy or debt settlement, one of the issues that you should discuss during a consultation with a bankruptcy lawyer is what impact either approach would have on your tax liability.

If you contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

Why a Free Consultation Is Important in Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

When a potential client calls my office to ask bankruptcy-related questions, I usually suggest that he or she come in for a free initial consultation.  I also ask that when we meet, you bring  your bills, tax returns, pay stubs and any other documents that may be related to your situation.  The reason I ask for such documents is to assess your overall financial picture and to come up with possible solutions to existing problems.

At the consultation, I ask questions to find out what assets are owned by the potential client and also what their debts are.  Depending on the responses I receive, I ask follow-up questions about the issues that may determine the course of action:

1. Recent significant use of credit cards/balance transfers/cash advances;
2. Transfers of property to third parties without payment or adequate consideration;
3. Values of assets which may exceed applicable New York exemptions in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and may force a Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing instead;
4. The level of household income to make sure that the client can meet the means test and file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy;
5. Whether the debtor recently repaid a debt to a relative or friend which may be a preference;
6. Whether the debtor has a personal injury lawsuit pending, or the right to bring such lawsuit;
7. Whether the debtor had any prior bankruptcy filings;
8. Whether the debtor owes any non-dischargeable debts, such as student loans, maintenance and child support, and some income taxes;
9. Debts incurred as a result of fraudulent conduct or drunk-driving.

After I ask all of these questions, I am able to recommend the course of conduct for the debtor.  I typically will explain if the bankruptcy a good option; what are its costs; and how a typical bankruptcy gets prepared, filed and proceeds in bankruptcy court.  If a bankruptcy is likely to solve debtor’s problems, I will discuss which type of bankruptcy is available and what are the advantages and disadvantages of Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy?

In the event you decide to proceed with a bankruptcy filing, I will ask you to sign a retainer agreement. You will leave my office with a bankruptcy questionnaire which will ask you to provide information on your income, expenses, assets and liabilities.  I will also provide you with a checklist of the documents I am going to need to prepare your petition and file your bankruptcy, including paystubs and tax returns.  In addition, I will provide you with a list of organizations providing consumer credit counseling course, so you can meet pre-filing requirements.

I will also tell you how to deal with continuing phone calls from your creditors.  There are times when I am not able to answer every questions, and may ask for additional documents to figure out the debtor’s circumstances.  I believe that the free consultation benefits both me and the potential client.

If you are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a bankruptcy lawyer.

Social Security Retirement, Social Security Disability and Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

If you are in debt, does it always make sense to file either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy?  If your only source of  income is Social Security or Social Security Disability, you can file for bankruptcy, but it may not be necessary.  Because of the exemptions under both federal and New York State law, if your sole source of income is either Social Security Retirement or Social Security Disability, you are generally considered to be judgment proof and your income is exempt from garnishment or other collections actions by the creditors.  While your creditors still have the right to sue you and obtain judgments, they are not likely to be able to enforce them against your income or any bank accounts that contain solely the money from either Social Security Disability or Social Security Retirement.  At the same time, the debtor may still have other assets, either personal or real property, that a creditor may reach once it obtains a  judgment.

Even if you are judgment proof, you may still need to file a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.  If you have secured debt, such as a mortgage or car payment, and you are behind on your payments, Chapter 13 may give you the ability to bring these secured debts current, while still discharging most or all of your revolving credit debt, personal loans or medical debt.  Another benefit of filing for bankruptcy is that either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy will stop harassment by the creditors.

If you are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a bankruptcy lawyer.

New Student Loan Program and Debt Relief

I have recently learned about a new program that will be good news to the hundreds of thousands of recent college graduates with significant student debt. A new program called Income-Based Repayment (“IBR”) may help you control your student loan debt.

IBR is a program introduced by the government in 2007; however, its full effects didn’t start until July 1, 2009 This program was designed to make sure that graduates who aren’t earning a significant income after graduation aren’t spending all their income on repaying their student loans.

IBR can help with individuals who meet the following criteria:

  • Have loans (to students, not their parents) from either the Direct or Guaranteed (FFEL) loan programs or (most) government-funded loans
  • Have enough debt to qualify. Specifically, you must have debt that would require you to spend more than 15 percent of your income in excess of 150% of the poverty level to pay off your loans in ten years – calculator available here

Interest Rates for Adjusted Loans

While the IBR program may make your monthly payments more affordable, it could also mean that your monthly payments don’t cover your full interest rates. This means that:

  • For federally subsidized loans, the government would pay the remaining interest for the first three years
  • For non-subsidized loans, the unpaid interest would be tacked onto the principal amount you owe

The second option may mean you end up paying more in the long term, but if your earnings increase over the years, this likely won’t be a significant problem. Plus, the IBR program has the unique provision that any amount still due after 25 years is forgiven.

What is Public Service Loan Forgiveness?

It’s the other loan forgiveness program taking full effect this month, and it’s designed to help those who work in certain so-called public service jobs, including those for the government and nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations.

If your job qualifies under this program, your loans may be forgiven in full after 10 years of work (during which time you make normal loan payments). And, if your salary qualifies you for IBR loan payments while you’re working, you can still use that program to make payments more affordable.

To find out whether your employment situation may qualify you for help with student loans, visit IBR’s website. While student loans are not dischargeable in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, unless you are in a hardship situation, and have to be paid during the Chapter 13 bankruptcy, IBR may be that last piece of the puzzle on your road to a financial fresh start.

If you are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a bankruptcy attorney.

Debt Settlement – Does It Work?

Recently, I read a New York Times article, “Debt Settlers Offer Promises But Little Help“, that confirmed something that I already knew – debt settlement, in most cases, does not work and usually costs a lot more than a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.  Also, most people working with debt settlement companies are likely to find themselves in the worse financial situation after entering debt settlement.  One quote summarizes how debt settlement industry does business:

Consumers who turn to these companies sometimes get help from them, personal finance experts say, but that is not the typical experience. More often, they say, a settlement company collects a large fee, often 15 percent of the total debt, and accomplishes little or nothing on the consumer’s behalf.

While I appreciate the fact that most debtors want to avoid filing bankruptcy, in my opinion, bankruptcy represents an opportunity for a fresh start for most people.  The critical difference between a bankruptcy and a debt settlement, despite what a debt settlement company may claim, is that the creditor does not have to agree to a debt settlement arrangement.  In a bankruptcy, under either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, the creditor is obligated to follow the Chapter 13 repayment plan or accept results of the Chapter 7 discharge.

At the same time, if a debtor has a only a few debts, may have other alternatives to either filing a bankruptcy or working with a debt settlement company.

I have experience with “workouts” which is a term used to describe a non-bankruptcy negotiated modification of debt.  A workout is an out-of-court agreement between a debtor and his or her creditors for repayment of the debts between them, which is negotiated without all the procedural complications — and perhaps the stigma — of the bankruptcy process.  A typical workout takes form of either “composition”, which is a contract between the debtor and two or more creditors in which the creditors agree to take a partial payment in full satisfaction of their claims. Another option is an “extension”, which  is a contract between the debtor and two or more creditors in which the creditors agree to extend the time for payment of their claims. An agreement may be both a composition and an extension, i.e., an agreement to accept less money over a longer period of time.

There is no requirement that all of the debtor’s creditors agree to a composition or extension, but most of them must voluntarily support it for it to work. Creditors that do not agree to the workout are not affected by it and remain entitled to pursue other remedies to collect the debts owed to them. My role in this process is to negotiate such agreements on behalf of the debtor.

If you are dealing with debt problems in Rochester, New York; Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation.