Thursday, December 30, 2010

Should I Reaffirm my Mortgage Debt? What about a Second Mortgage?

Addressing mortgage debt is often a primary concern in many consumer bankruptcies. Debtors that decide to continue to pay the mortgage on their current house may be setting themselves up for future financial problems if they have difficulty paying the mortgage, post-bankruptcy. Alternatively, a debtor may be able to discharge the underlying mortgage and surrender the house back to the bank if the payments are not affordable, but is then faced with finding a new place to live. The decision of whether or not to re-affirm comes down to the specific facts of your case and what is a realistic future budget for your household.

Popular mortgage packages offered in the past ten years often featured “jumbo” financing: that is, financing of nearly one-hundred percent of the purchase price of the home. In many cases, this was done with a primary traditional mortgage, which financed approximately 80% of the purchase price, then a second mortgage or home equity line of credit that financed the balance.

Today, with the decline in home prices, many borrowers find themselves owing more on their homes than they are worth; in extreme cases, the second mortgage may be completely unsecured because the home is worth less than the balance of the first mortgage, without even adding in the balance of the second. In some cases, it is possible to “strip off” an unsecured second mortgage in bankruptcy, leaving the borrower with only one mortgage to pay. It is generally accepted that in Chapter 13 bankruptcy, a second mortgage can be avoided, and treated as unsecured debt.

Although, most attorneys believed that this could be done in a Chapter 7 case, an Eastern District of New York bankruptcy case may suggest otherwise. Here, the Debtors owned a house, where the fair market value was less than the balance of the first mortgage, leaving the second mortgage unsecured. After filing bankruptcy, the bank requested for permission to foreclose on the second mortgage the debtors opposed; arguing that the bank could not foreclose because the second mortgage should be avoided as wholly unsecured and not treated as secured debt.
The Court agreed.

The bank was not permitted to foreclose, and the lien was permanently voided. Judge Eisenberg explained that the well-recognized holdings in Chapter 13 clearly demonstrate that under the Bankruptcy Code it is appropriate to distinguish partially secured liens from wholly unsecured liens, and that there is no reason why in a Chapter 7 context the same language in the Bankruptcy Code should not void the lien of a wholly unsecured claim.

Of course, this is the outcome of a single New York case, and the bankruptcy Judges in Massachusetts are not obligated to follow this outcome. However, given the proper circumstances, it may be an option to consider. If you would like

Kelsey & Trask, P.C. would like to thank Dan Press, Esq., a Maryland Bankruptcy Attorney, for inspiring this article.

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