I rarely advocate That clients file Chapter 13’s because they take too long and keep them under the thumb of the bankruptcy court for (usually) five years.  So when does it make sense?

It makes sense when you want to keep your house but have junior unsecured liens stacked on top of the main mortgage.  In Chapter 7, if you want to keep your house, you have to keep the lenders current.  Not necessarily so in Chapter 13 when you have stacked loans secured by your home. Since 2006, the Heavy Question [see clever illustration below] has been:  Can you dump a mortgage loan in Chapter 13?  The short easy answer if you’ve ever read anything at all on my blog is that “it depends.”

First:  Is it “secured” solely by your primary residential real estate?  And by that I do not mean investment property or personal property.  (Pay attention here because the terms and definitions matter.)  That is, is the security agreement only applicable to your primary residence?  If so, you have passed the first test.

Second:  Is it WHOLLY unsecured?  By this is meant that there is no security for the loan at all after consideration of all senior debt.  Example:  House valued at $750,000 With a first deed of trust (“DOT”) for $690,000, a second DOT for $170,000, and  third DOT $75,000.  Now what?

Well, the first is wholly secured because the value exceeds the loan balance by $60,000 ($750,000 minus $690,000.)  Our hypothetical borrower can’t strip this lien because it is wholly secured.

The second is partially secured.  It is secured to the extent of the $60,00 left after accounting for the first DOT right?  $750,000 minus $690,00 leaves $60,000. Capiche?  So  because it is partially secured, you can’t strip it and the debtors will have to keep that lender current In order to keep the home.

But the third…Here’s where it gets interesting.  After accounting for the first and the second, there is no security value left for the third at all.  $690,000 plus $170,000 equals $860,000.  But the house is only worth $750,000.  Because the third is wholly unsecured, the borrower can “strip” this lien and shove the debt over to the unsecured column…Payable over the time of the Chapter 13 plan.

Why do we care? Because you can’t do this in Chapter 7.  It only works in Chapter 13.

This concept as described also only works in parts of the country, so don’t go charging into your bankruptcy lawyer’s office telling him or her all about how you read on the web that you can dump your HELOC. There’s a bit more to it than the above, but this sort of scenario and fact pattern is a good example of when a Chapter 13 might make sense.

 

On March 21, 2011, a Columbus, Georgia jury sent a very loud message to loan servicers in the form of a $21 million verdict and punitive damage award against PHH Mortgage, an affiliate of Coldwell Banker Mortgage.

David Brash, a sergeant in the United States Army, bought a home in 2007, and obtained a $161,000 mortgage loan from Coldwell Banker Mortgage.  The loan was serviced by PHH Mortgage.  Sergeant Brash had his monthly payments set on autopay out of his US Army paycheck.  (In fact, Sgt. Brash overpaid each month.) Things went along swimmingly for about a year and a half, until PHH began losing track of the payments, which then triggered the phone calls and letters telling him that he was delinquent.  A mortgage lender losing track of payments and blaming the consumer?  Say it ain’t so.  (The Complaint filed by Sgt. Brash’s lawyers in the case, David Brash v. PHH Mortgage (U.S.D.C., M.D. Georgia) case no. 4-09-CV-146 (CDL) is available for viewing here.)

Anyhow, that started a series of very patient efforts by Sgt. Brash to resolve the issue, all of which are thoroughly described in the Complaint. The servicer’s call center was outsourced to India. (No comment on that. I very seriously doubt that Sgt. Brash would have received better treatment from his fellow countrymen.)  But in an amusing instance of what’s-good-for-the-goose-is-good-for-the-gander, Sgt. Brash actually recorded the phone calls with the servicer (for quality assurance purposes right?), and the tapes of the phone calls were played to the jury. Transcripts of the calls were also admitted into evidence. I pulled the actual transcript of the phone calls from the Court’s docket, and you can review it for a good example of how to handle your own such calls. Very good evidentiary material that.

The upshot of the story? After multiple attempts to sort things out, PHH assured Sgt. Brash that things were resolved, and that the erroneously designated “late” payments had been properly credited. But then what did they do? You guessed it. They reported the false delinquencies to the Credit Cops, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. This, in turn, caused Sgt. Brash to be denied credit. As stated in the Complaint, “Coldwell Banker Mortgage has refused to answer Plaintiff’s legitimate inquiries, and has refused to correct and straighten out Plaintiff’s account.”  (See Complaint, ¶48.)

If you’ve never seen what a $21 million judgment looks like, I’ve downloaded it from the Court’s docket, and have attached it here.  Also, check out the actual written jury verdict here.

Other than the obvious appeal of David taking on and beating up on Goliath–the sheer joy of seeing an abusive loan servicer get hit–the other appeal of this case is how meticulously Sgt. Brash documents his odyssey through this experience.  If you’re having trouble with your bank or loan servicer, read the Complaint that Charles Gower (Sgt. Brash’s lawyer) drafted, and review the list of trial exhibits. They are a roadmap for how to build and maintain a paper trail and document abusive loan servicer practices. This is the kind of evidence that wins lawsuits.

For lawyers who are keeping track, it appears that the gravamen of the legal theory was a violation of §2605 of RESPA.  (12 USC §2605.)

Well, you know by now that the answer is:  It depends.

If you file Chapter 7, and either are current or get current with your mortgage(s), then you can most likely keep your home.  (Assuming you don’t have an equity interest that exceeds the homestead exemption.  As to which, see this blog post:  California Homestead Exemptions Increased as of January 1, 2010. Other California Bankruptcy Exemptions will increase on April 1, 2010.)

If however, you are in arrears, and are not able to bring the loan current, then–unless you can complete a mortgage modification that allows you to stay–you are likely lose the home.

On the other hand, if you file Chapter 13, and are able to successfully get a payment plan approved by the Court, then you may be able to stay.  This is because in a Chapter 13, you can take the outstanding mortgage arrearages, and pay them back through the Chapter 13 plan over the 3 to 5 year commitment.

But don’t try to do this analysis yourself. Talk to a bankruptcy lawyer before you get too excited. There are lots of nit-picky little rules that can torpedo an otherwise possible successful Chapter 13.  You need to do the analysis up front.

The New York Times recently reported on a movement by the California State Legislature to amend California Code of Civil Procedure (“CCP”) §580b.  (See “Battles in California over Mortgages.”) For those of you who’ve been following along, CCP §580b is the California statute that prohibits a mortgage lender from obtaining a deficiency judgment on any loan that was used to purchase or construct a residence.   Such loans are referred to in the law as “purchase money loans.”  I have posted about this a couple of times (See posts:  California anti-deficiency rules and statutes: When can a mortgage lender in California recover a deficiency after foreclosure? and Second Mortgages in California: Deficiencies Not Usually an Issue), and it is a very important statute for California homeowners.

On June 3, 2010, the California Senate passed, by a convincing margin of 30 to 4, Senate Bill 1178 which extends the protections of CCP §580b to any loan taken out to refinance a purchase money loan, up to the amount of the original purchase money loan which is refi’d.  Here’s how that works:  I take out a loan for $500,000 which I use to buy my home.  A few years later, I refinance that loan with a new loan for $700,000, $500k of which goes to take out the original purchase money loan, and the other $200k of which I use for other purposes.  Under existing law, because the new loan is no longer a “purchase money loan,” but is a refi of a purchase money loan, I would not be protected against possible personal recourse by the lender if it foreclosed and did not recover enough on the sale of the residence to pay off the whole loan.  Under the new law–if it passes the California State Assembly–I would still be protected on the refinance loan up to the amount of the original purchase money loan that was refinanced, or in my hypothetical, $50ok.  That would leave me exposed on the balance in excess of that refinanced amount.  In my hypothetical, up to $200k.

Do we care?  Well, maybe some day someone will, but I doubt it.

As usual, the press gets it all muddled up, and everyone jumps on the band wagon to shout about “consumer protections.”  It’s actually somewhat comical.  If you Google “SB 1178 California” you get a whole raft of folks nattering about the great “consumer protections” it offers.  But if you know anything at all about how the economics and law of foreclosure in California actually work in day-to-day reality, a little reflection shows that it doesn’t do anything of the sort.

As a Bay Area real estate and bankruptcy lawyer who lives on the front lines–representing both lenders and borrowers–in these sorts of disputes every day, I’ll go way out on a limb here, and say with confidence, and in my most stentorian tone of voice, that this is a bunch of hogwash.  More political window dressing in the face of a crippling inability to do anything meaningful at all.  It’s not going to solve a single one of the problems facing California’s real estate industry today, and in practice, its benefits–if any–will be limited to an extremely small group of people who have more money than brains. The investor who made a wrong bet, but who can still afford to pay their debts.  (Which, ironically, is the precise subset that everyone who’s anyone in this debacle–from Hank Paulson to Bernard Bernanke to George Bush to the Barrack Obama–has steadfastly maintained they have no desire to help.  But I digress.)  Legally and economically, this is a red herring brought to you by a band of legislators who are largely powerless to do much more than wave their arms in sturm und drang trying to demonstrate to an increasing angry constituency that they are doing something.

Here’s why this thing is meaningless:

First, in order for this hypothetical to be a real problem, the lender would have to file an action for judicial foreclosure, because under the provisions of CCP §580d, no deficiency is available to a lender who forecloses by trustees sale.  If the foreclosing lender has availed itself of the “power of sale clause” in the deed of trust, then no deficiency is allowed. Period, done finished, end of story. That’s what CCP §580d is all about.  It doesn’t matter what the money was used for, how it was obtained, from whom, etc.  No lawsuit, no deficiency.  (A trustee’s sale is when they sell the property by auction on the Courthouse steps, and a judicial foreclosure is when they file a lawsuit in Superior Court seeking a judicial decree of foreclosure and money judgment.)

Second, the California real estate market continues to slog along the bottom of the river, which means that there are very few loans where the bank is going to be interested enough in the borrower to actually spend the time and money to chase a debtor on one of these.  The costs of foreclosure are already sky-high, (found by a Joint US Congressional Economic Committee to approach an average of $80,000 (!!!), see Joint Congressional Economic Committee Report on Foreclosure Costs), and the added costs and uncertainties of trying to pursue a deficiency on a mortgage balance in a court only adds more time, expense and uncertainty. Banks–and the regulators who regulate them–hate time, expense and uncertainty when it has to do with a non-performing loan.

The fact is that most lenders are not going to spend the money to launch a judicial foreclosure on a generic breach of contract claim. Which is what this foofaraw is all about.  When a borrower defaults on a promissory note by not paying it back it is just a simple, no-brainer breach of contract claim. Mortgage lenders in this sort of hypothetical don’t sue for that. Why?  Because it’s a colossal, herculean, humongous and uncertain waste of time and money.  And why is that?  Because the person they’re chasing either doesn’t have the money to pay them back–which is why they’re not paying in the first place–which means that if they actually get a judgment it will be an uncollectible judgment, i.e., a meaningless wallpaper, and…And here’s the big one, a generic breach of contract claim on a promissory note is completely dischargeable in bankruptcy. The lender can chase the borrower all the way to judgment and the borrower can still squirt out by filing a simple $299 Chapter 7 petition.

The person that they will sue, however, is the scam artist who got the loan by fraudulent means, and there is nothing at all in the revised CCP §580b that is going to protect that scam artist from the consequences of their fraud.

So who is this new and improved law going to help?  Here’s the profile: He/she is a borrower who doesn’t want to pay the loan back even though he/she has the money to do so. Further, they’re willing to spend this money that he doesn’t want to spend to avoid the foreclosure to finance litigation. Oh yeah, and one more data point.  The National Consumer Law Center recently published a report on average hourly rates for experienced consumer law attorneys, experienced being defined as those with 20 to 30 years experience.  Me and my colleagues in other words. (See NCLC United States Consumer Law Attorney Fee Survey)  The result? $460 to $475 per hour. So this hypothetical borrower doesn’t want to pay his loan, but he’s willing to pay me or my colleagues $475 an hour to litigate this issue.  Total likely fees? $50,000 to $100,000 at those rates. Where is this idiot?

So the new and improved CCP 580b is a pointless public relations stunt, and any blogger, journalist, banker, lawyer, real estate agent or politician who tells you otherwise is a well-intended liar or, more likely, just doesn’t know what they’re talking about. I suspect what they’ll say in response to me, however, is that removing this threat removes a negotiating plank–the threat of a lawsuit–from the lenders’ arsenal.

Last, the new law, if it passes, is likely only to apply to loans made after June 1, 2011.

Stay tuned.

On May 9, 2010, the CBS news magazine show 60 Minutes did a segment on strategic defaults. Nothing new here, but when 60 Minutes gets its hands on something you never know where it’s going to go.

In a couple of other places in this blog I have discussed various components of California’s mortgage anti-deficiency laws. (See California Mortgage Deficiencies: What is a Purchase Money Security Interest? and Second Mortgages in California: Deficiencies Not Usually an Issue.)  This post will put it all in one place. At least the five basic rules.

I can’t warn readers enough, however, that these are very, very complex issues. I have–quite intentionally–over simplified them here, and I have done this to provide a precis on the big picture.  The case law interpreting the applicable statutes occupies volumes in California lawyers’ offices, and there are still many legal issues and questions that are unsettled.  So please go easy if I don’t answer your specific question here.  There is no way I can address all of the issues in one post, so if you have a specific question, please, post it in the comment section so everyone can see it, and I’ll do my best to answer it. But if you think you have a deficiency problem, or a possible exposure to a deficiency judgment, you really owe it to yourself to see an attorney who understands these issues. Also, bear in mind that the rules vary from state to state, so if you are reading this post with a real estate problem in any place other than California, you can be sure that the rules applicable to your situation are not the same.

First, what is a deficiency? Simply stated, a deficiency is what is left owed to a lender after the lenders forecloses and takes the real estate back. Example: If I owe $200,000, and the property is only worth $150,000 there is a so-called “deficiency” of $50,000. When can the lender come after the borrower for that “deficiency?”  That is the subject of this post. And, of course, in the current economy, a lot of people are trying to figure this out.

In California, there are four primary rules that apply. I discuss them below in no particular order.

1.  The One Action Rule. CCP §726(a).

The One Form of Action Rule basically says that the lender is required to chase the collateral first, and the debtor second…if it still can. A long, long time ago, a foreclosing lender could choose whether to foreclose on the collateral or go after the borrower personally for a money judgment. The one action rule of CCP §726(a) says that the lender must go after the collateral first, and, if it is legally possible, go after the borrower personally for any deficiency after that. Whether that is possible will depend on how the other rules set forth below kick in and apply to protect the borrower. But if you get sued on a promissory note and the lender is not a “sold out junior” nor taken hasn’t taken steps to foreclosure on the collateral, this rule would apply.

(I use the term “sold out junior quite a bit in this post. A sold out junior lienholder is the holder of a deed of trust that is junior to the first lienholder, and who has been denied a recovery due either to the foreclosure by the first lienholder, or because there isn’t enpugh value in the property to satisfy the junior debt after satisfaction of the senior debt. It is common for people to refer to such debts as “HELOCS,” but this isn’t technically accurate. A HELOC is simple a “home equity line of credit” that is secured by the subject property. It may be the most senior debt on the property or it may be a second, third…or tenth lien in order of its seniority. “HELOC” is a banking term; “sold out junior lienholder” is a legal term of art.)

2.   The Purchase Money Prohibition:  CCP §580b.

This is the best known rule and the one that applies more often than the others. If the loan that is being foreclosed on is a loan that was obtained for the purpose of purchasing the property, then no deficiency is allowed. It doesn’t matter if it’s a first, second or third.  It doesn’t matter if it’s classified as a “HELOC,” a “seller carry back,” or, ultimately, a “sold out junior.” Purchase money is purchase money. Example: Homeowner buys a house for $300,000, with a first for $200, and a second for $60,000, both put on the property at the time of acquisition. If the first forecloses, both lenders are barred from getting a deficiency because both loans are classified as “purchase money.” However, where the borrower has refinanced the original purchase money loan, or got a later home equity loan, that later loan is not a purchase money loan and could form the basis for a deficiency if the other anti-deficiency rules don’t otherwise apply.

But there is an exception to the exception: If the later loan was used to finance improvements to the property, then it can be a purchase money loan, and thus be a bar to a deficiency.

3.  The Non-Judicial Foreclosure, or “Private Sale Bar”:  CCP §580d.

This is the next most frequent rule. If the foreclosing lender has availed itself of the “power of sale clause” in the deed of trust, then no deficiency is allowed. Period. If they take the property back by means of a non-judicial foreclosure or trustee’s sale, then no deficiency. But unless one lender holds both loans, that only applies to the loan actually foreclosed on. Using the above hypothetical figures, though in this case making the second a non-purchase money loan, when the first forecloses, the holder of the first foreclosing loan is barred from seeking a deficiency both (1) Because it is purchase money, and (2) Because it has foreclosed by trustee’s sale. But the second, not being purchase money, and not being the one who foreclosed by non-judicial sale but having been wiped out by the foreclosure of the first, is not barred from pursuing a deficiency. In fact, in California, they have up to four years from the date of the breach of the contract to file a lawsuit seeking that deficiency.

And of course, as noted, there is an exception to the exception: If the holder of the first and the holder of the second are the same lender, and that entity forecloses on the first, it is also barred from seeking a deficiency on the second. This is important in California where lenders sometimes “stack” loans in order to get to a loan amount high enough to cover the high property values. It is also important to think about when the loans may have been sold to different lenders.

(On a historical note, CCP §580d was passed in light of the foreclosures and abusive deficiency judgments obtained by lenders during the Great Depression.  What we’re going through now is similar in many respects, though the ability of lenders to take the property and then chase the borrower who is already out of their home is limited by the passage of that statute. Small solace, to be sure, but it at least is doing what it was intended to do.)

4.  The fair Value Limitation: CCP 580aCCP §726(b).

This rule limits the amount of any possible deficiency to the amount by which the total debt exceeds the total fair value of the collateral. It only applies to deficiency judgments in judicial foreclosures, and, most importantly, it does not apply at all to sold out junior lienholders. Example: First mortgage of $450,000, and a second for $150,000, for total liens of $600,000. If the holder of the first forecloses and, it can be shown first at the time the first forecloses it can be shown that the property is only worth $400,000, then the foreclosing lienholder–on return to court seeking a deficiency–is limited to $50,000, regardless of what they sold the property for.  So if they pay a commission of 6% ($24,000, and additional closing costs of $5,000, that $29,000 is generally barred.  As for the holder of the $150,000 second? They can still come after the borrower for full payment, assuming, of course, such an action isn’t barred by one or the other of the above rules.

5.  The 3 Month Rule: CCP §580a.

This rule applies only in the case of judicial foreclosures. What’s that? Literally, it is a lawsuit in which the lender obtains a “decree of foreclosure” from a court–by definition not using the trustee’s sale procedure–and is unable to be made whole from the sale of the property. Example: Loan balance of $500,000. Lender obtains a “decree of foreclosure” from a court, after which it then goes out and sells the property for $400,000. In order to get a recourse judgment against the borrower for the $100,000 shortfall, that creditor must bring an action within 3 months of the sale date or it is barred.  An important carve out on this rule is that the 3-month limit does not apply to a sold out junior lienholder, the holder of the second in the above scenarios.

It is highly doubtful that you will have to deal with this rule without being fully aware of the issue steaming down the tracks towards you, simply because it can only happen in a judicial foreclosure. A lawsuit. As to whether or not you’ve been sued, well, you should know it. But check out my prior post Second Mortgages in California: Deficiencies Not Usually an Issue I referred to in my first paragraph above if you’re not sure.

As David Letterman would say, “please don’t try this at home,” by which I mean simply that if you are concerned that you may have a deficiency exposure, call a lawyer. A real estate lawyer, not a family lawyer, a personal injury lawyer or your Grandma Tilly’s trust and estates lawyer. This can be complicated stuff.

And last, of course, if the debt is discharged in bankruptcy, there is no deficiency at all. But that’s another post altogether.

I frequently hear from clients and prospective clients telling me that they have “rearranged” their financial affairs through the use of so-called “quitclaim deeds” or other contractual mechanisms by which title to property–and by extension–liability for a mortgage, is transferred.  The most common appearance of this tends to be in the marital dissolution and property settlement context, where two divorcing spouses have divided the marital assets by “giving” property to each other, and one or the other has “assumed” liability for the mortgage. In concept this is a great idea.  In reality, however, if there is a mortgage, it’s not all that useful.  In fact, it is usually pointless.

This is simply because the lender’s rights are fixed as of the time of execution of the loan documentation, and the borrower can’t get out from under a repayment obligation simply by deeding the property to someone else. I won’t bore you with the legal language that is usually contained in the deed of trust, but suffice to say that, once on a loan, always on a loan until the loan is repaid or the lender specifically releases the borrower from the liability. Further, as a general legal principle, the loan obligation follows the property no matter who is on title.

An example might be in the case where the family owns two houses, a primary residence and a rental property, both of which are subject to mortgages, and both of which have both spouses’ names on title.  When they divorce, the husband takes one and the wife takes the other as part of the marital property settlement. That’s great as long as the mortgages are being repaid. But if one of the parties gets into financial trouble, it will not be possible to inoculate the other from the consequences of a bankruptcy or default, because both parties are on the loans. Once on a loan, always on a loan until the loan is repaid or the lender specifically releases the borrower from the liability.

Of course this doesn’t mean that there aren’t solutions, but the quitclaim deed and assignment without the lenders’ consent are not real solutions.

Last year I posted on the subject of deficiency judgments in California. I’m not going to repost the same lengthy and technical post on the subject, but because I keep seeing this problem and questions about it all over the web, I thought I’d chime in one more time.

A deficiency is what is left on the debt after a lender forecloses.  Simple example: House worth $250k, debt of $450k, there’s going to be a deficiency of $200k.  It can be principal and interest on the specific loan that was actually foreclosed, or it can be a completely different loan, like a second or third deed of trust.  California is highly unusual and is very pro debtor in this regard.  More often then not, deficiencies are barred due to the generous anti-deficiency rules.

Here are those rules in a nutshell:

1.   There can be no deficiency on a purchase money loan. Ever. This means that if the loan was used to purchase the property, then no deficiency is possible. It doesn’t matter if the holder of the first, second or third forecloses. If the loan on which a lender is trying to get a deficiency is a purchase money loan, then no deficiency is possible. There are wrinkles in this: A HELOC can be purchase money. A loan taken out to refi a purchase money loan cannot.

2.   There can be no deficiency if the lender exercises its power of sale and conducts a non-judicial foreclosure by the mechanism of a trustee’s sale. In order to get a deficiency, the lender MUST file a judicial foreclosure action.  That means that they have to sue you in Superior Court. Some people seem confused about whether that piece of paper then got in the mail was a lawsuit or something else. It’s hard to miss: It’s a big 8.5″ x 11″ document called a “Summons,” and it says in unambiguous writing: “Notice to Defendant….You Are Being Sued By Plaintiff.”  See the blank one below.  I think you’ll agree that this is pretty clear.

3.   Most deficiency risk that remains after the weeding out of the two above rules can be discharged in bankruptcy.

Together, Rules one and two take care of about 80 percent of the deficiency concerns in California. These days, Rule 3 covers a large chunk of what’s left.

May 11, 2010 UPDATE since original post:   60 Minutes with Morley Safer did a piece on Strategic Defaults on May 9, 2010 that you may want to check out.

Today’s New York Times is running its latest article on the growing phenomenon of homeowners walking away from mortgages.  Check out the article by David Stretfield, entitled “No Help in Sight, More Homeowners Walk Away.” Not that this is news to you if you’re reading this blog, as I’ve posted on this

topic before in the post “Strategic Default: What is That?” and “American Dream 2.0: Default and Then Rent.”

My favorite take aways in the pop culture contribution department: What used to be called “house poor is now called “house arrest.”  And the new phrase for mailing the keys to the lender?  “Jingle mail.”  Cute.

A question I am asked with increasing frequency is what happens to a mortgage modification negotiation when the borrower files bankruptcy.   Of course we all know by now that the answer is that “it depends.”

First, it helps to understand how most lenders staff these situations. There seems to be a common misconception that each loan and lender has a single, intelligent and rational professional banker assigned to it, who is charged with carefully weighing alternative courses of action, making intelligent decisions about each loan on an individual basis and maximizing the bank’s chances of earning the most return on its investment.  To that I say “fuggedaboutit.” Most lenders are in complete disarray and wouldn’t recognize a rational business decision on a loan-by-loan basis if it bit them on the nose. Remember, these are the same people that created this fiasco. It seems that the American banking industry has taken Will Rodgers seriously when he said, “If stupidity got us into this, why can’t it get us out of it.” I find it most useful to assume that there is no intelligent life on the other end of a telephone when I call a bank, an assumption which, while cynical, makes life easier by reducing my frustration when Forrest Gump answers.

The people tasked with analyzing and negotiating mortgage modifications are not the same people as those tasked with managing loans that fall into bankruptcy. So when you are negotiating for a possible loan mod and you file bankruptcy, in most cases the whole file gets transferred to someone else’s desk because the bank now has to take certain actions to protect itself that weren’t required pre-petition. They are going to shift into a different mode of “damage control.” That doesn’t mean that the loss mitigation folks can’t talk to you, but a bankruptcy filing is most definitely a game changer. (It is likely that, if you are able to actually negotiate a modification, court approval will be required, but that is a different subject and not within the scope of this post.)

Can you still negotiate a modification? Yes. There is no legal reason why a loan can’t be modified while the borrower is in bankruptcy. Will it happen? That depends on whether the bank keeps the loss mitigation representative involved in the game and talking to you (or your lawyer), and whether that person has a minimal level of motivation and intelligence, or whether they shut that process down.

In a situation I was recently involved in for a client, the lender had first denied the loan mod prepetition because the borrower’s income wasn’t high enough. When he resubmitted with different numbers, the loan mod was denied because he made too much.  After the bankruptcy petition was filed, and after the discharge was entered, the lender called me telling me that a loan mod had actually been approved. But when they sent me the documentation, all it was was a new, blank application intended to start the loan mod application process all over again.

Real chances of getting a loan mod are impacted by a lot of different factors, some logical and some which make no sense at all.  Bankruptcy may be a factor, but it doesn’t need to drive the end result.