Lien Stripping in Bankruptcy

Lien Stripping in Bankruptcy

Liens can be stripped off of the debtor’s assets in Chapter 11 or Chapter 13 when the equity in the asset, after deducting senior liens from the property’s current market value, is less than the amount of the unsecured portion of the lien can be eliminated.

There is a special exception to this concept that limits lien stripping when the lien is a voluntary lien, like a mortgage, on property that is the debtor’s principal residence. Under this exception, voluntary liens on a home can be stripped off only if there is no equity in the property at all, after totaling the senior liens, to which the lien in question could attach. Unfortunately Congress has thus far failed to change to bankruptcy law to allowing the modification of home mortgages by reducing the amount of the lien to the current value of the property.

Section 506 of the Bankruptcy Code acknowledges that a lien is only a secured claim to the extent there is value in the asset to which it attaches. To the extent that the claim exceeds the value of the collateral, that portion of the claim is unsecured.

Contrast this procedure to lien avoidance pursuant to § 522, where only judicial liens such as judgment liens (or voluntary liens on household goods) can be avoided if the property would otherwise be exempt.

Liens Secured by Vehicles

The most common application of lien stripping is the reduction of car loan liens to the present value of the car. Thus a lender holding a $12,000 claim secured by a car now worth $10,000 has a secured claim of $10,000 and a unsecured claim for $2,000. Two thousand dollars of the lien may be stripped off the asset (the car) in a reorganization. The plan must provide for payment in full of the secured portion of the debt; the unsecured portion can be paid little or nothing along with other unsecured claims.

Recent changes to the bankruptcy law attempt to limit lienstripping on vehicles purchased within 910 days of the bankruptcy filing. The amendment says that ” §506 does not apply” to such vehicles. The intent was to compel payment of car loans made within 2 2/3 years of the filing payable in full, despite the fact that the collateral is often worth thousands of dollars less than the debt it secures.

Tax liens

Tax liens can be stripped off in reorganization proceedings (Chapters 11 and 13) to the extent that the lien does not attach to equity in property. Tax liens can’t be avoided in Chapter 7 on the grounds that they impair exemptions because they are statutory liens, not judicial liens.

If the tax underlying the lien is dischargeable in the Chapter 7, the bankruptcy court can determine the amount of the lien that is secured at the time of the filing. Payment of that sum entitles the debtor to the release of the lien.

What is the role of a Trustee assigned in a chapter 7 or 13 case?

What is the role of a Trustee assigned in a chapter 7 or 13 case?

Under Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, an impartial trustee is appointed to administer the case by collecting and liquidating the Debtor’s non-exempt assets in a manner that maximizes the return to the Debtor’s unsecured creditors.

Under Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, an impartial trustee is also appointed to administer the case. The primary roles of the chapter 13 trustee are to determine the feasibility of a Debtor’s repayment plan for the court and to serve as a disbursing agent, collecting payments from Debtors and making distributions to creditors.

What if I cannot make my Chapter 13 payment?

What if I cannot make my Chapter 13 payment?

If the Debtor cannot make a chapter 13 payment on time pursuant to the terms of the confirmed plan, the Debtor should contact the chapter 13 Trustee by phone and by letter advising the Trustee of the problem and whether it is temporary or permanent. If it is temporary, the Debtor should advise the Trustee of the time and manner in which the Debtor will make up the payments. So long as the Trustee agrees, the payments can be made up over time. If the problem is permanent and the Debtor is no longer able to make payments under the plan, the Trustee will request that the case be dismissed or converted to another chapter, or the Debtor may seek to modify his or her plan. The determination of whether to modify the plan or dismiss or convert a case requires legal analysis. The Debtor should seek counsel from a qualified bankruptcy attorney before attempting to make a decision how to proceed in their case. Thomas A. Nanna is a Board Certified Bankruptcy Attorney in Tampa, Florida.

What Chapter is Right for Me?

What Chapter is Right for Me?

Your decision whether to file bankruptcy and under which chapter to file depends on your particular circumstances. In general, Chapter 7 is appropriate when the Debtor has insufficient income to pay a portion of his/her debts, and the Debtor is not seeking to keep non-exempt property. Otherwise, if the Debtor has an income or property and can afford to repay at least some of his/her debts, Chapter 11, 12 or 13 may be appropriate, depending on whether the Debtor is an individual, partnership, corporation, or family farmer. The decision whether to file a bankruptcy case and under which chapter is an extremely important decision and has tremendous financial impact. Consequently, this decision may require expert advice from a bankruptcy attorney. Thomas A. Nanna is a Board Certified Bankruptcy Attorney in Tampa, Florida.