Besides helping with your mortgage, bankruptcy protects your home against other liens—from judgments, income taxes, and homeowner associations.
Last week we gave you 7 ways that bankruptcy can either save your home now or protect it going forward. Here are the remaining 8 ways (#8 through #15), mostly involving involuntary liens placed on your home by special creditors.
8. Judgment lien “avoidance”:
You can get rid of a present judgment lien that’s on your home’s title if it “impairs” your homestead exemption. This means that it “eats into” the equity that is protected by the exemption. Judgment lien avoidance turns a secured debt that you’d have to pay to protect your home into an unsecured one. See Section 522(f)(A) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. You could then usually write off (“discharge”) that unsecured debt in a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case. Or you could pay little or nothing on that debt in a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts.”
9. Prevent future judgment liens:
Bankruptcy stops ongoing or future lawsuits against you. See the “automatic stay” of Section 362(a)(1) and(6) of the Bankruptcy Code. First, ongoing lawsuits are usually frozen in their tracks so they can never turn into judgments. Second, any creditors which have not sued you beforehand usually can’t ever do so (with some rare exceptions). So they can’t get a judgment, and can’t ever record a judgment lien on your home. Since not all judgment liens can necessarily get “avoided” under #8 above, it can be very important to file bankruptcy with your bankruptcy lawyer before a creditor gets a judgment.
10. Prevent upcoming income tax liens by discharging the tax debt:
Similarly, in many situations bankruptcy prevents the IRS or your state from recording an income tax lien against your home. Section 362(a)(4 and 5). Under either Chapter 7 or 13 you can discharge older and otherwise qualifying tax debts. During the bankruptcy case the IRS/state can’t record a tax lien. And it can’t do so afterwards because the tax debt no longer exists. So, your bankruptcy filing prevented the tax from being secured against your home, which would’ve created serious disadvantages for you. As a result it’s highly preferable to file bankruptcy before a tax lien gets recorded.
11. Prevent upcoming income tax liens by paying off the tax debt:
If the tax debt is newer or otherwise doesn’t qualify for discharge, pay the tax through Chapter 13 filed through your bankruptcy lawyer. Section 1322(a)(2). You pay the tax based on your realistic budget instead of the IRS/state’s imposed one. You can delay paying on the tax while you pay more important debts (such as to catch up on your mortgage). You don’t pay ongoing interest and penalties (since the debt is unsecured). Again, during the case the IRS/state can’t record a tax lien. And it can’t afterwards because by then you’ll have paid off the tax. You’d have prevented IRS/state from gaining the significant advantage against you of a recorded tax lien.
12. Prevent or address a child/spousal support lien against your home:
Discharge your other debts with a Chapter 7 or 13 case so that you don’t fall behind on support payments. Or if you’re already behind, catch up on your support obligations with a Chapter 13 payment plan. As long as you pay as you’ve agreed, no new support lien can be imposed on your home. And your ex-spouse or support enforcement agency can’t foreclose on any pre-existing support lien. Your home is protected while you catch up.
13. Protect your home from your homeowners’ association:
If you’re get behind on homeowner association dues and/or assessments, your HOA gains tremendous power over you. You can regain the upper hand by filing a Chapter 13 case. You have to pay the back dues or assessment(s) if you want to keep your home. But you have as much as 5 years to catch up through a Chapter 13 payment plan. Throughout that time the HOA can’t foreclose or take other collection action, as long as you’re paying your plan.
14. Buy time to sell your home:
In many different situations, bankruptcy gives you more time to sell a home. You may need more time to get it ready for sale, or may want to move later for personal reasons. Chapter 7 usually delays a mortgage foreclosure, or similar actions against your home by other lienholders, for a few weeks or months through Chapter 7. You can likely get much more time to sell, sometimes as long as 5 years, through Chapter 13.
15. Resolve accounting disputes with your mortgage lender:
If you fall behind on your mortgage, it can be shockingly difficult to get on the same page with your lender about how much you owe. This is especially true if you have a history of being behind over an extended period. This accounting confusion has been a serious problem for millions of homeowners over the last decade or two. So, in 2011 a new procedure was created (mostly for Chapter 13) to efficiently resolve such disputes. See Rule 3002.1 of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure. It’s a very handy tool when you’re trying to save your home and your lender is not cooperating.