Sub-prime Mortgage Crisis & Chapter 13 Filings

In recent months, the amount of foreclosures filed throughout the country has more than doubled from the same time period last year. The reasons for such high percentage of filings are numerous. Primarily, the sub-prime mortgages have landed in the hands of individuals who most likely did not qualify for convention financing. Thus, the interest rates on the loans remain higher than other conforming loans. Additionally, many of the sub-prime loan products involved adjustable rates (ARMS) which typically re-set within the first few years of the loans inception.

As sub-prime loans relate to Chapter 13, the typical scenario is as follows: The homeowner qualifies for the loan without a substantial down payment and without significant income documentation. The monthly payment is a stretch for the homeowner; however, it is temporarily manageable. Depending upon the type of ARM, the loan may reset in one, two or three years. It is at that point in time that the homeowner may not be able to make the new, higher mortgage payment. The homeowner is also unable to refinance the debt on the property since the type of loan products needed to accomplish that task no longer exists. Thus, the homeowner is in quite a tough situation. The current real estate market would make it nearly impossible for the homeowner to sell the property and pay off the mortgage. Chapter 13, known as the home saver case, would not be practicable in the case of adjusting ARMS.

The idea behind Chapter 13 bankruptcy is to allow a homeowner to catch-up on whatever mortgage arrears have arisen in addition to making the current mortgage payment on time. As rates adjust and loans reset, the homeowner simply cannot make the current mortgage payment, let alone a partial payment to catch-up. The situation is basically a doomsday for both the homeowner and the mortgage company. The homeowner was banking on the ability to make the payments and/or refinance the outstanding debt at a later date. The lack of real estate appreciation has led to the inability on the part of the homeowner to do just that.

What we are likely to see is a large number of homes on the market for sale. Many of the borrowers will file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and not Chapter 13 bankruptcy. I believe that the market will take five to seven years to begin to show some signs of appreciation. It will be interesting to see if Congress amends the bankruptcy code to allow mortgage debts to be adjusted. If not permanently, then for a short time frame of three to five years.

David M. Siegel is the author of Chapter 7 Success: The Complete Guide to Surviving Personal Bankruptcy. He is a member of the American Bankruptcy Institute and currently practices bankruptcy law in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs. Additional information is available at http://www.chapter7success.com .

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