When confronted with foreclosure, many debtors file for bankruptcy—and with reason. By filing for bankruptcy, a debtor can obtain what is known as an automatic stay. During the bankruptcy case, the stay serves as an injunction, or bar, prohibiting creditors from attempting to collect debts or enforce liens.
In some instances, a debtor is not entitled to the automatic stay, or the lender successfully petitions the court to lift the automatic stay. Whether you file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy determines whether the foreclosure process is halted temporarily or permanently.
The Process of Foreclosure
When you purchase a home, you agree that if you fall behind on your monthly payments (default on the loan), the lender has the right to sell the property at auction and apply the proceeds to your loan balance. Prior to the house being auctioned, the lender must follow the foreclosure procedures outlined in federal and state law.
After the federal and state waiting periods for homeowners to catch up on arrearages or apply for a loss mitigation program (such as a mortgage modification) have expired, the lender may proceed with foreclosure in accordance with state foreclosure laws.
A lender may foreclose in one of two ways, depending on state law:
Foreclosure through the courts. All states permit lenders to foreclose through a “judicial” process that begins with the bank filing a court lawsuit. The homeowner has the option of responding to and defending the suit. The case will be litigated, and if the bank prevails, the court will order the home sold at auction.
Foreclosure without judicial intervention. Certain states permit lenders to use a streamlined “nonjudicial” foreclosure procedure that entails following state-mandated steps. The bank is frequently required to allow the homeowner time to bring the account current. Additionally, the lender must notify the owner of the sale date and, in some cases, publish the sale date via newspaper advertisement or public posting. Following completion of the steps, the lender may sell the home at auction without first obtaining court approval.
As long as the foreclosure sale has not occurred, filing for bankruptcy will halt either type of foreclosure process.
When the Automatic Stay Is Inapplicable
The stay is automatically triggered upon filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. There is no additional action required to bring the automatic stay into effect. (For more information, see Bankruptcy’s Automatic Stay.)
There are, however, two exceptions to the automatic stay that prohibit debtors from interfering with a creditor’s right to foreclose by filing and dismissing successive bankruptcy cases. The following are the rules.
Within the last year, one previous bankruptcy case was dismissed. The automatic stay is only in effect for 30 days following your bankruptcy filing.
Two or more previously dismissed bankruptcy cases within the last year. The automatic stay is not invoked at all.
Debtors who qualify for the automatic stay exceptions may petition the bankruptcy court to impose the automatic stay and halt the foreclosure. To prevail, the debtor must establish beyond a reasonable doubt (a relatively high standard) that the previous bankruptcy cases were not filed in bad faith.
The automatic stay exceptions for repeat or serial filers do not apply if you initially filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 but then converted to Chapter 13 after the means test determined that your income was too high to qualify for Chapter 7.
How the Automatic Stay Can Aid in Foreclosure Prevention
The automatic stay extends the time period available to attempt to resolve a pending foreclosure. The options for dealing with an impending foreclosure are largely dependent on whether you file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
Bankruptcy under Chapter 7
Chapter 7 bankruptcy does not include a mechanism to assist you in catching up on payments and retaining your home. Therefore, if you’re falling behind and wish to remain in your home, this is probably not the chapter for you. However, there are additional advantages.
When you file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7, all of your property becomes part of the bankruptcy estate. The Chapter 7 trustee appointed to your case will liquidate (sell) your assets and make any necessary payments to creditors. The automatic stay allows the trustee to sell property that would have been foreclosed on otherwise if there is a potential benefit to the estate (the property must have sufficient equity).
Depending on your circumstances, the stay may also be beneficial to you:
If the property is your primary residence, the stay may provide you with additional time to secure alternative housing or negotiate a loan modification with the lender.
You may be entitled to a portion of the proceeds if the trustee sells the property for a sufficient price. After resolving any mortgages or other valid liens, the trustee must reimburse you for your homestead exemption before resolving any other creditors. Additionally, you are entitled to excess proceeds if the property sells for a price sufficient to pay off all of your creditors.
Bankruptcy under Chapter 13
The automatic stay in Chapter 13 bankruptcy may provide you with time to catch up on any mortgage arrears and remain in your home. You’ll repay debts (some in full, some in part) over a three- to five-year period—including delinquent mortgage payments.
To make Chapter 13 restructuring effective, you must have sufficient income to cover current mortgage payments and make payments on arrearages that accrued prior to filing bankruptcy. Once the court approves a Chapter 13 repayment plan that includes mortgage arrears, the lender is prohibited from foreclosing. However, if you fall behind on mortgage or arrearage payments following the approval of your plan, the lender will be able to proceed with the foreclosure.
Removal of the Automatic Stay
A lender may file a motion with the bankruptcy court requesting that the automatic stay be lifted (terminated) and the lender be permitted to proceed with foreclosure. You have the right to respond, and if you do, the bankruptcy court will hold a hearing before deciding whether to lift the stay. If the court lifts the stay, the lender may resume foreclosure efforts, unless the bankruptcy court orders otherwise.
Speak With Our Bankruptcy Lawyers In Phoenix & Scottsdale
Canterbury Law Group should be your first choice for any bankruptcy evaluation. Our experienced professionals will work with you to obtain the best possible outcome. You can on the firm to represent you well so you can move on with your life. Call today for an initial consultation. We can assist with all types of bankruptcies including Business Bankruptcy, Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, Creditor Representation, Chapter 5 Claims, Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, Business Restructuring, Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, and more.
*This information is not intended to be legal advice. Please contact Canterbury Law Group today to learn more about your personal legal needs.