One of the hardest decisions a family has to make is deciding to surrender their home in a bankruptcy proceeding. Often times, this means allowing a home to go through the foreclosure process and discharging their mortgage obligations in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Many homeowners are concerned about the foreclosure process and their obligations to their mortgage company once their bankruptcy process is complete.
Often times, when a person chooses to surrender their home in bankruptcy, he is in the middle of the foreclosure process. Filing a bankruptcy petition creates an automatic stay, which puts an immediate halt to the foreclosure process.
The mortgage company may then choose to either file a motion with the court to re-start the foreclosure process (called a motion to terminate the automatic stay) during the 90 days of the Chapter 7 process or wait until the Chapter 7 is discharged to initiate the process again. Either way, foreclosure is a long, legal process and it often takes anywhere from four to eight months for the house to be sold at the foreclosure sale. Regardless of when the bankruptcy is complete, the home still belongs to the homeowner until the home is sold at the commissioner’s sale.
In order to understand why bankruptcy may not be immediately necessary in order to get out from under a mortgage, one needs to understand how the foreclosure process works. In most states, including Kentucky and Indiana, creditors are required to utilize a process called judicial foreclosure.
The way it works is this. Once there has been a default, the creditor initiates the foreclosure process by filing a Complaint in the Circuit Court of the county where the property is located. The creditor must then obtain service of the Complaint on the debtor in a manner permitted by law. Once service has been obtained, the debtor then has 20 days to answer the Complaint. The purpose of this is to allow the debtor to assert any defenses that he may have. If the debtor fails to file an Answer to the Complaint, then the creditor gets a default judgment.
After obtaining a default judgment against the debtor, the creditor may then proceed to obtain a sale date. Normally it takes at least 4 months or longer from the time of service of the Complaint until the sale date. On the sale date, the property is auctioned off at the courthouse to the highest bidder. The proceeds of the sale are then credited to the loan, and what is left over, referred to as the deficiency balance, is what the debtor owes the creditor.
If the property sells for enough to cover the balance of the loan, then there is no debt that is owed by the debtor. So until such time that the property actually sells at foreclosure, it is impossible to know for sure how much the debtor will actually get stuck with. So if you owe $150,000 on your mortgage, this does not mean that you personally are on the hook for that amount. If the house sells for $140,000, then you only owe the $10,000 difference.
So before you decide that you need to file bankruptcy solely because your home is going into foreclosure, you may want to wait and see what the outcome is from the foreclosure sale. You may owe less than you think. Now if you have other reasons for filing bankruptcy, such as credit card or medical debt that you can’t pay, then it makes sense to go ahead with the filing. But if it is all about your mortgage, you may want to wait and see what the damages are before pulling the trigger on a bankruptcy filing.
Senior Loan Officer
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