Qualifying for a Mortgage After (or During) Bankruptcy: What does it take and how long will I wait?

It should come as no surprise that qualifying for a new mortgage or refinance with a bankruptcy in your credit history is likely to complicate the process. But while a bankruptcy will stay on your credit report for a full ten years after your case is complete—which means up to fifteen years total for individuals who file chapter 13—bankruptcy takes its biggest bite on creditworthiness in the first two to three years after the case is first filed.

The good news is that bankruptcy does not automatically disqualify a borrower from obtaining a new mortgage or refinance, and the most available product after bankruptcy usually will be a FHA mortgage (as opposed to a conventional mortgage). The bad news is that eligibility for a mortgage will take time, usually two years or more with reestablished good credit.

As a general rule of thumb, a debtor can qualify for a FHA mortgage or refinance either during or after bankruptcy under the following guidelines:

Chapter 7 or Chapter 11 Bankruptcy: At least 2 years have elapsed since the date of discharge of debts and the borrower has a credit score at least a 640. In most chapter 7 cases, the discharge of debts is entered three months after the case is initially filed.

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy: At least 1 year has elapsed since the filing chapter 13 bankruptcy and the borrower has a credit score at least 640, plus the borrower can provide lender with a verified perfect payment history of their chapter 13 plan. Some lenders may also require the chapter 13 trustee’s approval of the loan.

Note: For conventional mortgage products and rural housing, the typical waiting period may be extended to three years or more and often with higher credit score requirements.

If you filed a chapter 7 or chapter 13 bankruptcy, or you are still in an active chapter 13 plan, work now to increase your odds to qualify for a mortgage product by doing the following:

  • Reestablish a good credit score now. The better the credit score, the lower the interest rate will be. While it won’t happen quickly, you do not have to wait until bankruptcy is complete to work on improving a credit score. Pay your mortgage, student loans, vehicle leases and auto loans on time each month so that you get the benefit of the positive credit reporting. If your student loan is in default, get it back on track with an Income Based Repayment program. Don’t let new debts and bills fall into collection. Check your credit report annually for errors that negatively impact your score. And consider a secured credit card or even a traditional credit card with a low limit—use it sparingly, keep the balance below 10% of the available credit limit or, better yet, pay it off in full each month. If your bankruptcy case is already complete, have the state court docket updated to show any pre-bankruptcy judgments were discharged in your bankruptcy case.
  • If you are in an active chapter 13 plan, ensure your monthly chapter 13 plan payment is made on time each month. For debtors with cash flow problems, this may mean that you set up your monthly plan payments to be automatically deducted from your wages or otherwise have your plan payment made via ACH deduction from a bank account.
  • Be prepared and be patient. At a minimum, most borrowers will have to wait at least two years from when a bankruptcy was filed before they will qualify for a FHA mortgage.

As an alternative for homeowners looking to refinance an existing mortgage who do not meet the underwriting requirements for a traditional refinance, the Making Home Affordable program administered through the federal government may offer a better solution. Obtaining a HAMP or HARP mortgage modification essentially provides the benefit of a cost-free refinance with market interest rates however without the strict credit score/financial history requirements or mandatory post-bankruptcy waiting periods. These programs will not exist indefinitely and as of the date of this post, Congress has approved the Making Home Affordable program only through the end of 2016. To identify the various programs and requirements for a mortgage modification, see the official HUD website on Making Home Affordable.

DISCLOSURE: This information is intended as a general guideline only and is not meant to be a definitive response on any individual qualification for a mortgage or refinance. Mortgage underwriting standards change frequently and only a banking institution or loan officer can determine eligibility for mortgage products.

2016 Minnesota Median Income effective for bankruptcy cases commenced on April 1, 2016 or later (estimated to be good through at least November 2016)

Median income is a critical measure in bankruptcy upon which the ‘Means Test’ calculation is largely based to determine whether a debtor qualifies for Chapter 7 bankruptcy versus Chapter 13. Essentially, if a debtor’s annualized gross income exceeds the median income for their household size and state of residence, they are generally (but not always) ineligible for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and instead steered toward a five-year Chapter 13 repayment plan.  In Chapter 13, median income also determines whether a debtor is required to do a 5-year plan (when above-median income) or 3-year plan (when below-median income).

It’s also important to note that annualized gross household income is determined by doubling all household income from all sources for the last six full calendar months prior to filing bankruptcy. Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a more likely outcome than Chapter 7when this annualized income is above the applicable state median income. The Means Test calculation and eligibility for Chapter 7 is more complicated than simply a measure against median income and other factors including mortgage payment as well as arrears, taxes owed and domestic support obligations, and a number of other factors also figure into the means test calculation.

As of April 1, 2016, the Median Income in Minnesota is as follows:

2016 Minnesota Median Income per applicable Household Size:         

1 Person          2 People          3 People          4 People          5 People

$51,260           $68,596           $80,900           $98,564           $106,964 

State median income is determined by Census Bureau data and adjusts at least annually. The latest adjustment is effective April 1, 2016 and the next adjustment date is expected November 2016.

To read more about Median Income and the Means Test, see What is the Median Income in Minnesota and How Does is Factor into Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and What is the “Means Test” and Why Does it Matter in Bankruptcy?

Wartchow Law Office is a law firm located in Edina, Minnesota with an exclusive practice in Chapter 7, Chapter 13 and Chapter 11 bankruptcy law, representing individual consumer and business clients throughout the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.

2015 Minnesota Median Income effective for bankruptcy cases commenced on/after November 1, 2015 and through April 2016

Median income is a critical measure in bankruptcy upon which the ‘Means Test’ calculation is largely based to determine whether a debtor qualifies for Chapter 7 bankruptcy versus Chapter 13. Essentially, if a debtor’s annualized gross income exceeds the median income for their household size and state of residence, they are generally (but not always) ineligible for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and instead steered toward a five-year Chapter 13 repayment plan.  In Chapter 13, median income also determines whether a debtor is required to do a 5-year plan (when above-median income) or 3-year plan (when below-median income).

It’s also important to note that annualized gross household income is determined by doubling all household income from all sources for the last six full calendar months prior to filing bankruptcy. Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a more likely outcome than Chapter 7 when this annualized income is above the applicable state median income. The Means Test calculation and eligibility for Chapter 7 is more complicated than simply a measure against median income and other factors including mortgage payment as well as arrears, taxes owed and domestic support obligations, and a number of other factors also figure into the means test calculation.

As of November 1, 2015, the Median Income in Minnesota is as follows:

2015 and 2016 (through 04/01/16) Minnesota Median Income per applicable Household Size:         

1 Person          2 People          3 People          4 People          5 People

$51,199           $68,515           $80,804           $98,447           $106,547 

State median income is determined by Census Bureau data and adjusts at least annually. The latest adjustment is effective November 1, 2015 and the next adjustment date is expected April 2016.

To read more about Median Income and the Means Test, see What is the Median Income in Minnesota and How Does is Factor into Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and What is the “Means Test” and Why Does it Matter in Bankruptcy.

Wartchow Law Office is a law firm located in Edina, Minnesota with an exclusive practice in Chapter 7, Chapter 13 and Chapter 11 bankruptcy law, representing individual consumer and business clients throughout the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.

 

2014 Minnesota Median Income (effective for bankruptcy cases commenced on/after November 1, 2014 and through April 2015)

For the 2015/2016 median income, click here.

Median income is a critical measure upon which the ‘Means Test’ is largely based to determine whether a debtor qualifies for Chapter 7 bankruptcy versus Chapter 13. Essentially, if a debtor’s annualized gross income exceeds the median income for their household size and state of residence, they are generally (but not always) ineligible for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and instead steered toward a five-year Chapter 13 repayment plan.  In Chapter 13, median income also determines whether a debtor is required to do a 5-year plan (when above-median income) or 3-year plan (when below-median income).

It’s also important to note that annualized gross household income is determined by doubling all household income from all sources for the last six full calendar months prior to filing bankruptcy. Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a more likely outcome than Chapter 7 when this annualized income is above the applicable state median income. The Means Test calculation and eligibility for Chapter 7 is more complicated than simply a measure against median income and other factors including mortgage payment as well as arrears, taxes owed and domestic support obligations, and a number of other factors also figure into the means test calculation.

As of November 1, 2014, the Median Income in Minnesota is as follows:

2014 Minnesota Median Income per applicable Household Size:         

1 Person          2 People          3 People          4 People          5 People

$50,121           $65,503           $79,750           $93,294           $101,394 

State median income is determined by Census Bureau data and adjusts at least annually. The latest adjustment is effective November 1, 2014 and the next adjustment date is expected approximately April 2015.

To learn more about Median Income and the Means Test, see What is the Median Income in Minnesota and How Does is Factor into Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and What is the “Means Test” and Why Does it Matter in Bankruptcy.

Wartchow Law Office is a law firm located in Edina, Minnesota with an exclusive practice in Chapter 7, Chapter 13 and Chapter 11 bankruptcy law, representing individual consumer and business clients throughout the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.

 

What are the Bankruptcy Exemptions and Which Assets can be Protected in Bankruptcy?

When filing either chapter 7 or chapter 13 bankruptcy, each individual debtor is allowed to exempt a limited amount of equity in real property, cash, personal assets and other property while still obtaining a discharge of most debts. Only when a debtor exceeds the available exemptions will they have “non-exempt” assets that will either be liquidated in chapter 7 or, alternatively, the debtor will effectively pay to keep over the duration of a chapter 13 plan.

Bankruptcy exemption law allows for the exclusion of certain assets from the bankruptcy estate and, thereby, protects such assets from the reach of either creditors or the bankruptcy trustee. When filing bankruptcy in Minnesota, a debtor elects to utilize either the federal exemptions or the Minnesota state exemptions. Since the federal exemptions are more liberal as to what assets can be protected, a Minnesota debtor will only elect state exemptions when they have over $20,000 in equity in a homestead (or, less commonly, a significant certain asset such as pending insurance proceeds or personal injury award). Most debtors however opt to use federal exemptions for the availability of up to a $12,775 “wildcard exemption” which can be used to protect any assets which are not otherwise protected under a separate federal exemption.

As of the date of this post, the federal exemptions provide for the following amounts per debtor:

Asset Type

 

Available Federal Exemption*
Equity in homestead property

 

$23,675 per debtor (double for joint filers)
Household goods, furniture and wearing apparel

 

$12,625 (limit of $600 per item in this category)
Wedding rings

 

$1,600
Alimony / child support

 

unlimited so long as funds are necessary for support of the family
Unemployment / Disability benefits (future benefits only)

 

unlimited
Social Security benefits (future benefits only)

 

unlimited
Cash value of life insurance policy

 

$12,625 (only one policy is exempt)
Vehicle equity

 

$3,775 (only one per debtor)
Personal injury claims that are not yet settled

 

$23,675
ERISA-qualified retirement accounts such as 401(k), 403(b) and 408 plans

 

unlimited
Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs)

 

usually unlimited subject to certain limits on recent contributions
Other retirement benefit plans including Public Employee Retirement Association (PERA), Minnesota State Retirement System (MSRS), and Teachers Retirement Association of Minnesota (TRA)

 

unlimited so long as the employee does not have a right to withdrawal of funds upon termination
Tools of trade (must be used in employment)

 

$2,375
Workers Compensation

 

unlimited only if claim has not been settled or paid out (however proceeds already received can be exempted under Minnesota law)
Anything else not exempt under any other provision such as excess equity in a vehicle, cash, bank account balances, second vehicles, recreational equipment, stocks and bonds, ownership interest in a business, inheritance proceeds, claims against a business or individual, tax refunds, etc. up to $13,100 total “wildcard” / (d)(5) exemption

 

* These amounts are valid as of 2016 and adjust periodically. You should consult a bankruptcy attorney to analyze the available exemptions for your particular circumstances.

 

2014 Median Income in Minnesota (effective April 1, 2014)

Median income is a critical measure in bankruptcy upon which the ‘Means Test’ calculation is largely based to determine whether a debtor qualifies for Chapter 7 bankruptcy versus Chapter 13. Essentially, if a debtor’s annualized gross income exceeds the median income for their household size and state of residence, they are generally (but not always) ineligible for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and instead steered toward a five-year Chapter 13 repayment plan.  In Chapter 13, median income also determines whether a debtor is required to do a 5-year plan when above-median income or 3-year plan when below-median income.

It’s also important to note that annualized gross household income is determined by doubling all household income from all sources for the last six full calendar months prior to filing bankruptcy. Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a more likely outcome than Chapter 7 when this annualized income is above the applicable state median income. The Means Test calculation and eligibility for Chapter 7 is more complicated than simply a measure against median income and various other factors including mortgage payment, mortgage arrears, taxes owed, domestic support obligations, and a number of other considerations also figure into the means test calculation.

As of May 1, 2014, the annual gross median income in Minnesota for the purposes of bankruptcy is as follows:

1 Person          2 People          3 People          4 People          5 People

$49,592           $65,398            $78,715             $92,277           $100,377    

State median income is determined by Census Bureau data and adjusts at least annually. The latest adjustment is effective April 1, 2014 and the next adjustment date is expected approximately November 2014.

To read more about Median Income and the Means Test, see What is the Median Income in Minnesota and How Does is Factor into Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and What is the “Means Test” and Why Does it Matter in Bankruptcy”?

Wartchow Law Office is a law firm located in Edina, Minnesota with an exclusive practice in Chapter 7, Chapter 13 and Chapter 11 bankruptcy law, representing individual consumer and business clients throughout the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.

Typical Questions Asked at the Chapter 7 Meeting of Creditors

The Meeting of Creditors is typically the only mandatory appearance most debtors will have to make in their bankruptcy proceeding. While it is a short and usually uneventful occurrence, it is a court hearing nonetheless and all answers are provided under oath and must be truthful and accurate. The bankruptcy trustee assigned to the case will call each case by the debtor’s name, verify the identity of each debtor with their driver’s license and social security card, check any other documents that were requested to be provided at the Meeting (for example, recent post-petition paystubs and file date bank statements), swear-in each debtor under oath to provide truthful testimony under the penalty of perjury, and then ask a series of mostly yes-no questions. Many questions asked at the Meeting of Creditors will repeat information that was already disclosed in the bankruptcy petition and schedules.

These are some of the common questions asked by the Chapter 7 trustee at the Meeting of Creditors in Minnesota (note: the questions asked at a Chapter 13 Meeting of Creditors are similar to this list but may be more extensive):

  • State your name and current address for the record.
  • Have you read the Bankruptcy Information Sheet provided by the United States Trustee?
  • Did you sign the petition, schedules, statements, and related documents that were filed with the court?
  • Did you read those documents before you signed them?
  • Are you personally familiar with the information contained in those documents?
  • To the best of your knowledge, is the information contained in those documents true and correct?
  • Are there any errors or omissions to bring to my attention at this time?
  • Are all of your assets identified on the schedules?
  • Have you listed all of your creditors on the schedules?
  • Are you married? Have you ever been married? If you are recently divorced, the trustee may also ask if you have any money or property still owed to you from the divorce.
  • Have you ever filed for bankruptcy before? If yes, when, where and what type?
  • Are you employed in the same job as when you filed bankruptcy?
  • Do you have a domestic support obligation, such as child support or alimony?
  • Do you own or have any interest whatsoever in any real estate? If yes, you may also be asked when did you purchase the real estate, did you take any equity out of the property in the past five years?
  • Have you given away any property or given any property within the last two years? If yes, what did you sell, how much was it worth and to whom did you sell it?
  • Do you have a claim against anyone or any business?
  • Are you the plaintiff in any lawsuit?
  • Do you have the right to sue anyone in a lawsuit?
  • Does anyone owe you money?
  • Has someone died and left you an inheritance? The trustee may also mention that if anyone dies in the next six months and you inherit something, it could become “property of the estate”. This means that you must report any such inheritance to your attorney and to the court.
  • In the 90 days prior to filing bankruptcy, did you pay any one unsecured creditor more than $600?  If yes, the trustee may want to know how much you paid total, to whom and may request to see copies of the checks/payments.
  • In the past six years, have you run any business? If yes, the trustee may ask questions about the nature of the business, what assets the business owns and what happened to the business if it is no longer operational.

Keep reading for more information on What Happens after the 341 Meeting of Creditors is Over

Located in Edina, Minnesota, Lynn Wartchow represents consumer bankruptcy clients in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 filings in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Ramsey and Hennepin County, and throughout Minnesota.

Chapter 13 Debt Limits as of April 1, 2013 (also applies to 2014 bankruptcy filings)

Click here to see the current Chapter 13 Debt Limits effective April 1, 2016 and valid through 2019.

The Bankruptcy Code section 109(e) sets certain unsecured and secured debts limits for individuals filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy. As of April 1, 2013 and for all of 2014 and 2015, the Chapter 13 debt limits are $383,175 (unsecured debt limit) and $1,149,525 (secured debt limit). These are the chapter 13 debt limits that will continue to apply until 2016.

The secured debt limit of $1,149,525 includes the total of all debt that is secured by collateral, real property or personal property owned by the debtor such as vehicle loans, equipment loans (but not leases), tax liens and mortgages secured by real estate including both residential homestead mortgages as well as mortgages on rental or commercial properties, if any.

The unsecured debt limit of $383,175 includes the total of all amounts owed on credit cards, judgments and other unsecured consumer debts, non-liened taxes and unsecured disputed debts in most cases. This debt limit applies per debtor in a joint chapter 13 bankruptcy filing.

Any individual that is employed or self-employed is eligible for Chapter 13 bankruptcy relief so long as the individual’s unsecured debts total less than $383,175 and secured debts total less than $1,149,525. These statutory debt limits are adjusted periodically every three years according to the consumer price index and the next debt limit adjustment will be in 2016.

Individuals who exceed the Chapter 13 debt limits still have the option to file under Chapter 7 or Chapter 11 for individuals.

Wartchow Law Office advises clients on which form of bankruptcy they qualify for and whether Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 fits their needs best.  Contact for a free consultation and more information on options available under Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Converting from Chapter 7 to Chapter 13: What’s Involved and Why Would You Convert?

Conversion to Chapter 13 from Chapter 7 isn’t a death sentence for your bankruptcy case (see Chapter 13: Not Always a Gloomy Diagnosis in Bankruptcy). Perhaps a Chapter 7 was filed underestimating your income and you didn’t actually qualify for Chapter 7 for this reason. Or perhaps you realize after filing your Chapter 7 that you have mortgage arrears that you wish to repay in order to save your home from foreclosure, which is something that you cannot do in Chapter 7. Or perhaps you discover after already filing Chapter 7 that you have non-exempt assets which you would rather ‘pay to keep’ in Chapter 13 rather than turn over to the Chapter 7 trustee for immediate liquidation. Also, conversion can arise when the Office of the United States Trustee brings a motion to dismiss your Chapter 7 case for abuse, usually citing that you did not qualify for Chapter 7 from the beginning. While converting to Chapter 13 is neither an everyday experience nor a great risk for the average debtor, it can arise and ideally your attorney has already explained the differences between Chapter 13 and Chapter 7.

What can you expect if you convert to Chapter 7 from Chapter 13:

  • File and sign new petition forms and amended schedules required for the verified conversion.
  • Formulate a Chapter 13 plan with your attorney. The plan will propose a monthly Chapter 13 payment to commence about one month after the conversion is filed and continue for three to five years. From this payment, mortgage arrears and priority tax claims can be paid off over three to five years, vehicle loans may be crammed down to the value of the vehicle rather than the pre-petition balance of the loan, and other terms can be written into your plan that are more versatile than can be achieved in Chapter 7.
  • Attendance at the Chapter 13 Meeting of Creditors. You will need to attend a Meeting of Creditors with the Chapter 13 trustee even if you have already attended a Chapter 7 Meeting of Creditors.
  • Additional attorney fees. Chapter 13 almost always costs more than Chapter 7, in large part due to the attorney work necessary to formulate a Chapter 13 plan and for the fact that your bankruptcy attorney continues to represent you throughout the entire three to five-year Chapter 13 plan (versus the few months in which a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is usually completed). Many times, these fees can be paid in large part ‘through the plan’, which means the attorney fees are paid over time through the monthly plan payments you make to the Chapter 13 trustee.

Unless you recognize a change in circumstances where you voluntarily wish to convert your case, your attorney will also apprise you of any event arising in your Chapter 7 case which may require conversion to Chapter 13.

For more information on how to convert your case from Chapter 7 to Chapter 13, contact Wartchow Law Office for a free bankruptcy consultation. Located in Edina, Minnesota, Wartchow Law represents clients in all forms of bankruptcy throughout the Minneapolis and St. Paul metro area of Minnesota.

What Happens after the 341 Meeting of Creditors is Over?

The answer to this depends on whether you have filed Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. (Chapter 11 individual debtors also are required to attend a Meeting of Creditors). At a minimum and for all Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 cases, the debtor must take the second financial management course and file the certificate with the Bankruptcy Court. The Notice of the Meeting of Creditors will give a specific deadline for filing the certificate in a chapter 7 case (the certificate can be filed anytime up to the week prior to the discharge being received) while in chapter 13 the certificate may be filed at any time before their chapter 13 Plan is complete.

In most Chapter 7 cases, attendance at the Meeting of Creditors which occurs about one month after your case is filed, is the last active event for a debtor in a bankruptcy proceeding. Once the Chapter 7 trustee has concluded the Meeting of Creditors and determined that no additional questions or documents will be needed from the debtor, the debtor only has to complete the second financial management course and wait for their Chapter 7 bankruptcy discharge to be entered by the Bankruptcy Court about two months later. A Chapter 7 case is held usually open for two months after the date of the Meeting of Creditors so that certain actions can be taken in a case. Although these post-Meeting of Creditors actions are somewhat uncommon in the garden-variety Chapter 7 case, potential actions include turnover of a non-exempt asset to the Chapter 7 trustee, a creditor objection to the discharge of a particular debt (which is a common type of adversary proceeding), motions to dismiss a case brought by the attorney for the Office of the United States Trustee, or an administrative audit of the Chapter 7 case. Your Chapter 7 attorney can advise you of the potential actions and other requirements you may expect to occur after the Meeting of Creditors in your bankruptcy case, if anything. However most of the time once the Meeting of Creditors is over, it’s just a matter of waiting for your discharge without any further action required other than completing the financial management course.

In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the Chapter 13 plan is often confirmed about one month after the Meeting of Creditors is concluded. While plan confirmation requires an additional court hearing, attendance is rarely required at the confirmation hearing and you should not plan to attend unless your attorney advises you to do so. Once confirmed, the Chapter 13 debtor must continue to make all Chapter 13 plan payments as well as any other requirements set forth under the terms of their confirmed Chapter 13 plan (such as to report any bonus income received during the plan to the Chapter 13 trustee or provide income tax returns each year). Since a Chapter 13 case will remain an active bankruptcy case while the plan is underway, there are a number of events that can arise after the Meeting of Creditors that require you’re your and your attorney’s involvement. For example if during the course of the Chapter 13 plan there are significant changes to income or expenses, your bankruptcy attorney may advise you to file a motion to convert to Chapter 7 rather than stay in Chapter 13. Also, if you move or change your address you must notify your attorney.

Located in Edina, Minnesota, Lynn Wartchow represents clients in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Ramsey and Hennepin County, and throughout Minnesota.