Congress Extends the Income Exclusion for 1099 ‘Forgiven’ Mortgage Debt to Tax Years 2015 and 2016

For a more detailed discussion on tax debt and other tax resolution issues, be sure to read Wartchow Law’s Tax Blog.

On December 18, 2015, Congress extended certain tax breaks to apply for both tax years 2015 and 2016, including the income exclusion for forgiven mortgage debt on a qualified principal residence. “Forgiven” or “cancelled” mortgage debt on a Form 1099-C occurs usually after a homestead is foreclosed, short sold or otherwise a defaulted mortgage goes unpaid for the statutory period of time. Upon the occurrence of these events, banks are required to treat the unpaid balance as “forgiven” and issue a Form 1099-C to the homeowner for the balance that is cancelled. (The term “forgiven” is a gross misnomer since, in fact, the mortgage balance remains lawfully collectible in full—more on that later in this article).

As of October 20, 2015, the Mortgage Debt Relief Act had not yet been extended to tax year 2015. However since President Obama approved an extension of the tax relief for the next two tax years (i.e., 2015 and 2016), this means that homeowners receiving a 1099 for mortgage debt will not be required to declare mortgage debt as taxable income on their federal income tax return. In past years, Congress has typically waited until December to extend the Act’s tax relief to homeowners (better last minute than never).

The Internal Revenue Service and state taxing authorities treat the 1099’d mortgage debt as taxable income unless an exclusion is claimed by the taxpayer on Form 982 for the tax year for which the 1099 is issued. This means that a 1099 received on even a mortgage balance of $30,000, for example, can result in significant federal and state income tax liability upwards of $5,000 or more for just a middle-income taxpayer. For higher income earners, this 1099 could result in massive tax consequences into the tens of thousands. The exclusion operates to exclude the 1099 from taxable income if the amount forgiven was “qualified principal residence indebtedness”. For current information on this and other income exclusions, see IRS Publication 4681.

This income tax exclusion for forgiven mortgage debt dates back to 2007 and Congress’s then-response to overwhelming consumer need for protection against tax liability contained in the Mortgage Foreclosure Debt Forgiveness Act. This most recent bill passing by Congress now allows for homeowners to claim the income exclusion on their 2015 and 2016 tax returns (assuming the 1099-C is issued for 2015 or 2016).

Tax year 2017 is currently without any extension of the mortgage debt income exclusion–look for that decision to be before Congress in December 2017. Other income exclusions may still be available however, for example the insolvency exclusion or the exclusion for a discharge received in bankruptcy.

This income tax “relief” for forgiven mortgage debt is not to be taken without a heaping measure of caution, however.

First, a 1099 does not actually denote that the mortgage balance forgiven and, in fact, the homeowner still owes the entire amount to the bank which can be collected upon via lawsuit and other means. Wait, back that up. The bank declares the mortgage forgiven and takes their tax benefit, the homeowner is personally responsible for the resulting income tax on the forgiven amount, but yet the homeowner can STILL be held accountable for the mortgage balance owed? Yes, actually. Practically, this means that the bank may still lawfully report the entire balance as due, owing and in default on a homeowner’s credit report, potentially ruining their credit. More significantly, perhaps, this also means that a homeowner can be sued for the forgiven balance and, if judgment is obtained, their wages garnished and bank account levied.

There are many state courts around the country—including here in Minnesota—that have declared that issuance of a Form 1099-C does not alone operate to legally extinguish a debt and, therefore, the full balance remains outstanding absent some operation of the law, such as a discharge received in a bankruptcy proceeding. These courts rely on an IRS Information Letter dated December 30, 2005, which explained: “The Internal Revenue Service does not view a Form 1099-C as an admission by the creditor that it has discharged the debt and can no longer pursue collection.” See I.R.S. Info. 2005-0207, 2005 WL 3561135 (Dec. 30, 2005). How’s that for deceptive wording?

Second, the timing of asserting the exclusion on your income tax return is tight to say the least. Assuming a homeowner timely receives the 1099-C following the end of the tax year for which it is issued, they still have time to report the income and claim the exclusion via IRS Form 982. But for homeowners who did not timely receive the 1099-C from the bank, the deadline to amend their tax return to claim the exclusion is six months from the date the return was originally due, which is usually April 15th of the following year. As an illustration, if a homeowner was in an active bankruptcy proceeding when the bank declared the mortgage forgiven on a home foreclosed prior to filing bankruptcy, the bank may have issued a 1099-C to the IRS yet simply never sent the 1099-C to the homeowner due to their being in bankruptcy at the time (or instead of bankruptcy, perhaps the 1099 was lost in the mail or the bank sent it to the wrong address). In this example, the homeowner may not find out about the 1099-C until years later when the IRS sends a collection letter for the additional income tax due on the forgiven mortgage—and all in spite of the bankruptcy. The result is that the homeowner is outside of the 6-month deadline for amending their 2013 tax returns to claim the income exclusion and is now strapped with the additional tax debt and a battle against both the bank and the Internal Revenue Service. Try unwinding that tax debacle.

For more about 1099s and the insolvency exclusion, see Received a Form 1099-C on Foreclosed Home? You May Qualify for the Mortgage Forgiveness Exclusion to Cancellation of Debt Income.

Bankruptcy Options if You Are Behind on Condo / Townhome Assessments

Behind on your monthly HOAs, late fees or special assessments owed to your homeowner’s association?

Under Minnesota statute, most defaulted amounts due to a homeowner’s association create an automatic lien against the individual unit, which means that these amounts remain secured against the condo or townhome even after bankruptcy. Because of this statutory lien, the association can collect against a defaulting owner either by way of initiating a lawsuit for personal liability or, less frequently, by foreclosing its lien.

Read more about Condo, Townhome and HOA Association Liens in Minnesota.

While bankruptcy typically discharges one’s personal liability for unpaid assessments as of the date the bankruptcy is filed, the automatic association lien that is created by statute still exists in spite of bankruptcy. Therefore the association retains a right to foreclose the unit either after a bankruptcy discharge is received or during bankruptcy with court approval. Because filing of bankruptcy only offers temporary relief for a defaulting condo or townhome owner who wishes to retain the property, a long term resolution of the association arrears is necessary.

Chapter 13 bankruptcy allows a defaulting homeowner as long as three to five years to repay their association for any “pre-petition” amounts due. While in chapter 13, the homeowner must stay current on the monthly HOAs and any new special assessments or they again will risk an association foreclosure of the unit for “post-petition” amounts due.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy discharges personal liability for unpaid association assessments / HOAs but will not resolve the automatic lien if the homeowner intends to keep the property.

There are options in bankruptcy if you are behind on assessments due to the association and these options vary depending on whether you intend to keep the property. If you own a condo or townhome and are considering bankruptcy to stop a foreclosure or lawsuit, it’s important to understand how bankruptcy may impact your liability for association dues, fees and other assessments, your right to continue to use common amenities, and the risks of foreclosure. Especially under these circumstances, it’s best to get advice from a bankruptcy attorney who understands the various forms of bankruptcy relief to protect your interests with regard to the property.

Attorney Lynn Wartchow is a Minneapolis / St. Paul area bankruptcy attorney representing clients in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 consumer bankruptcy proceedings in Minnesota since 2005.Call for a free bankruptcy consultation to understand your options in Chapter 13 or Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

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

Life inevitably changes and things happen that may cause a chapter 13 debtor to no longer need or afford their original chapter 13 plan. A job loss, other reduction of income or unanticipated increase in expenses can all be reasons for a debtor to lose their ability to continue making the chapter 13 plan payments. If the chapter 13 payments become unfeasible and, assuming the debtor qualifies, a chapter 13 case can be converted to chapter 7 for an immediate discharge.

Typically people file chapter 13 bankruptcy for one of two reasons: Either their household income is above the applicable state median income and they do not qualify for chapter 7, or they voluntarily elect to file chapter 13 due to having mortgage arrears, non-dischargeable taxes or other priority debts that can be repaid over the course of a chapter 13 plan. Also debtors may elect to file chapter 13 if they have non-exempt assets that would lose to liquidation by a chapter 7 trustee and instead chose to ‘buy back’ their non-exempt property by making monthly plan payments in chapter 13.

In cases converted to chapter 7 from chapter 13, the debtor must prove that they would qualify for chapter 7 as of the date of conversion (not the original file date) by passing the means test. See What is the “Means Test” and Why Does it Matter in Bankruptcy. The debtor’s bankruptcy attorney will complete a new means test as of the date of conversion to determine if the debtor is chapter 7 eligible. If eligible, the case can be converted by the debtor filing a motion to convert to chapter 7 which gives all creditors and other parties the opportunity to object. (Note that in Minnesota, no motion is required and the debtor can instead file a simple request to convert to chapter 7 along with updated schedules and statements). If the motion/request to convert is granted, the case will proceed as a chapter 7 case and the debtor will attend a chapter 7 Meeting of Creditors before a discharge is ordered.

If your income has gone down or your expenses have increased since your chapter 13 plan was confirmed, you should consult your bankruptcy attorney so she can advise you of what options you have to convert to chapter 7, to have your case dismissed voluntarily or otherwise to modify your chapter 13 plan to reduce the plan payment. Any missed chapter 13 plan payments will result in a quick dismissal of your chapter 13 case so it is important to notify your attorney immediately if you are considering a conversion to chapter 7 from chapter 13. Once a chapter 13 case is dismissed, the debtor will have to pay a significantly larger filing fee to file chapter 7 and also increased attorney fees over the typically smaller attorney fee for just a conversion.

Read more about converting from chapter 7 to chapter 13 bankruptcy here.

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.

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.

Chapter 11 Bankruptcy: Can it Stop Eviction under a Commercial Lease?

(For other detailed discussions on chapter 11 procedure, common issues and more, be sure to read Wartchow Law’s Chapter 11 Blog.)

As for many issues in bankruptcy, whether filing bankruptcy can stop an eviction under a commercial lease depends on several factors, including the precise legal status of the lease as of the file date of the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case–has the lease been lawfully terminated or expired, or is it simply in default–and the legal steps taken by the landlord pursuant to the Minnesota eviction process before the bankruptcy is filed. The ideal chapter 11 scenario to stop a commercial eviction (or residential eviction for that matter) is to file a bankruptcy petition before the lease is terminated or expired either under the law or under the terms of the lease and also before a judgment of possession is ordered by district court. If these two factors are present, the lease can still be cured in a chapter 11 and, even if the debtor decides not to keep the lease, at least the debtor will have significantly more time to vacate the premise and relocate under a more favorable lease.

In Minnesota, the eviction process is typically an expedited proceeding, meaning that once a commercial landlord petitions the district court for eviction—usually for non-payment of rent or other default by the tenant—relief in the form of eviction can be ordered in a matter of weeks. The key to bankruptcy stalling an eviction proceeding is timing: ideally the bankruptcy should be filed before a judgment of possession is entered in a commercial eviction proceeding.

The very first matter that must be considered is the legal status of the lease, since this will greatly impact the debtor’s rights regarding the lease and, accordingly, also the length of time that the chapter 11 debtor can continue to use the premises. If the lease is expired or otherwise has terminated prior to the bankruptcy filing–or if the landlord has obtained a judgment for possession–eviction may only be stalled for a short period of time, perhaps as little as a week or two. Even though chapter 11 provides a new platform for potential lease re-negotiations, it cannot resurrect a lease that is no longer valid under the law without the cooperation of the lessor. Put another way, while eviction proceedings will be stayed by the filing of chapter 11 (or any form of bankruptcy for that matter), it will not breathe new life into a lease that was already dead (terminated or expired) before the bankruptcy was filed. Even if the lease is expired or terminated, a well-advised landlord will still first go through the bankruptcy court before continuing with the eviction, however even this initial procedure in bankruptcy court can be expedited to a matter of a week or two. in contrast if the lease is not yet terminated or expired, the landlord faces a longer process in the bankruptcy court because the debtor has an unequivocal right to cure and assume (i.e., “make good”) on the defaulted lease so long as the debtor can evidence its practical and financial ability to do so. Whether a particular lease has terminated or expired will depend on the terms of the lease and/or if the landlord has taken the requisite steps to terminate the lease prior to the filing of bankruptcy. Often this “lease termination” step is missed in the course of an eviction proceeding, thus a business on the doorstep of eviction may still have an opportunity to make good on their lease and, unlike many state laws, chapter 11 will affords the necessary time and legal process to cure a defaulted lease.

Assuming the lease is not terminated or expired and even though the tenant is in default, chapter 11 provides a temporary respite from eviction process during which time the tenant must have a plan to cure any defaults in order to continue under the lease. A qualified Chapter 11 attorney can advise a commercial tenant (i.e., the prospective debtor) of the cure period afforded in a Chapter 11 filing, their rights in bankruptcy to stop the eviction and reorganize debts as well as the timeline and costs expected regarding the options to either assume or reject the troubled lease.

For more detailed information about chapter 11 and commercial leases, see also Commercial Leases and Chapter 11 Reorganization: The Requirements and Timelines under the Bankruptcy Code.

For other issues typically involved with chapter 11, keep reading to Recognize the Circumstances that Often Lead to Chapter 11 including Sales Tax Obligations in Chapter 11.

Located in Edina, Minnesota, Wartchow Law Office is a Chapter 11 law firm providing Chapter 11 consultations to review the business lease and other liabilities affecting a Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding. Chapter 11 is also available to individual Chapter 11 debtors having unique circumstances. 

How Are Non-Dischargeable Debts Treated in a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

Non-dischargeable debts are those few categories of personal liabilities which can never be discharged in either form of Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Non-dischargeable debts include most individual income taxes, many business-related taxes such as withholding tax and other trust fund taxes, domestic support obligations, spousal support/alimony and child support, debts related to fraud or fiduciary embezzlement, educational and student loans, unlisted debts and other less common types of debts. (Note that some divorce decree obligations may be dischargeable in Chapter 13.)

One of the great benefits of Chapter 13 over Chapter 7 is that certain non-dischargeable debts can be paid back over time in Chapter 13 plan, usually over five years, which can maximize a Chapter 13 debtor’s cash flow and repayment flexibility. For example in Chapter 13, you can stretch out repayment of priority debts—such as income taxes—over five years versus the standard two to three years the taxing authorities typically require outside of bankruptcy.

It’s important to note that most taxes, domestic support obligations and mortgage arrearages must be repaid in full through the Chapter 13 plan. Practically speaking, this means that the debtor’s budget must demonstrate that they afford the minimum monthly repayment required in order to repay the non-dischargeable over sixty months (in a five year plan).  Your Chapter 13 attorney can help you calculate whether repayment of the non-dischargeable debts is feasible considering your monthly income and expenses.

The flexibility of time in repaying the few categories of non-dischargeable debts is a distinct advantage to Chapter 13. Whether a debt is discharged in bankruptcy is often fact-specific and you should seek the advice of an attorney for more information specific to your circumstances.

Wartchow Law Office advises clients in Minnesota on how Chapter 13 bankruptcy can provide relief and what they can expect from a Chapter 13 plan.  Contact for a free consultation and more information on options available under Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Located in Edina, Minnesota.

 

 

Will My Assets Be Protected in Bankruptcy? What Are the Bankruptcy Exemptions?

Most people who file for bankruptcy are able to protect most if not all of their assets, including cash bank accounts, household goods and furnishings, 401(k) plans and IRAs (as well as other types of retirement accounts), cars and vehicles, their homestead and more. Assets are protected in a bankruptcy by way of exemptions, meaning that an asset is protected when it is ‘exempt from the bankruptcy estate’.  When an asset is exempt, it is outside of the reach of both creditors and the bankruptcy trustee and will not be liquidated to cash to be applied to debts. When an asset is non-exempt, it must be surrendered to the Chapter 7 trustee or otherwise the value liquidated and paid into a Chapter 13 plan.

In both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy, all assets must be fully disclosed on the bankruptcy Schedules A and B. Assets include any interest in real property as well as all conceivable forms of personal property, bank accounts, and even certain intangible property such as rights to sue and future interests. Exemptions are listed on the bankruptcy Schedule C which restates the property claimed exempt, its value and the amount claimed exempt, and the basis for the exemption under either federal exemptions or Minnesota state exemptions. Both the federal and Minnesota bankruptcy exemptions provide for various categories of commonly exempt property, such as the debtor’s future earnings and income, a homestead interest, vehicles and cars, jewelry, tools of trade used in a debtor’s profession, household possessions and personal effects, retirement accounts, social security benefits, tax refunds, insurance proceeds, and many more. Most exemption categories specify a defined dollar limit for each type of asset exempted and the exemption limits are updated regularly.

While most people’s assets are protected within the available bankruptcy exemptions, common sense dictates that there are reasonable limits to what can be protected when one files for bankruptcy. For example, it may be difficult for a debtor to receive a discharge in Chapter 7 bankruptcy while retaining significant equity a family cabin or rental property. Whether your assets can be protected in bankruptcy is fact dependent and a comprehensive disclosure of assets is an important discussion to have with your bankruptcy attorney before you file bankruptcy. And this is a discussion that should be open and honest since full disclosure of assets is required on the bankruptcy schedules. Additionally, some asset exemption planning steps may be taken before a bankruptcy is filed to maximize your ability to protect certain assets.

Wartchow Law Office provides free initial consultations to discuss your assets and what exemptions may be available to you in either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Located in Edina, MN, Lynn Wartchow represents clients in Minneapolis and throughout Minnesota.

Homeowners Associations and Bankruptcy: How Does Bankruptcy Affect My Condo or Townhome and My Association Dues (HOAs)?

The prevalence of condo and townhome development in the mid-2000s throughout Minneapolis and the suburbs was hit especially hard by the decline in the real estate market, with prices sinking disproportionately on these urban homes that were often originally overpriced and over-marketed to younger consumers. Owners of condos or townhomes who file bankruptcy should be aware of the Minnesota laws that govern the association’s rights as well as be properly advised of what bankruptcy can and cannot do with regard to unpaid HOA assessments.

Under Minnesota law, a homeowner’s association has a statutory lien for any unpaid HOA assessments, which means that unpaid association dues automatically become a lien against the property much like a second mortgage would be however without the need for the HOA to record the lien with the county. Additionally, the association also has a claim against the homeowner for any unpaid HOA dues incurred prior to filing bankruptcy. With both avenues of relief available, the association has several options to collect against a defaulting homeowner, including restriction of rights to use common amenities, bringing a civil action against the homeowner and even foreclosure of the unit under Minnesota law.

While the bankruptcy of an association member will discharge their personal liability to repay the HOA assessments accrued through the file date of the bankruptcy case, the association nonetheless still retains its lien against the property. This association lien can be foreclosed just same as an unpaid second mortgage. An association lien often also includes additional amounts for unpaid late charges or interest, fines imposed upon an owner for violations of the HOA’s rules and regulations, attorney fees incurred by the association, and any other amounts charged against an owner under the association’s declaration.

In either Chapter 7 bankruptcy or Chapter 13, the rule of thumb is that a homeowner will be liable for most if not all HOA assessments in spite of their bankruptcy, particularly if the property is not foreclosed or otherwise the homeowner continues to own the property. This is because any HOAs arising after the file date of a bankruptcy case are not included in the bankruptcy, and any HOAs that arose prior to the file date of a bankruptcy case usually remain a lien against the property and therefore must be paid off in order for the owner to sell or refinance. If the property is foreclosed, the homeowner generally will owe all HOAs due through the later date of either the foreclosure (i.e., the sheriff’s sale in Minnesota) or the homeowner’s bankruptcy.

In Chapter 13, the homeowner can obtain relief with regard to HOA arrears by paying those off with interest over the course of a three to five year Chapter 13 plan.

If you are considering bankruptcy and own a condo or townhome, it’s important to understand how bankruptcy may impact your liability for HOA association dues and other assessments, your right to continue to occupy the property and use the common amenities (noting some amenities can be denied), and foreclosure. Especially under these circumstances, you should seek advice from a bankruptcy attorney who can advise you on the best way to obtain bankruptcy relief while protecting your interests with regard to your property.

Lynn Wartchow is a Minneapolis / St. Paul area bankruptcy attorney representing clients in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 consumer bankruptcy proceedings in Minnesota since 2005. Email for a free bankruptcy consultation to understand your options in Chapter 13 or Chapter 7 bankruptcy.