Can I “Cramdown” my Mortgage in a NJ Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

While it may invoke images of a young parent’s attempt to eat dinner in between meeting the constant needs of a new baby, the term “cramdown” actually has nothing to do with food (at least in our context).

Debtors who file for a chapter 13 bankruptcy have determined that they can no longer stay above water paying their monthly expenses for their current lifestyle. Chapter 13 applicants typically have a dependable job with a decent income, and they are able to pay back at least a portion of the money they owe to creditors.

During NJ chapter 13 bankruptcy proceedings, a reconfigured payment plan will be laid out for the debtor that will allow them to avoid losing valuable assets. A home loan modification and a reorganization of other unsecured debts may also be part of a chapter 13 plan.

What exactly is a “cramdown?”

Another very effective strategy employed in many chapter 13 reorganization plan is called a “cramdown.” In order for a debtor to “cram” a loan down, it must be a personal property loan, like a loan for a car, home furnishings or appliances, or investment property. An important restriction here is that, unfortunately, mortgages on principle residences cannot be crammed down.

Here’s how it works:

Let’s make it easy and use a car loan as an example. These types of loans are often crammed down in chapter 13 cases due to the rapid depreciation of all vehicles immediately upon being purchased.

If a debtor borrowed $30,000 to buy a car a number of years ago, and today still owes $20,000 on that loan, it’s important to learn the current market value of the car. Let’s say the vehicle is only “worth” $15,000 now (we’re using easy figures for this example – your numbers may vary). Even though the debtor technically owes $20,000 to the creditor, a chapter 13 allows them to cram that balance down to the amount the car is actually worth. In this case, the debtor will benefit from a reduction of his loan balance by $5,000, only owing the current value of the vehicle, or $15,000.

This same process can be applied to other personal property loans that are currently upside down. To be upside down on a loan means that a debtor owes more than the property is currently worth. The cramdown strategy can only be used during a chapter 13 bankruptcy.

The amount “left over” when a loan is crammed down in a chapter 13 will be treated like the rest of the debtor’s unsecured debts, which include loans for things that are not physical property. A portion of a debtor’s total unsecured debts can be discharged, but only after they have completed their chapter 13 payment plan (which is usually spread out over 3-5 years).

The most common types of unsecured debts in New Jersey today are credit card debt and medical debt. Other examples include personal loans, student loans, alimony arrears and child support arrears. Not all debt is dischargeable in bankruptcy. Discuss your specific debt with your bankruptcy attorney.

In addition to the lump sum reduction in the amount due on a loan, a chapter 13 bankruptcy cramdown allows many debtors to reduce the interest rate they are currently paying on some (or all) of their personal property loans.

There are other benefits to a loan cramdown as well as some limitations and timelines that must be closely adhered to. Talk to your New Jersey bankruptcy attorney to learn more, and to find out of a chapter 13 bankruptcy could be the answer you’ve been seeking.

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