Luke took a step back and reality set in that his home was finally going to be sold at a sale and he and his family would have to move from their home of 10 years: if he didn’t take any action, he would have to move without time to prepare and he would owe the IRS $120,000 in income taxes.
Luke was making $350,000 a year as a custom homebuilder, but one day, all of the client calls stopped.
In this foreclosure case study, we hear about Luke who worked as a new homebuilder for 22 years. He started his own business when he was 20 years old and built a large client base in Bergen County. He earned consistently upwards of $350,000 most years and was able to buy a great lot and build a beautiful home for his family.
The demand for new homes was growing at a seemingly unstoppable pace. But all of this changed when the housing market took an enormous hit in 2008. Overnight, Luke went from getting 15 calls a week from potential clients to 0. No one was buying new homes and 10 years later, they still aren’t.
Depressed, hopeless, and broke, Luke didn’t know where to turn.
Luke felt distraught, he had a wife, Bridgette, who was a stay at home mom, and 3 kids to provide for– 2 of which were already in high school and soon going off to college.
Months past and Luke still wasn’t getting any calls. He felt hopeless, his wife started to resent him for not being able to provide for the family and told him to “get a job!” Luke was depressed and this only made matters worse because his kids were upset that he was withdrawn and not spending time with them anymore.
Pro Tip: Don’t get down on yourself after losing your job or if you can’t find good-paying employment right away again. The job market is tough for people, men in particular, over the age of 45. But don’t give up, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Luke noticed the way that his wife and kids looked at him differently and saw the pain in their eyes. He knew that completely disengaging himself from his family was not beneficial to anyone, but he couldn’t look at them without being reminded of the guilt and feeling like he failed them as a husband, father and provider.
Mortgage payments went unpaid, his kids’ college funds and his savings were depleted and Luke had just received foreclosure papers.
Luke made an effort to try and fix his home and situation, but this didn’t come as easily to him as fixing others’ homes. He transitioned his business into focusing on general home improvement, but still struggled to find work. Home prices had not turned around enough to the point where people wanted to have work done on their homes.
Pro Tip: No noe has a crystal ball but try be realistic and assess your job situation with an honest outlook; knowing the state of the housing market and economy, Luke should have formulated a way to transition out of the home business sooner.
Within a year, Luke had used all of the money he had saved, and the money he set aside for his kids’ college funds to try and pay the bills. He also maxed out all of his credit cards. Once all of this was exhausted, Luke couldn’t pay the mortgage any longer. He soon received foreclosure papers in the mail.
Pro Tip: Don’t go into a frenzy after receiving foreclosure papers. The foreclosure process typically takes many months in NJ. But, don’t take a do-nothing attitude, use this time to take action and develop a strategy. Taking action early on will get you the best outcome.
He couldn’t go on living like this any longer. Bridgette acted like she hated him and his kids had become apathetic; they didn’t say, “I love you” anymore and looked at him with confusion and pity. And now to top it all off, Luke got notice that the sheriff sale was scheduled; he was terrified that he and his family would be kicked out their home within a few days.
Pro Tip: It is easier said than done, but, try not to let your financial problems create strife and a divide within your family. It is much easier to work through these harder times as a team. So often, spouses beat each other up instead of trying to develop strategies and goals together, and unfortunately it is easy to overlook how that behavior affects the family as a whole.
Luke was desperate to find out what options he had.
He needed to find someone to help him. After doing research online, he came across a lawyer who could help him with a foreclosure. His Google search led him to Todd Murphy. After an in-depth phone call, in which they carefully looked at all of the possibilities, Mr. Murphy regrettably informed him that he was too far behind in payments and didn’t make enough money to qualify for a loan modification or a chapter 13 bankruptcy. These were the tools that would’ve allowed Luke to get the most desirable outcome if he wanted to save his home.
A loan modification could’ve allowed him to pay back his missed payments with a new term and interest rate. Or, a chapter 13 bankruptcy could’ve allowed him to pay back his missed payments and start making normal payments… but neither option worked because he had waited too long and wasn’t making enough money.
A loan modification would have taken the total of the missed payments and added them to the principal balance; this would have given him a new term and interest rate, so he could begin paying back what he owed on his home. But, he didn’t make enough money to qualify. The chapter 13 bankruptcy would have combined the missed payments and the normal payments; he would have been paying this back within 60 months. The chapter 13 bankruptcy was impossible though because Luke waited too long and the new combined monthly payments would’ve been way too large to manage with his minimal income. It wouldn’t be possible to save Luke’s home; Mr. Murphy suggested a chapter 7 bankruptcy as the next most viable solution.
Pro Tip: A debt to income ratio test must be done to see if you qualify for a loan modification; and an analysis must be done to see if you qualify for a chapter 13 bankruptcy. For a loan modification, you must have the right ratio of income to expenses, and for a chapter 13 bankruptcy you must have enough income to make the combined monthly payments (your arrears and current monthly payments combined). Each option takes into account how many missed payments you have.
Why Would A Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Be A Good Option?
Luke was concerned about getting thrown out of his home the day the home was sold at the sheriff sale. Mr. Murphy explained that, after the sale, the new owner (often the bank) would have to use the courts to evict Luke and his family as if they were tenants not paying their rent– this would take upwards of 90 days. With a chapter 7 bankruptcy, three more months could be added to the time they could stay in the home and if they took their 30 day adjournment of the sale first, that would get them a total of 7 months more than they originally thought.
Pro Tip: Most people would be disappointed at the prospect of moving, but it is important to remember that you have had the great benefit of living for free for a number of years.
From a financial standpoint, if they didn’t do a chapter 7 and their home was sold at a sheriff sale, Mr. Murphy explained that because the sale price would not cover the amount they owed on the home, that amount would be forgiven. Once it’s forgiven, the IRS treats that amount as taxable income. The amount of forgiveness would be taxed at the highest rate. They determined that if Luke’s home was sold at the sheriff sale for $500,000 and the loan balance was $750,000, he would end up owing the IRS over $120,000 in taxes. So, not only would he lose his home but he would then end up with a debt to the IRS he could never repay. But, if they followed through with a chapter 7 bankruptcy, the debt would be discharged and they would not owe any taxes on it.
Pro Tip: A chapter 7 bankruptcy can be a great tool in helping you avoid tax liabilities.
Mr. Murphy noted the other important benefit of the chapter 7 is that it would leave Luke debt-free. Over the course of the last several years, Luke had run up massive credit card debt; but the chapter 7 bankruptcy would discharge all of this.
The idea of bankruptcy didn’t sit well with Luke or Bridgette, but if they didn’t file for one, the consequences would be disastrous.
Despite all of this, the word bankruptcy left a bad taste in Luke’s mouth. That was the last thing he wanted to consider; all he knew about bankruptcy were the bad things. But, after hearing the good that could come from it and how it could help them discharge all of his debt, buy a little extra time in his home so they could find a new place and pack everything up properly, AND avoid tax liabilities, he discussed it with Bridgette that night; like Luke at first, she was incredibly upset to hear this as an option. But after it sunk in, they both agreed bankruptcy, with the benefits of putting the past behind them and giving them a fresh start for the future, might be their only good option left. This slowly turned into the first fruitful conversation they had in months. Over the course of the next week they went over the pros and cons of filing for a chapter 7.
Pro Tip: Many people attribute a bad reputation to bankruptcies, but what they don’t know is that bankruptcy can actually have a lot of benefits. If you can’t save your home, a chapter 7 bankruptcy can help you avoid tax liabilities, clear your debts, save money and rebuild your credit, and provide you with time to plan before the sheriff sale; it can give you a fresh start and a good alternative if you can’t save your home.
They decided that the good outweighed the bad, a bankruptcy was the right way to go.
Luke and Bridgette decided that the good attributes outweighed the bad, and that the chapter 7 bankruptcy would be the best way for them to try and recover and repair their situation before the sheriff sale happened. Their relationship finally began looking up, they realized that all of their marital troubles the were facing recently were rooted in the stress of not knowing what to do and not having a plan in place. But, soon, they would be over.
They broke the bed news to their kids, that they would have to move out of their current home, but told them they were able to formulate a new plan for the future and things were going to better very soon. They saved as much money as they could and worked on rebuilding their credit before the time of the sheriff sale, all while living in their home for free for another 7 months until the bank finally offered them $5,000 “Cash for keys.”
Pro Tip: At times, the new buyer of your home will harass you; once the home is old, the buyer now legally owns the home and is allowed to enter the property as a landlord. This is important to keep in mind while living at your home after the sheriff sale.
This was enough time for Luke to put some money away in the bank, and gave Bridgette enough time to find a job. They worked as a team and were finally able to communicate with each other again. Luke started spending more time with his kids and rebuilt his relationship with them.
Pro Tip: Sometimes buyers will also offer what’s referred to as “cash for keys.” If the buyer wants to move into their new home right away, they may be willing to pay up to $3,000-$7,000 for you to move out; this money can be helpful in securing your first month’s rent at a new location. And helping you get back on your feet.
By the time 7 months had past, Bridgette and Luke had saved around $8,000 and, along with the $5,000 cash for keys money, were able to find a nice home to rent. It was a huge change for them, but they stuck together and leaned on each other for support.
Pro Tip Summary:
Timing is everything. As time goes on, without taking any action, your options become very limited.
If you can’t save your home, chapter 7 bankruptcy can allow you to discharge debts, avoid tax liabilities, live for free, buy you time, and even get you “cash for keys.”