When NOT to File for Bankruptcy: A Case Study

Bankruptcy is a very effective tool to deal with financial problems. There are times, however, when it just does NOT make sense. The following facts are from a consultation where I advised AGAINST a filing.

The gentleman had a condominium which had become a financial burden. Like a lot of property purchased shortly before the financial crisis, this one had depreciated significantly. It was a small, 840 square foot condo purchased for about $300,000 in 2006. Upon listing with a realtor, the best offer he could draw $185,000, but the lender would not approve the short sale. He had two mortgages. The payment on the first was about $1,400/month, and the second was about $400/month. The monthly condo fee was $275/month. With rent coming in at $1,500/month, he had to put in $575 a month from his own pocket to carry it. He had recently been pre-approved for a loan to purchase a larger $400,000 for his wife and new baby. He complained he could not afford to keep on paying the condo.

Given his income of $82,000 a year and wife’s $51,000 a year, if they declared bankruptcy, they would likely not qualify for a simple Chapter 7 and would have to pay all disposable income into the court for the next five years. Furthermore, the wife had $16,000 in a money market fund, so the minimum contribution over time would have to be a minimum of $11,000. (Since the couple lived in Virginia, that state’s $5,000 homestead exemption would apply.)

I advised him that bankruptcy should be only a last resort. Instead, there are other options that should be explored first. The $16,000 cash (and possibly additional funds from a hardship distribution from the $60,000 they had in a 401K) could be dangled in front of the second mortgage lender to try to obtain a lump sum payment in return for a release of the second mortgage. The second mortgage was, for all practical purposes unsecured, so that if the property went to foreclosure, the second would end up with nothing anyway. Some money would be better than none, to this lender.

Once the second mortgage was gone, the net negative income would drop to about $175/month, which could be manageable with some belt-tightening of his household expenses. Furthermore, the net debt against the property would drop to about $232,000 (the amount of the first mortgage). With a present value of $185,500, the property could recover to positive range in a few years.

The situation would not be entirely cost-free, but the trade-off — in this case — to a bankruptcy filing, in my opinion, was worth it.

It’s the policy of this office to be absolutely honest, even when we lose business. We win by knowing we do the right thing for our clients or prospects.

Nevertheless, in the end, it’s the client’s decision, and we respect that. Call our law firm, if you want to discuss your situation.

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