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Tag Archives: Foreclosure

Hollywood secrets: 7 big stars and their almost unknown bankruptcies and bonus: 8 best uses for the first $1,000 of your tax refund

Even after a long day of sympathizing with clients as they share financial troubles, I still have ample appetite to consume the latest news story of a celebrity’s financial train wreck.   I cannot pass up a headline announcing the latest financial woes of the famous and telegenic.  Even after a 20 client day, I will still pause to read about a celebrity debt default.   I sometimes ask myself:  How could all of that talent, fame and fortune leave one insolvent? How ever did it happen?

 The layout of this blog post is unique:  following every (ho-hum, yawn) financial inspiration tip of what one might do with the first $1,000 of any tax refund is a little tiny tidbit of irresistible celebrity financial muckraking.

 You will get seven celebrity financial crashes and eight financial advice tips about how you might spend the first $1,000 of your tax refund – all mixed in one package.  I think that is a square deal.


The average tax refund is $2,913.00 – some of this is understandably might used for “catch-up” on household obligations or to repair aging vehicles.  But if you can spare $1,000.00 of the refund, consider using the $1,000.00 for the benefit of your financial future – so I present eight tips about how to best use $1,000.00 of your 2012 tax refund.

 But on to the crashing celebrities:  We almost all know about Mike Tyson’s 2003 filing for bankruptcy protection and Anna Nicole Smith’s two filings.   But did you know about Walt Disney’s bankruptcy filing?  After bankrupting at age 21, he went on to found a company that grossed $38 billion in revenue last year.

Some of our most loved and respected celebrity entertainers have faced financial woes and were able to reconstruct their lives and finances with the assistance of the US Bankruptcy Courts.

If you are besieged with bills and collectors (or know someone who is) – then reach out to us for a consult and let us open the door to a bright post-bankruptcy future.  Just consider Walt Disney…. he did just fine after bankruptcy.

1.   Tip:  Use $1,000 of your tax refund to open a Roth IRA for yourself, a child or a grandchild (or even a nephew or niece!).  If you, your child or grandchild had taxable income for the year (even if no tax was due or paid) you can usually contribute up to $5,000.00 into a Roth IRA for yourself or that child or grandchild.  But lets take it easy, as $1,000 would be more than a generous.  The Tax Code provides the rest of the generosity as this contribution will grow tax-free year after year, and it can be withdrawn tax-free after age 59.5 years.  What greater gift than to begin the creation of a nest egg for yourself, a loved child or a grandchild – so toss in $1,000.00 and watch it grow!  Even if you or your loved one has financial troubles in the future, the money in the Roth IRA is virtually unreachable by creditors.  Now on to the celebrity financial woes……

2. Celebrity bankruptcy:  Actor Sherman Hemsley “a/k/a George Jefferson” filed for bankruptcy protection in June 1999.  He was unable to repay a $1 million dollar loan and had IRS issues to boot.  After some time he did withdraw his bankruptcy petition after negotiating repayment arrangements with his creditors.

3. Tip: Use $1,000 of your tax refund to replenish your emergency fund – set up a separate savings account for this purpose at a bank where you don’t normally do business.  If you want to REALLY  go for it, set up a paycheck allotment or auto-deposit of $100 monthly into the same emergency fund.  In just two years, this fund will grow to nearly $5,000.00.

 4. Celebrity bankruptcy: Actress Kim Basinger filed in 1993 after a town she purchased in 1989 (at the encouragement of relatives) turned into a financial nightmare.  She had hoped to turn the whole town into a theme park of some sort, partnering with investment company Ameritech.  Also compounding her financial challenges was an $8.1 million dollar judgment against her for withdrawing from the film “Boxing Helena”.  Eventually Kim bounced back well, winning an Academy Award for her film role in “L.A. Confidential” and eventually settling the $8.1m lawsuit for about half of what she owed.

5. Tip:  Get a Professional Review of Your Finances from a fee-only non-commissioned financial advisor – which usually costs less than $1,000.00.  How is this different from calling Edward Jones or Charles Schwab?  There is a big difference, as your local stockbroker is a salesperson, not a truly neutral financial advisor.  Contact the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors for a local referral.  A note of caution: if you have not yet filed your own bankruptcy to be rid of burdensome debt, I doubt that your friendly financial advisor will be able to instantly resolve financial woes.  But once free of hopeless debt, you may have a little extra in the household budget – and this could be wisely invested  in mutual funds, IRAs, GETT educational credits or other funds to suit your family’s long-term needs as recommended by your professional (non-commissioned) Personal Financial Advisor.

6. Celebrity bankruptcy: Crooner Wayne Newton  “a/k/a Mr. Las Vegas” filed for bankruptcy protection in 1992.  His woes then included $20 million in unpaid bills related to a libel lawsuit he had filed against ABC for claiming that organized crime was involved in some of his casino dealings.  By 1999, Mr. Newton was doing better, but again faced financial problems by 2005, including a $1.8 million IRS taxes and $60,000 in unpaid airplane storage bills.

 7.  Tip:  Improve your home’s curb appeal with a $1,000 tax refund trip to Home Depot.  Yes!  You get to go shopping!   $1,000 will buy a trip to Home Depot for some new landscaping shrubs, a stylish new front door with fancy door knocker, a gallon of paint and three pink yard flamingos.  There are two reasons for sprucing up your home: If you have to suddenly relocate and sell your home to chase a new job, you will be glad you took care of this “sprucing up” when you had the extra funds and time.  Plus, coming home to a pretty home after a long day of work or job hunting is truly gratifying.  Don’t own a home?  Then plan “B” for those not owning a home is a little weird – spend $500 on professional wardrobe items and save the other $500 for your emergency fund – because should you eventually want to purchase a home or change apartments,you are going to need that $500 you placed safely in your emergency fund!  Likewise, looking professional at work is never a poor investment.

8. Celebrity bankruptcy: Singer Vince Neil a/k/a Heavy metal band “Motley Crue” frontman.  Mr. Neil has actually filed for bankruptcy twice, the most recent time in 2010.  One of his creditors was his lawyer, to whom Mr. Neil owed $16,000.00, for getting him out of many a heavy metal jam.

 9. Tip: Hire a lawyer to write your will for $1,000.00 from your tax refund.  Yes, you can cheaply use an online form downloaded from the internet from legal zoom or worse and avoid the lawyer fee – but watch out!  There are many issues you might overlook, and legal situations are treated differently state to state, so your Florida oriented form might not work so hot in Washington.  Here are a few examples of subtle issues a lawyer might better address:  Nominations in your will of a guardian to care for minor children, care for pets upon your passing, “health care directives” which direct when the medical establishment should back-off providing medical care to you and finally, addressing confusion between the death division of “non-probate” assets such as life insurance policies, IRAs and 401k’s and “probate assets” such as homes and realty investments.  Special note: if you have not revised your will or changed financial asset beneficiary designations since completing a divorce, you had better get on it!

 10.  Celebrity bankruptcy:  Baseball player Jose Canseco walked away from his 7,300 square foot Encino, CA mansion in 2008.  While technically not a bankruptcy, abandoning your mansion seems pretty darn close to bankruptcy to me.  Jose retired from baseball in 2002 after a long and highly compensated career with the Oakland Athletics.  In 1988, he was the first player in major league history to steal 40 bases and hit 40 home runs in the same season.  Two costly divorces and a steroid scandal laid low Jose’s finances and his mansion was foreclosed.  He tried out for the L.A. Dodgers in 2004, but was passed over.

 11.  Tip:  Hire a personal fitness trainer and diet coach with $1,000.00 from your tax refund.  Try two sessions per week (one hour per session) at between $50 and $75 per hour to learn modern fitness technique.  This seven to ten week investment may be the best money you ever spend.  Fitness trainers and diet coaches are not just for movie stars any longer.   I know that trainers work: Before starting with my trainer, I had never heard of “short burst cardio” – “burpees” – “bosu balls” – “kettle bells” – “arnolds” or “skull crushers”.  With a richer vocabulary, a slimmer midsection and a much more positive mental attitude I strongly recommend a fitness coach.  I revolutionized my diet with the trainer’s help and went from 219 pounds down to 201, dropping six inches off of my waist from 38 to 32.  If not for the personal trainer, I would still been stuck in the same old unsuccessful exercise rut.  Try the trainers at the YMCA for economy – but if you want the best, then try “The Club at Gig Harbor”, where I meet my trainer.

 12. Celebrity bankruptcy: Mark Twain filed for bankruptcy in 1894 after a failed investment in an automatic typesetting device called the Paige Compositor.  The investment cost Mark Twain his fortune (and also cost much of the inherited fortune of his wife), but he bounced back after bankruptcy.  He went on to replace at least a portion of his fortune as a lecturer.  Ironically, the man who coined the phrase “the Gilded Age”, Mark Twain, went broke.

 13. Tip:  Spend $1,000.00 of your tax refund to beef up career skills.  Consider courses at community colleges or some on-line courses to strengthen the weaker portions of your resume and experience.  A stronger resume can ease a transition into a new position with your current employer, or provide you with a new classroom learned skill that will be a focal interview “talking point” if you are interested in reaching out to new potential employers.

 14. Tip:  If you have not yet paid off your debts in full, then invest $1,000.00 of your tax refund money in the bankruptcy services of James H. MaGee.  Each year that you toil along with debt means one less year to accumulate adequate retirement savings and one more year of hope-robbing and health-corroding stress.  A bankruptcy case can often mean quickly restored creditworthiness – call us for a consult, and I can explain how and why!  253-383-1001 www.washingtonbankruptcy.com

Who is Robert Shiller and why are his recent comments on housing price recovery so important? What does he have to say?

Robert Shiller says that values in the housing market are not poised for an overall recovery, notwithstanding spring-summer 2012 housing price increases in a some cities.  He says that today’s low interest rates alone are not enough to spur a housing price recovery.

Why should we care what Robert Shiller says?

Well, this guy is big – really big.  In fact, he “invented” the perhaps most widely watched economic indicator of housing market price movement in the United States.

He is “Shiller” of the Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller 20-City Housing Price Index.  So, when Robert Shiller talks about housing price movements, people listen, and listen very closely.

Mr. Shiller notes that there was in fact a 9 percent increase in housing prices over the time period March – September 2012 in his eponymous Case-Shiller housing price index.  Some optimistic pundits have said that this good news shows near certain promise that we are “turning the corner” in the housing price slump.

Strongly disagreeing with these optimists, Mr. Shiller says in so many words that this 2012 Spring-Summer uptick doesn’t mean a thing in terms of predicting a long term positive trend of housing price recovery.

Mr. Shiller is more than pleased to splash the optimists with a few buckets of cold water reality.

Mr. Shiller offers well reasoned responses to the optimism of others.  Mr. Shiller doubts that housing price optimism is well placed.  Let’s examine three expressions of optimism and compare Mr. Shiller’s three down-to-earth responses:

  • 1.  Optimism: Concurrent with the housing price increase nemployment rates dropped from 8.2% to 7.8% March – September 2012

  • Mr. Shiller’s cautious response:  No big deal; unemployment rate declines simply continued a trend inexistence since 2009 and unemployment tends to decline in the summer season anyway.

  • 2.  Optimism: Housing start permit applications have increased and the National Association of Homebuilders/Wells Fargo Index of traffic of prospective home buyers increased over the summer and fall of 2012.

  • Mr. Shiller’s pessimistic response:  No big deal; the more important spring 2012 study/survey by Wellesley College’s Karl Case and McGraw-Hill Contruction’s Anne Thompson contradicts that there was no increased optimism or enthusiasm expressed by prospective homebuyers.

  • 3.  Optimism: Foreclosure activity decreased in 2012, thus presumably making less inventory available on the market.

  • Mr. Shiller’s discounting response:  No big deal; this just continues a longer term trend in existence as reported by Realty Trac and thus should not by itself be seen as the kickoff of any long term trend of housing price increases.

Finally, Mr. Shiller presents five reasoned and discouraging response to optimism concerning housing price recovery:

  • 1. Mr. Shiller says that the 86 percent increase in housing prices 1997 through 2006 was an historical anomaly, unlikely to be repeated by now wary investors.  Such anomalies have eventually reverted to keep the long term growth in housing prices pegged to and indexed to an inflation adjusted consistent value says Mr. Shiller.  The recent “housing price boom” was almost completely reversed by 2012, putting housing prices back on an inflation adjusted consistent value curve at just a point or two above ongoing inflation rates.
  • 2. Mr. Shiller notes that there has only been one other major national housing price boom in the last century – 1942 to 1953 in which housing prices in real terms rose 68% nationally.  It took 44 years (to 1997) for the next “boom” to kick in – and on that metric, the next boom is going to kick in at about the year 2050. Care to wait around for it?  (Note:  I, James MaGee will be 92 years of age when it starts to kick in….)
  • 3.  Mr. Shiller notes that home ownership is actually in decline, at 69% in the third quarter of 2006, down to 65.5% in the third quarter 2012.
  • 4. Mr. Shiller notes that the wild lending that fueled the boom is more reigned in now by (a) new ability-to-pay standards announced by mortgage lenders and (b) the oversight of the new federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  • 5. Finally, the Zillow-PulsenoicsHome Price Expectation Survey (involving the input of 100 housing price forecasters) was predicting very modest inflation adjusted housing price growth increases of only 1 to 2 percent per year over the next half-decade.

Mr. Shiller’s final word:  Don’t expect an increase in your home price to bail you out of any problematic financial situation, and don’t do anything dramatic or difficult such as over-reaching financially to buy an expensive home or buy a home for short term use if you expect to have to move fairly soon, as there is too much uncertainty to justify any aggressive speculative moves right now.

Much thanks to the New York Times, Sunday, January 27, 2013 edition, page 1, Sunday Business Section: Economic View, by Robert J. Shiller; Titled, “A New Housing Boom?  Don’t Count on It.”

Can you reach the max?

Retirement is coming, if it is not already here for you.  If you have income for which to fund a 401k or to contribute to an IRA, I would like you to think about these three questions I answered in this article, and the list of tips I also present in this article.

If you already have a 401k or IRA for retirement savings, you should read carefully, because a “game plan” concerning how you are going to use your retirement savings- or not use your retirement savings- is a very important foundational building block when it comes to retirement savings.  Decisions about your 401k and decisions about bankruptcy are intertwined for many people.

  • Question 1: Should I file for chapter 7 bankruptcy to wipe out debts? Or in the alternative should I not file for bankruptcy but instead cash out my 401k to pay off debts?
  • Answer:  With only a few exceptions, I strongly recommend a bankruptcy filing over 401k withdrawals.
  • Question 2:  Should I file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy reorganization over cashing out a 401k account with the purpose of staving off a foreclosure or preventing vehicle repossession?
  • Answer:  With few exceptions, I strongly recommend a Chapter 13 bankruptcy reorganization over cashing out a 401k account with the purpose of staving off a foreclosure or preventing vehicle repossession.
  • Question 3: Should I take out a loan or cash out a 401k or IRA in order to pay Federal Income Tax debt?
  • Answer: You can almost always pay back the federal income tax debt interest and penalty free through a Chapter 13 bankruptcy reorganization, or alternatively you often can enter into a very reasonable tax repayment plan with the IRS.  Sometimes, very old Federal Income Tax debt is even erased by bankruptcy.  Thus, for many people tax repayment though chapter 13 plan can make more sense than a 401k loan or IRA cash out.  There is an additional benefit: although most people don’t realize it, if your income is not super-high, you still can often wipe out credit card debts, eliminate second mortgage obligation and write off medical bills without any repayment of these debts by filing a chapter 13 case, so in many regards, a chapter 13 case can wipe out debt much like a chapter 7 case, with the added benefit of an easy cheesy Federal Income Tax repayment plan- and state tax can be repaid easily though chapter 13 too!

These are some more very important tips about how to handle your 401k, IRA, VIP, TSP or other tax deferred retirement savings, courtesy of a great article from Forbes.com which you can find here:


Retirement But Not Totally Part Two

The second installation to Retirement But Not Totally cities numbered 17-9, is packed with nine more favorable options for a working retirement.   

  • 17. Fort Collins, Colorado: Cost of living and homes are at a national average in Fort Collins, and with Colorado State close by the economy is flourishing.  The cold winters here are easily bearable with the 6.2% unemployment rate.
  • 16. Great Falls, Montana: With an above average tax climate this small town enjoys many doctors and a small crime rate.  The job and economic growth are outstanding and the unemployment rate is at a below average 5.6%
  • 15.  Harrisonburg, Virginia: Near two colleges, Harrisonburg rank high on the Milken Institute job and economy rating. With and unemployment rate of 5.3% this quaint town has one of the lowest crime rate on the list.
  • 14.  Huntsville, Alabama: Alabama has a very favorable tax climate with an average economy, housing prices and unemployment rate and below average cost of living.
  • 13.  Iowa City, Iowa: With Iowa medical school in its midst, the doctor count is six times above the national average.  Also unemployment is at 3.8% and job opportunities are growing.
  • 12.  Jonesboro, Arkansas: An average home in Jonesboro sells for below $100,00 and the unemployment rate is at 6.4%.  Also cost of living is dirt-cheap and 13% below the national average.
  • 11.  Knoxville, Tennessee:  Knoxville has plenty of doctors, an unemployment rate of 6.6%, wonderful economic growth. And best of all the Smoky Mountains provide a pretty scenic aspect to this town.  One downside to Knoxville is that it has the highest crime rate on the list.
  • 10.  La Cruces, New Mexico:  Just $116,000 on average housing prices, La Cruces is another college town with wonderful economic growth.  40 miles from Mexico, La Cruces has an excellent tax climate, but the doctors per capita are sparse.
  • 9.  Lexington, Kentucky: Cost of living is 11% below the national average, and housing prices are at an average of $144,000.  Kentucky has a favorable tax climate, and a lot of doctors.

Is retirement on the horizon for you?  Are you worried whether your retirement income will stretch to provide a quality lifestyle? If these are some concerns that have popped into your head, you may want to consider relocating to one of these 25 havens for retirees who might wish to continue to work past retirement age.

Look out for the next post, which will continue with the next 1-8 cities.  Whether you are looking for a place to relocate with a warm climate, plenty of doctors, or a cheap housing, this list has many options to choose from.

The article can be found here:

Bankruptcy or home price rebound: What will save the day?

Morgan Brennan of Forbes.com runs a fantastic commentary and blog upon economic issues.  I have read a recent post she made and I refer to it because I think it is so important.

Many people are “holding on” to houses that are way under-water e.g., much more is owed against the home than it is worth.  These hopefull folks want the good old days of the early 2000s – they hope that housing prices will rebound and that they can perhaps sell their home or borrow against new-found equity in order to pay off medical bills, credit card debts and other obligations.

But Ms. Brennan thinks otherwise – she doubts that there is really any true national “recovery” in housing set to take off anytime soon.  She provides lots of good explanations and reasons why.  She also discusses with clarity something I have long sought to express – that houses are not necessarily “investments”, but rather a localy based asset that has utility for household needs – like a washing machine, fridge or station wagon.

Here is what Ms. Brennan has to say:


“The Foreclosure Crisis Isn’t Over Just Yet”, December 1, 2012, by Ms. Morgan Brennan of Forbes.com


‘As we move into the last month of 2012, real estate pundits have been eagerly pouncing on the notion of a recovery in housing.

Looking at the national numbers, they are somewhat right to do so. Pending home sales hit a five year high in October, according to the National Association of Realtors, and the brisk pace of existing home sales is 11% higher than a year ago.  Just this week the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index reported that September home prices were up for the sixth consecutive month. Even in terms of economic growth, housing has provided a so-called bright spot, contributing 0.3% to gross domestic product in the third quarter, according to the Commerce Department.

Looking at these relatively rosy statistics, it’s easy to see why the word “recovery” is getting tossed around and why many housing-sector stocks have been teetering in over-bought territory. Now, the positive numbers even have media outlets like Bloomberg.com asserting that the

It’s a gutsy assertion — and one that I’m prone to disagree with.

A major reason the housing crisis was not staved off when the first warning signs manifested in the mid-2000s was the fact that Wall Street, Washington and even Main Street America had stopped assessing housing as what it truly is: a locally-based asset class, not a national one.  Housing is local and as we have been relearning since the downturn, market health — including foreclosures — breaks down by state, city, neighborhood and in some places, even street. The wave of foreclosures has been manifesting at these more local levels — even while national-level data reflects a recovery.

Since 2007, the foreclosure crisis, which has claimed nearly four million homes, has played out very differently across the U.S. After the robo-signing scandal of late 2010, lenders, flush with defaulted mortgage notes, delayed their processing of foreclosures, most notably in judicial states, where filings circulate through a  court system. That delay created an artificial decrease in the rate: 830,000 homes were foreclosed upon in 2011, a 24% decrease from the year before, according to CoreLogic, a Santa Ana, Calif.-based data firm. With the advent of the $25 billion mortgage relief plan in February, real estate experts projected a notable pick-up in activity since lenders sitting on delayed filings would hopefully process them more quickly.

This expected uptick has been referred to as a so-called second wave of foreclosures. It’s this second wave — which is technically distressed inventory overhang from the bursting of the housing bubble — that Bloomberg is asserting has been averted.

Nationally the number of foreclosure filings in October was down 19% from a year earlier, according to Irvine, Calif.-based data firm RealtyTrac. And lenders are finally instituting better foreclosure-prevention policies like loan modifications and short sales that keep homes from hitting their books as REOs. But it comes back location. Dig into the more local data and the wave is evident. You’ll find it playing out in the states where the foreclosure process has been taking the longest and backlogs have built up.

“There’s been a pronounced shift in foreclosures from the Sand States to the East Coast, in particular the judicial foreclosure law states with the longest time lines like Florida, New York and New Jersey,” says Mark Fleming, chief economist for CoreLogic. According to CoreLogic, Florida, as of October, now leads the country in terms of foreclosures with an 11% rate. New Jersey is second with an 8% rate and New York has a 5% rate. (In general, 1% is considered a healthy rate in a healthy market.)

The average time for a mortgaged home to transition from default to bank reposession in each of these three states has been over two years. Now those backlogged filings are pushing through the system at robust rates — in a wave of activity, if you will. New Jersey experienced 140% increase in filings in October year-over-year and New York nearly a 123% increase, according to RealtyTrac. Florida’s rate has been high for years, and while other hard-hit Sun Belt states like California and Arizona have seen activity decrease dramatically by about 35%, Florida’s rate has not.

“There are a set of states that are not improving year-over-year like the others,” adds Tim Martin, group vice predisent of U.S. housing at TransUnion, which tracks mortgage delinquencies of 60 days or more. That set includes New Jersey, Arkansas, Washington, New York, New Mexico, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland and Washington, D.C.  Martin says most of these locales still have incredibly high rates of mortgage delinquencies. In New Jersey for example, 8.3% of mortgage borrowers have missed two or more payments. Once those borrowers miss third payments, their homes officially fall into default and foreclosure filings eventually follow.


Here is a link to Ms. Brennan’s excellent article:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/morganbrennan/2012/12/01/the-foreclosure-crisis-isnt-over-just-yet/

A look at FHFA home price data for the third quarter indirectly reflects the renewed wave of foreclosures in these states also. The states posting the largest home price drops this year are many of the same states where the foreclosure rate has increased this year, including New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Maryland. Foreclosures add downward pressure to overall home prices.

Still, there’s good news on the horizon even in these markets. New borrowers aren’t significantly adding to the default pile and TransUnion projects that the fourth quarter will register a decrease in delinquencies. CoreLogic and others believe the worst of the foreclosure crisis has passed. But in the states where foreclosures are finally pushing through the system, it won’t necessarily feel that way for some time. Thanks to the ‘wave’.

“The housing market is like a large ocean vessel that when heading one direction, takes a while to turn around” explains Fleming. “So it will take time in terms of clearing out all of these foreclosures.”’


Again, this is a great article.  Here is a link to it: http://www.forbes.com/sites/morganbrennan/2012/12/01/the-foreclosure-crisis-isnt-over-just-yet/


-What to do with your underwater home?

– What to do with a first and second mortgage?

-What to do about a pile of medical bills, credit cards and car loans?

Come in to consult with James H. MaGee, Washington Bankruptcy Attorney in order to gain some fresh perspective as you organize your game plan.  We have offices in Bremerton, Chehalis, Olympia, Puyallup, Renton and Tacoma where you can meet for a private and confidential consult with Mr. MaGee  Just give us a call 253-383-1001!

Seek Help Before Trusting Your Home Lender

As many are aware, Wells Fargo Home Loans has been accused of qualifying customers into unfavorable loans. In efforts to avoid further attention, Wells Fargo attempted to settle their debt by offering their customers money. According to Scott Reckard, in his recent article in the Los Angeles Times entitled, “Wells Fargo sends refunds to some FHA mortgage customers”, borrowers had randomly received checks via mail from their mortgage home lender Wells Fargo. At first glance, what seemed like a nice surprise, these checks came with a string attached. Stated clearly, if borrowers cashed the checks, it prohibited them from suing Wells Fargo in the future.

Reckard reported, as a way for Wells Fargo to side step further litigation over steering their customers into unfavorable home loans, an estimated 10,000 letters enclosed with checks went out to Wells Fargo Home Loan’ borrowers. These unfavorable loans were written as Wells Fargo Home Loans surged to become the No. 1 originator of loans insured by the FHA.

In his article, Reckard shared how a California resident, Eric Murillo-Angelo, received a check from Wells Fargo for $6,676.89. Enclosed with Murillo-Angelo’s check was a letter stating, “You may have qualified for a conventional conforming mortgage” instead of the FHA loan he received in 2010. Also, in large print, the letter stated, “You should understand by cashing the enclosed check, you agree to release Wells Fargo Home Loans from any and all claims relating to Wells Fargo’s origination of a more expensive mortgage loan than the loans for which you may have qualified.”

Wells Fargo Home Loan costumers faced the dilemma of either cashing their checks, or not. If they did not cash their checks, the questions they faced were what other avenues of justice they could pursue. Or, at that point, who could help them fight a large corporation like Wells Fargo. After weeks of holding onto the check and debating these questions, Murillo-Angelo cashed his check and settled paying for a loan that he could be paying far less for. In his case, he had a secure job and was economically stable enough to possibly refinance into a less expensive loan later.

Fortunately, Murillo-Angelo has options to get out of the home loan that Wells Fargo gave him. However, many others have not been so fortunate. For many, their home loans have led them into escalating debt, and for many others, they face foreclosure. These refunds checks hold little meaning to borrowers who have already lost their homes or are facing foreclosure.

There is help for borrowers who have fallen victim to lenders who share the same practices as Wells Fargo. Instead of waiting for home lenders to help, it is important for borrowers to understand that they should seek outside help before trusting their home lender. It is possible to save their homes and relieve themselves from escalating debt.

James H. Magee is a Washington bankruptcy attorney who has helped many people in Pierce, Thurston, and King Counties save their homes and get on a stable financial path. With help on how to take the next step towards financial security, it is possible to overcome poor home lending practices and refinance expensive home loans into home loans that are fair and affordable.

Analysis of Discharge of Indebtedness Income vs. taxable debt forgiveness income

Short sales and tax consequences, part 4 of 7

In this post, we will review definitions of Discharge of Indebtedness Income vs. taxable debt forgiveness income. Note that the tax consequences of foreclosure or “short sale” of a commercial or rental property will likely be much different than I will cover in this article. In this series, we are focusing on your primary residence.

You could be facing foreclosure or short sale nearly anywhere in Western Washington. Wherever you live in the state, we can help you to become aware of and informed about the potential tax consequences of a “short sale” or foreclosure.

As discussed before, the $250,000 capital gains exclusion plays a large role in whether you have taxable income on your personal residence post short sale or foreclosure.
Note that this analysis is limited to your personal residence in which you have lived for at least two years. Properties that you received as a gift or inheritance can have a different result as well, so always consult your qualified tax professional in any distress sale situation.

The National Consumer Law Center’s publication “Foreclosure Prevention Counseling”, 2009 edition, available for $60.00 at www.consumerlaw.org, covers these topics in Chapter 9, pages 147-152.

Please note that the Discharge of Indebtedness Income is not necessarily always the same as taxable debt forgiveness income.

What do we mean by “Discharge of Indebtedness Income”? The IRS considers that a taxpayer has income from discharge of indebtedness when a lender forgives some or all of a debt. If the obligation to repay a debt is forgiven, then the government looks to see if that borrowed money now constitutes income to the borrower and, if so, how much. That income is taxable like any other income the homeowner receives. Nevertheless, as described in posts five, six and seven of this blog post series, there are a number of exceptions that may mean that discharge of indebtedness may produce no taxable income at all.

Let’s review three situations in which tax might be due, but rarely result in any taxable income.

First, if there is a foreclosure and the homeowner is not liable for the deficiency, that forgiveness of the deficiency is a discharge of indebtedness income.

Second, another example is a short sale where the house sells for less than the debt and where the lender has agreed to forego any deficiency.

Third, if a loan modification is made in which the lender forgave the principal of the debt or wrote the debt down. The amount of forgiven debt would also be discharge of indebtedness income.

Note that discharge of indebtedness income is very different and distinct from capital gains income. The example that follows below is from an earlier blog post (the third of this seven part series) to help illustrate difference. Please note that it is possible for a short sale to result in both a capital gain and also a discharge of indebtedness situation. Each of (1) capital gains and (2) discharge of indebtedness must be analyzed separately and independently.
Example: A single person completing short sale-illustration of development of capital gain and discharge of indebtedness income

  • $50,000 original purchase price of principal residence many years ago (no funds expended on improvements during ownership so as to increase basis)
  • $210,000 amount on mortgage after many rounds of refinancing to “pull out equity”
  • -$150,000 less: short sale price when homeowner falls into financial distress
  • $60,000 indebtedness not paid due to short sale
  • $100,000 capital gain ($150,000 short sale price – $50,000 acquisition price = $100,000)
  • $60,000 Discharge of Indebtedness Income (but Debtor may not have to pay tax on the $60,000 amount. In later blog posts in this series, we will work through defining and differentiating Discharge of Indebtedness Income vs. taxable debt forgiveness income)
  • $100,000 capital gain. No taxes are due because the capital gains exclusion is $250,000 for a single person on a principal residence.

OK, so our stressed out example short sale debtor above is off the hook for capital gains tax! But will he/she escape income tax on the $60,000 discharge of indebtedness income tax? I will discuss this situation further in future posts on this topic.

Analysis of a Short Sale of a Principal Residence

Short sales and tax consequences, part 3 of 7

In this post, we will review an example of the short sale of a principal residence. In some ensuing posts, I will review the definitions of “discharge of indebtedness income” and also “taxable debt forgiveness income” to follow up on this and earlier posts that discuss foreclosures and short sales. The tax foreclosure or short sale of a commercial or rental property will likely be much different that described in this post.

The $250,000 capital gains exclusion plays a large role in whether you have taxable income on your personal residence post short sale.

Note that this analysis is limited to your personal residence in which you have lived for at least two years. As stated earlier, investment, commercial and rental properties will have a much different result than discussed here-remember to always consult your tax professional. Properties you received as a gift or inheritance can have a different result as well, so always consult your tax professional.

Discharge of Indebtedness Income is not necessarily always the same as taxable debt forgiveness income, according to the NCLC manual “Foreclosure Prevention Counseling”, 2009 edition, on page 149. The National Consumer Law Center’s publication “Foreclosure Prevention Counseling”, 2009 edition, is available for $60.00 at www.consumerlaw.org.

Example: a single person completing a short sale

  • $50,000: original purchase price of principal residence many years ago (no funds expended on improvements during ownership so as to increase basis)
  • $210,000: amount on mortgage after many rounds of refinancing to “pull out equity”
  • -$150,000 less: short sale price when homeowner falls into financial distress
  • $60,000: indebtedness not paid due to short sale
  • $100,000 capital gain: ($150,000 short sale price-$50,000 acquisition price = $100,000)
  • $60,000: Discharge of Indebtedness Income (but Debtor may not have to pay tax on the $60,000 amount. Please read later blog posts in this series as we work through defining and differentiating “Discharge of Indebtedness Income vs. taxable debt forgiveness income)
  • $100,000 capital gain: no tax due, because the capital gain exclusion is $250,000 for a single person on a principal residence.

Please remember that my staff and I are here to help you, regardless of whether you are facing a foreclosure or short sale, anywhere in western Washington state.

Analysis of a Foreclosure Sale

“Short sales” and tax consequences, part 2 of 7

In this post, we will review examples of foreclosure homes and some sample tax impacts of foreclosure.

Regardless of where you are facing a foreclosure or short sale, you must  be aware of potential tax consequences of a short sale or foreclosure.

The $250,000 capital gains exclusion plays a large role in whether you have taxable income on your personal residence post foreclosure.

Note that this analysis is limited to your personal residence in which you have lived for at least two years.

I refer to the National Consumer Law Center’s publication “Foreclosure Prevention Counseling”, 2009 edition, that is available for $60.00 at www.consumerlaw.org, in my analysis. The relevant section is Chapter 9, pages 147-152.

Discharge of Indebtedness Income is not necessarily always the same as taxable debt forgiveness income, according to the NCLC, on page 149.

Here are some “foreclosure” examples of taxable income related to the foreclosure of a principal residence. Note that this analysis would not apply if a home you rented out as a business was foreclosed. That situation is much stickier. You should see your CPA if you have a business or rental property foreclosed.

Example 1: a single person whose residence is foreclosed upon
$50,000: purchase price of home “way back when”
+$10,000: improvements to home like a new deck and changed shower to bathtub
$60,000: basis in home
The home was refinanced many times to “pull out” equity, so the debt against the home at the time of foreclosure was $325,000.
In addition, $5,000 in “cash for keys” was paid to the single person owner after foreclosure as an incentive to move out without damaging the property.
At the time of foreclosure, the house was appraised at $400,000 by the bank.
$60,000: basis (home purchase price plus $10k improvement)
$330,000: “sale” price (e.g. amount of debt $325k + $5k paid “cash for keys”
$270,000: capital gain ($330k-$60k = $270k)
$250,000: capital gain exclusion
$20,000: capital gain
$3,000: capital gain tax due ($20k x .15 = $3k tax due)

Note: in later posts in this blog, one of five exclusions to the obligation to pay $3,000 in capital gains tax may come into play
Example 2: a single person whose residence is foreclosed upon
$125,000: home acquisition price, no improvements made to increase basis
$132,000: debt owed on home at time of foreclosure, including foreclosure fees
$80,000: home fair market value at time of foreclosure as housing prices have collapsed
$45,000: capital loss-capital losses are not taxable, thus homeowner does not owe any tax due to foreclosure as a capital tax.
However, in this example, the single person foreclosed upon could potentially owe income tax (as no capital gain tax) as discharge of indebtedness income/taxable debt forgiveness income. More on this later.
In the succeeding blog posts in this seven part series, I will cover and explain how discharge of indebtedness income can result in taxable debt forgiveness income. I will also discuss the five exceptions/exclusions to tax on the income.

Remember, we are here to help you, regardless of where you are facing a foreclosure or short sale. If you need help, please contact us.

Short sales and tax consequences – analysis of a “normal” sale

Regardless of where you live in Washington state—whether you call Federal Way, Bremerton, Tacoma, Renton, Auburn, Tukwila,  Lakewood, University Place, Puyallup, or Olympia home—you must be aware of potential tax consequences of a “short sale” or foreclosure.

The $250,000 capital gains exclusion plays a large role in whether or not you will have taxable income on your personal residence after foreclosure.

Please note that this analysis is limited to your personal residence in which you have lived for at least two years.

The NCLC (National Consumer Law Center) publication entitled “Foreclosure Prevention Counseling”, 2009 edition, Chapter 9, pages 147-152, covers this subject well. This publication is available for $60.00 at www.consumerlaw.org.

For example, Discharge of Indebtedness Income is not necessarily always the same as taxable debt forgiveness income, according to the NCLC, page 149.

To understand the problem of Discharge of Indebtedness Income/taxable debt forgiveness income, let’s examine a normal (non distress) transaction to determine whether the transaction does or does not result in taxable income.

Example #1 from the NCLC:

$100,000 purchase price of home
+ $30,000 add: improvements (new deck, addition, etc.)
= $130,000 new basis

$160,000 sale price
– $9,000 less: sales expenses
= $151,000 net sale price

$21,000 capital gain
$250,000 capital gain exclusion

$0 taxable gain
$0 taxable gain tax to be paid

Example #2 – single homeowner

$20,000 purchase price
+ $30,000 certain improvements
= $50,000 new basis

$600,000 sale price
– $40,000 less: sales expenses
= $560,000 net sales price

$510,000 capital gain ($560,000 – $50,000 = $510,000)
– $250,000 capital gain exclusion
= $260,000 taxable gain

$39,000 capital gains tax payable $260k x .15 tax rate = $39,000; assuming 15% tax rate on long-term capital gain)

The previous examples contemplate a “normal” sale–not a short sale or foreclosure.

In a future post, I will provide some examples of foreclosure/short sale operation.