Tag Archives: Renton bankruptcy attorney

Home mortgage interest deduction to end? Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac/FHA guarantees to end?

President Obama has proposed small cuts in the mortgage home interest deduction for top earners in the past. The current deduction allows taxpayers to deduct interest paid on mortgages up to $1 million for first and second homes, and up to $100,000 in additional home-equity borrowings.

Early in December 2010, the president’s deficit reduction commission proposed reducing the mortgage interest deduction.

According to the Wall Street Journal’s S. Mitra Kalita and Nick Timiraos (Thursday, December 16, 2010, Page A7, “Homeowner Perks Under Fire”), mortgage deductions will reduce tax revenue in 2012 by $131 billion.

President Obama’s deficit panel seeks to replace the current system with a flat 12% tax credit for interest on mortgages up to $500,000 for first homes.

Another growing debate is whether the government should reduce its role in backing mortgages, as at present, 90% of new mortgages are government backed.

Kalita and Timiraos report that Michael Farrell (Chairman of Annaly Capital Management, a NY-based, mortgage bond investor) believes that if the government stopped guaranteeing mortgages through organizations like the Federal Housing Administration, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, that interest rates could be at least two to three percentage points higher.

Back to the subject of possible changes to the home mortgage interest deduction. Kalita and Timiraos report that a Wednesday, December 15, 2010 WSJ/NBC News poll found that 60% of Americans found it totally or mostly acceptable to eliminate the mortgage deduction on second homes, home-equity loans and any portion of a mortgage over $500,000 – consistent with the recommendations of the presidential deficit reduction commission.

Ideas for Action:

If the ability to deduct home mortgage interest from federal income taxes is in question, and inflationary pressures are on the rise in the economy, then refinancing your mortgage to the lowest rate that you qualify for is one of the most prudent defensive measures that you can take.

Symbol of Lady Justice: Where did the lady with the blindfold, sword, and scales come from?

This post is a bit off topic for this blog, but I thought you might find something a bit out of the ordinary refreshing.

The lady with the balance scales, sword, and blindfold comes from ancient history. This symbol is used in American jurisprudence as a representation of judicial justice.

She was known as Maat in ancient Egypt – the goddess of harmony and order. She is depicted in the Book of the Dead as weighing a human heart against a feather to determine a soul’s fate in the afterlife.

She evolved in ancient Grecian lore to become Themis, sister, wife and counselor to Zeus.

Roman mythology rolled Themis and her sister Dike together to form Justitia, the only one of the cardinal virtues to have a signature look in ancient art, reports Randy Kennedy in the New York Times, Thursday, December 16, 2010 edition.

Mr. Kennedy cites a recent book/treatise by Yale Law School professors Judith Resnik and Dennis Curtis. Resnik and Curtis recite that Lady Justice’s familiar blindfold did not become her fashion accessory until late in the 17th century (the 1600s).

Resnik and Curtis recite that medieval and Renaissance people did not view blindfolds favorably. Up into the 1600s sight was considered a virtue, and thus a blindfold carried a very negative connotation. Resnik/Curtis recite that a medieval/Renaissance term for a blindfold was a “hoodwink” – a noun – which today means to trick or deceive someone with an accompanying very negative connotation.

One interesting thing is that the image of Lady Justice seems to be something almost approaching universal although the exact look varies from culture to region. The Lady Justice figure can be found in courts from a statue at the Supreme Cout of Canada in Ottawa to one presideing over a constitutional court in Azerbaijan. The image can be found in courts of Zambia, Iraq, Brazil and Japan, according to Resnik/Curtis as reported by Randy Kennedy.

American Bankruptcy Institute–14% increase in bankruptcy filings during Jan to June 2010 compared to same period in 2009

According to an article posted on the American Bankruptcy Institute website on 8/23/10:

“The total number of U.S. bankruptcies filed during the first six months of 2010 increased 14% over the same six-month period in 2009, according to data released today by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

Filings were up 20% over the past year to 1,572,597, up from 1,306,315 filed in the 12-month period ending June 30, 2009. Total filings reached 810,209 during the first half of the calendar year of 2010 (January 1-June 30), compared to 711,550 cases filed over the same period in 2009. The totals represent the highest number of filings for the first six months of a calendar year since 2005, when the Bankruptcy Code was amended.

The 422,061 new cases filed in the second quarter represent the highest total since the fourth quarter of 2005. Business filings decreased 4% for the six-month period ending June 30, 2010, to 29,059 from the first-half 2009 total of 30,333.

Chapter 11 business reorganizations registered the sharpest decrease, as the 6,152 filings during the first half of 2010 represented a 17% drop from the 7,396 total chapter 11 business filings during the first half of 2009. Chapter 7 business liquidations remained nearly unchanged, as there were 20,385 in the first half of 2010, a half percent increase from the 20,375 business chapter 7 filings during the same period in 2009.

Filings by individuals or households with consumer debt increased 15% to 781,150 for the six-month period ending June 30, 2010, as compared to the 2009 first-half total of 681,217. Consumers filing for chapter 7 protection increased 17% to 571,417 during the first half of 2010 from 489,128 during the first six months of 2009. Consumer chapter 13 filings increased as well, rising 9% as 208,778 consumers filed for chapter 13 in the first half of 2010 from 191,458 during the first half of 2009.”

Full disclosure: The Law Firm of James MaGee, Washington Bankruptcy Attorney, is a proud member and supporter of ABI, the leading national bankruptcy professional organization.

Ideas for Action: It’s no secret that many people and families are struggling in today’s economy. Bankruptcy is a Prudent Step Towards Rebuilding Your Life. You should not feel guilty or embarrassed for having filed bankruptcy. Popular folklore holds that Henry Ford filed for bankruptcy five times! Psychologists say families, relationships and marriages fail most often because of financial pressures. If financial strain is damaging your health and personal relationships, you should consider bankruptcy.

“Business” bankruptcy is often a waste of time for mom & pop businesses–just file a personal bankruptcy case and move on, says Wall Street Journal columnist

Here is the link to a short but helpful article about small business bankruptcies in The Wall Street Journal. I am pleased that what I have suggested for many years finds favor with a Wall Street Journal columnist.

With most of my small service-based business customers, including businesses as varied as residential construction and restaurants, it usually makes sense to look at a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy case filed as a personal case. I recommend this approach because in most cases, the small business’ debt is personally guaranteed by the business owners, whether the debt consists of Small Business Administration guaranteed loans, vehicle title loans or credit cards. Frequently, the business can keep right on operating, but of course you should consult with a qualified attorney before launching off into any sort of bankruptcy filing.

Ideas for Action: how do you find a qualified bankruptcy attorney? I suggest three ways.

First, ask the attorney how many cases he or she filed in the calendar year January 1, 2006 to December 31, 2006; the attorney can easily consult the computer program used to prepare the documents to find out how many cases were filed each year, and if fewer than 70 or so cases were filed by the attorney in 2006, then I say beware. You may have an attorney who just started out after the 2005 law change took effect but didn’t attend any of the important 2006 era seminars when the best education about the new 2005 law was then available.

Second, ensure that the attorney is “connected” professionally via memberships in both the American Bankruptcy Institute as well as NACBA, the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorney.

Third, ensure that over the past five years, the attorney has attended no fewer than five seminars for a total of no fewer than 50 hours of bankruptcy education since 2005.

These three suggested standards should help you ensure that you have engaged an experienced, professional attorney.

Mortgage modifications failing, meeting only 16% of intended goals, says NY Times

NY Times columnist David Streitfeld reports that the dropout rate from the Making Home Affordable Program (HAMP) is very high. 96,000 trial modifications were canceled by the lenders in July 2010. The number of canceled trial modifications now exceeds 616,000.

Those numbers are leading some housing experts to call the program, which modestly rewards lenders for modifying mortgages, a failure.

About 422,000 mortgage modifications overseen by the government were considered permanent as of July 2010, up from 389,000 in June. But the pool of candidates is shrinking rapidly. Only 17,000 trial modifications were started in July, down sharply from the 150,000 enrolled in September 2009 when the program was new according to a report by NY Times columnist David Streitfeld.

After reviewing the new data, Calculated Risk, a popular financial blog, wrote, “Those borrowers are still up to their eyeballs in debt after the modification,” and many will default again.

“My concern is that if we have another protracted housing dip, it’s going to bring the economy down.” Mr. Feder, chief executive of the real estate data firm Radar Logic explains, saying that he expects prices to ‘get whacked’  in the Fall of 2010.

“If consumers don’t think their houses are worth what they were six months ago, they’re not going to go out and spend money. I’m concerned this problem isn’t being addressed,” says Mr. Feder as quoted in the article by Mr. Streitfeld of the NY Times, published on Saturday, August 21, 2010.

Mortgage modifications well below target: Americans need more help says NY Times 300,000 foreclosure filings for third month in a row — 92,858 homes repossessed in July, 2010

“As repossessed homes are put up for sale, house prices are likely to fall further. As prices fall, more borrowers end up “underwater”–they owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. That’s a big risk factor for default.

Moody’s Economy.com estimates that 1.9 million homes will be lost this year, down only slightly from 2 million in 2009.

So far only 398,198 loans have been permanently modified, and only $321 million of the $30.1 billion allocated to the home modification program has thus far been spent.

Part of the problem is poor administration. Homeowners, who apply to their bank or mortgage service company, complain about confusing procedures and lost paperwork. Banks have complained of frequent rule changes from the government.

Another big problem is that many lenders, whose participation in the program is voluntary, have been reluctant to aggressively rework bad loans. Reducing a loan’s principal balance–rather than lowering interest levels or extending pay out periods–is often the chance of keeping underwater borrowers in their homes. Banks have been loath to accept the bigger losses that come with lowering principal. Fearing that banks will drop out of the program altogether, the Treasury has not pushed them hard enough.”

The August 20, 2010 NY Times OpEd piece proposes that the use of the states to give money directly to temporarily unemployed or under-employed individual homeowners to make mortgage payments through the Hardest Hit program (part of HAMP, which is part of TARP), through about which 4.1 billion has thus far been disbursed, may be a better route than the loan modification programs emphasized thus far to date.

Ideas for Action: Don’t expect to modify yourself out of a bad situation. You will never see a mortgage loan principal balance deduction. If you don’t mind a temporarily lower payment but still remaining underwater on your home, then I suppose a mortgage modification is not so bad. You might want to consider a “lien strip” through Chapter 13 bankruptcy if you have a second mortgage and if the value of the home is less than the amount owed on the first mortgage.

10 Cents on the Dollar: How to pay off your home equity line of credit

NY Times columnist David Streitfeld’s article entitled, “Debts Rise, and Go Unpaid, as Bust Erodes Home Equity”, published in The New York Times on August 12, 2010, asserts that most investors expect less than 10 cents on the dollar for defaulted home equity lines of credit such as second mortgages.

“Lenders wrote off as uncollectible $11.1 billion in home equity loans and $19.9 billion in home equity lines of credit in 2009, more than they wrote of on primary mortgages, government data shows. So far this year, the trend is the same, with combined write-offs of $7.88 billion in the first quarter. Even when a lender forces a borrower to settle through legal action, it can rarely extract more than 10 cents on the dollar. ‘People got 90 cents for free,’ Mr. Combs said. ‘It rewards immorality to some extent.'” Mr. Combs is a realty lawyer in Phoenix, AZ, who tries to negotiate deals with home equity line of credit HELOC loans.

Utah Loan Servicing chief executive Clark Terry buys defaulted home equity loans from lenders, and reports that he does not pay more than $500 for any one loan, regardless of how big it is, “Anything over $15,000 to $20,000 is not collectible. Americans believe that anything they can get away with is O.K.”

The delinquency rate on home equity loans was an astonishing 4.12% in the first quarter of 2010, down slightly from the fourth quarter of 2009, when it was the highest in 26 years of such record keeping, according to Mr. Streitfeld.

Mr. Streitfeld reports that during the “great boom” homeowners nationwide borrowed a trillion dollars from banks, using the soaring value of their homes as loan security. With the money now spent, some homeowners cannot pay. Surprisingly, it seems that delinquencies on this type of debt is greater than all other types of consumer loans, including auto loans, boat loans, personal loans and even bank cards like Visa and MasterCard. Mr. Streitfeld cites info from the American Bankers Association on this point.

Ideas for Action: Is it time to contact your second mortgage company and negotiate–offering 5 to 10 cents on the dollar?

Financial Reform: Will the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Law destroy the private mortgage industry and lead to risky government lending?

Banks lend money (a mortgage) against your house. The banks then put 1,000 mortgages or so together and sell the package of mortgages to an investor in a “pooled mortgage”. Some pooled mortgages have held a government guarantee of performance through FHA (Federal Housing Administration), Fannie Mae, or Freddie Mac, other pools were not insured because they were supposedly riskier loans, as the borrowers did not qualify under loan risk guidelines established for Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

Under the new rules contained in Dodd-Frank, the original lender must retain 5% of the risk in the pool if it is not a federally guaranteed (e.g. FHA, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac) loan pool.

CNBC.com editor John Carney writes that exempting FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from the 5.0% risk retention requirement will destroy the private mortgage industry and make the US government the unintentional backer of all mortgages:

“…a little-noticed provision of the Dodd-Frank act threatens to undermine efforts at rebuilding an innovative and healthy private sector for mortgages. Under Dodd-Frank, financial firms that securitize mortgages are required to retain 5.0% of the risk of those securities. The goal, a laudable one, is to encourage companies to more closely monitor the quality of the mortgages they securitize (sell off in pooled bundles). But it is also likely to increase the cost of affected mortgages, because banks will seek to pass on the costs of the risk to home buyers. Mortgages guaranteed by the F.H.A., however, are exempt from the 5 percent risk-retention requirement. This means that lenders will find that it costs far more, and involves more risk, to offer mortgages they back themselves than those covered with a guarantee from the agency. There’s little doubt this will lead to a huge increase int he volume of business done by the F.H.A., as banks creating securities will seek out mortgages on which they don’t have to cover the risk. Purely private mortgages will quickly be pushed out of the market.”

The complete article by Mr. Carney was published in the NY Times on August 12, 2010.

Is there a “flexible mortgage” in your future? – new thoughts and trends in mortgages – article by UCLA Law Professor Katherine V.W. Stone

Professor Katherine V.W. Stone, of UCLA law school writes that in the “old economy”, periods of joblessness were a clear sign of an unreliable borrower, but not any more, as we are in a “new economy”. Professor Stone’s article is entitled “The 30 Year Prison”, and appears in the August 12, 2010 edition of The NY Times.

Professor Stone calls for a major changes to mortgages–a “flexible” mortgage with the borrower having an option to request a two-year period of “interest only” payments. She suggests that the Federal Housing Administration require that any mortgages it insures be set up to mandate that borrowers who are involuntarily out of work be allowed to convert to an interest-only loan for up to two years. She points out that since the FHA insures almost one-third of the mortgage housing market, in short order the mortgage industry would very likely follow suit, and that this practice would become the norm for all mortgages.

Professor stone writes: “It’s not as if the 30-year self-amortizing mortgage has been around forever. In fact, it is a fairly recent invention. Before the 1930s, homes were financed by three-to-five-year balloon loans. Homeowners made interest-only payments for the duration of the loan, then typically rolled them over into new loans when they came due. During the Great Depression, however, many borrowers were unemployed when their loans came due; banks were reluctant to offer new loans, and owners had not accumulated enough money to pay off their loans. The result was a wave of foreclosures. In response the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, created as part o the New Deal, developed a new kind of loan: instead of a few years of small payments followed by a very large one, homeowners would make regular payments of interest and principal for 30 years. In the old economy, periods of joblessness were a clear sign of an unreliable borrower. Today, they are simply a function of the job market, which flexible mortgages would take into account.”

Loan Modifications in Washington: How much is the government spending through HAMP and TARP?

Washington will get some share of the $1 billion disbursed to HUD to help with house payments so if you are unemployed and falling behind on house payments, hit HUD up for a loan.

Unfortunately, Washington homeowners get NOTHING from the recent $2 billion disbursed by the Troubled Asset Relief Program to other states. The benefited states as to the $2 billion include Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Washington D.C., as part of the Hardest Hit Fund disbursements.

This $2 billion is the third large grant to the Hardest Hit Fund. Washington has not received any portion of those three grants. The Hardest Hit Fund receives disbursements from the $45.6 billion set aside for housing issues in the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Hardest Hit Fund disbursements to those favored states to date now total about $4.1 billion in three disbursement. The Hardest Hit Fund is, for now, out of money.

To date, the other funds in the $45.6 billion earmarked from TARP to be expended for housing issues include $30.6 billion for loan modification programs (such as HAMP, AKA the Housing Made Affordable Program) and $11 billion for a FHA refinancing program. Thus, there would now seem to be no funds–zero dollars–left to disburse to the Hardest Hit Fund except that, as reported by Mr. Streitfeld in the New York Times, the government has up until October 3, 2010 (the two-year anniversary of TARP) to shift the $45.6 billion in committed funds around within the housing assistance program. Perhaps the government could issue one more Hardest Hit Fund disbursement which would make house payments for people by giving them outright grants or interest free loans to make house payments while unemployed, underemployed or suffering from some other sort of financial stress or strain. If the past is a guide to future policy actions, I doubt that Washington state would be a beneficiary.

While frozen out of the $2 billion Hardest Hit Fund to date, Washingtonians may see a little benefit from the $1 billion that was just disbursed to HUD (Housing and Urban Development) from the new Financial Overhaul Law. This $1 billion HUD disbursement apparently is not part of TARP, so it is $1 billion in “new money” in addition to the $45.6 billion in TARP for housing issues. As to this $1 billion, Mr. Streitfeld reports that HUD indicates it will work with local aid groups to offer bridge loans of up to $50,000 to eligible borrowers to help them pay their mortgage principal, interest, insurance and taxes for up to 24 months by way of interest-free loans to such affected homeowners.

Mr. Streitfeld reports that between the $1 billion HUD funds from the Financial Overhaul Law and the $4.1 billion pumped into the Hardest Hit Fund in three installments, up to 400,000 borrowers could ultimately benefit. However, given the reported 14.6 million unemployed or the 3 million households contemplating foreclosure, this assistance is modest, given the size of the foreclosure problem.