Refinancing now is generally a wonderful idea as jumbo loans are back to all time lows. That said, what happens if you are so underwater on your mortgage that you feel it doesn’t make sense to continue paying anymore because you don’t think value will ever recover? Banks have become so annoyingly stubborn regarding allowing underwater homeowners to refinance, that you might have a better way.
Have you ever wondered why there have been so many foreclosures in states such as California, Arizon, and Nevada? I’ll tell you. If you live in one of the 12 “non-recourse” states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Minnesota, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Washington you are potentially in luck! If you so happen to own property in one of these states, and have substantial assets elsewhere, you can legally hand over the keys to the bank and exonerate yourself from the mortgage with no penalty against your other assets!
AN EXAMPLE OF GETTING IN OVER YOUR HEAD AND BAILING
You have a million bucks in the bank and you bought a house for $800,000 several years ago by taking out a $750,000 mortgage. Real estate market crashes and the value of the home is now $400,000. You’ve already paid $50,000 of the mortgage principal over the years. $300,000 of your mortgage is now unsecured ($700K mortgage balance – $400K value of property), which means your house is now an under-secured debt. Because you live in a non-recourse state, if you turn over the collateral (your house), your lender cannot collect on the $500,000 unsecured debt. The lender assumed this risk when they approved your mortgage application, and you can walk away with your $1 million in cash and live happily ever after.
However, say you bought the house for $800,000 with a mortgage of $300,000, and then a few years later took out a second mortgage worth $500,000. Real estate market crashes and the house is now worth $100,000, leaving you upside-down on the house by $300,000. If you turn over the house, you can walk away from the first $300,000 mortgage, but you’re still liable for the second $300,000 mortgage. Since you no longer have the collateral, the second mortgage is now an unsecured debt. Unsecured debts can be discharged in bankruptcy.
BANKRUPTCY OPTION FOR REAL ESTATE
If you want to file for bankruptcy, the $1 million cash is a problem. Since you’ve got the cash on hand, the court is going to say you have to pay back your second mortgage. But who has $1 million cash in this economy? More realistically, you have $1,000 cash.
If your income is above the median, you are eligible for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the debt is not completely erased, but is instead consolidated and restructured into an affordable monthly payment. The debtor creates a three to five year affordable repayment plan to pay off a portion of the total debt.
If your monthly income is below the median for the state you live in, you are eligible for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which is a total liquidation and discharge of all of your debts, including the $300,000 second mortgage. The slate gets wiped clean and you get a “fresh start” to start rebuilding your credit. You are eligible for a new FHA home loan 2 years after your bankruptcy is discharged.
If your creditors are harassing you or if a creditor has served you with a court summons, if you’re facing a repossession or foreclosure, or you are only making the minimum balance on your credit cards, you should seriously consider filing for bankruptcy. If you feel like your finances are way outside of your control, bankruptcy is the “fresh start” you need to get your financial health back in your own hands.
Most bankruptcies are caused by one of three events: loss of job/failed business, medical emergency or family emergency. You may have been living within your means just fine, but then you lost your job and defaulted on a payment. One missed payment can change your interest rate from 8% to 39%, causing your debt to quickly mushroom out of control. Perhaps you or a loved one suffered a heart attack, resulting in thousands and thousands of dollars of medical bills that you simply cannot manage.
IS IT RIGHT OR WRONG TO WALK AWAY IF YOU CAN AFFORD IT?
There are actually plenty of people in California who have substantial assets who are simply walking away from their mortgages. Financially, it makes sense, especially if they’ve put very little down. Legally, they have every right to walk away as well. After all, the banks performed due diligence and made the decision to lend you money. Nobody forced the banks to do anything, as perceived profits are what drove them to lend.
Sure, for the first 5-10 years, your stellar 770 credit might get trounced to 570. But, if you have another fine property you are living in, and another vacation home down in Malibu, what do you care whether you can’t get more credit or not? You’re already living the dream and catching a break from an investment property that went sour!
* Manage Your Finances In One Place: The best way to become financially independent and protect yourself is to get a handle on your finances by signing up with Personal Capital. They are a free online platform which aggregates all your financial accounts in one place so you can see where you can optimize. Before Personal Capital, I had to log into eight different systems to track 25+ difference accounts (brokerage, multiple banks, 401K, etc) to manage my finances. Now, I can just log into Personal Capital to see how my stock accounts are doing and how my net worth is progressing.
* Check Your Credit Score: Everybody needs to check their credit score once every six months given the risk of identity theft and the fact that 30% of credit scores have errors. If you are considering walking away from your mortgage, you should check to see how much of a credit score you are sacrificing. If you are in the process of foreclosure or a short-sale, all the more important to check your credit score to see how much you have been hit to begin the repair. Credit scores are vital for potential job opportunities, mortgages, car loans, and credit card rates. Check your TransUnion credit score for free here at GoFreeCredit.com and empower yourself.
Note: This post has been updated as of 1/1/2014.
Sam @ Financial Samurai – “Slicing Through Money’s Mysteries”