Monday, February 29, 2016

Collections: Credit Reports

     Credit reports provide individuals or institutions that have legitimate "need to know" rights with access to important information. This information includes full name, address, social security number, employer, spouse's name, loans, charge accounts, credit cards, bankruptcies, tax liens, and judgments.
     Credit reports are governed by state laws and federal law - the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). In addition, the Federal Trade Commission regulates the credit reporting industry.
     The three largest credit reporting agencies are Equifax, Trans Union, and Experian. There are also several local agencies.
     Information will remain on credit reports for varying lengths of time:
    * Chapter 7 Bankruptcies - Ten years from the date of filing, regardless of dismissal or discharge.
    * Chapter 13 Bankruptcies - Seven years from plan completion.
    * All remaining negative information - Seven years.
    * Open accounts in good standing - indefinite.
     If an individual disputes information reported to the reporting agency, the individual can send notice of the dispute to the agency. The agency will then contact the information provider to verify the information. If the information cannot be verified, it should be deleted. The Agency will then report its findings to the individual. If the individual still disputes the information, the individual may provide a written statement (up to 100 words) to accompany the report.  
     If the verification results in a more favorable report for the individual, he may request that the revised copy be sent to anyone who has requested his report within the last six months for credit purposes, or in the past two years for employment purposes.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Foreclosure: Right to Cure a Default

     Question: Once a borrower is in default, can he “reinstate the loan”, or, “cure the default” and stop the foreclosure sale? Answer: yes. In general, most deeds of trust contain language that allows a borrower the opportunity to reinstate, or cure, the loan after the due date set out in the note. If the deed of trust contains this language, the note cannot be placed into default and accelerated until the cure period has expired. Government loans such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have very specific requirements. In fact, a borrower can always cure a monetary default and stop a foreclosure up to the time of sale by paying in full, in good funds, the deficient amount, including all costs of the sale.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Real Estate: Using Deeds of Trust to Secure Your First, Second, Equity Line or Refinance Home Loans

     In previous blogs we began a discussion of the benefits of using real estate to improve creditors’ positions. As I have emphasized, properly securing debts through real estate could make the difference between collecting the funds and incurring a loss. In this blog, we will review the benefits of securing your first, second, equity line or refinance home loans with a deed of trust.
     Real estate liens provide important security for your debt. Since real estate is the largest investment and asset for most individuals, they will usually make every effort to pay debts secured by their real estate first. However, you need to know the chain of title in order to make an informed decision about your loan. Specifically, in what position will your lien be? Are there any “clouds” on the title? You will not know the answer to these questions without a proper title search and review.
     Once you know your position you will need to examine the available equity to cover your loan. What is the value? What are the balances due on the liens ahead of your anticipated position? Beyond the business decision of determining when the equity is sufficient for your risk tolerance, in order to take advantage of the “$1.00 rule” in the bankruptcy code for chapter 13 cases (should your debtor decide to later file bankruptcy), you need to ensure that there is at least $1.00 in equity to cover the loan. You should take into consideration that property values may go down (e.g., 2008 to present).
     If the deal is made and the real estate closing occurs, immediate and proper recording of your deed of trust is essential to preserve your position. If the debtor defaults, foreclosure on the property can occur. If the debtor seeks reorganization of his debt in chapter 13, you can seek full payment of the debt.
     We have experienced attorneys and staff who can examine title and properly represent your interests in real estate closings.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Bankruptcy: Revocation of Discharge - Chapter 7

     In the case of Dean v. McDow, the United States District Court at Norfolk, Virginia affirmed a Bankruptcy Court revocation of the debtor’s discharge of indebtedness.
     The District Court in Dean stated that the Bankruptcy Court did not err in revoking the debtor’s chapter 7 discharge based on the evidence of fraud in the debtor’s earlier reporting of her pre-bankruptcy transfers of property (antiques, collectibles, furniture and jewelry), and her statements about prior involvement in a business, after her operation of a thrift store called “New to You.”
     The District Court found as fact that the debtor received a discharge in her chapter 7 case about two years prior. The Bankruptcy Court later reopened the debtor’s case and revoked her discharge based upon the debtor’s fraud. The debtor raised four grounds on appeal: 1) the complaint to revoke her discharge was not timely filed; 2) the U.S. Trustee did not meet an affirmative duty to investigate the debtor’s bankruptcy and therefore constructively knew of the debtor’s fraud; 3) the debtor did not make false oaths because she lacked fraudulent intent and her misstatements were de minimums; and 4) the revocation was based upon inadmissible evidence.
     The District Court stated that cases dealing with whether the timely filing of a complaint objecting to discharge is jurisdictional are sharply divided. Despite the overall disagreement among the federal courts, the Fourth Circuit has indicated the position it finds more persuasive: the timeliness of a dischargeability complaint is not a jurisdictional prerequisite, but rather presents an affirmative defense similar to the statute of limitations that must be raised in an answer or responsive pleading. The court noted that there was nothing in the debtor’s brief or the 4th Circuit case, Farouki v. Emirates Bank Int’l ltd., to indicate that the dischargeability time limitation of Bankruptcy Rule 4004(a) should be treated differently from Bankruptcy Code Section 727(e)(1). The District Court stated that it was therefore unnecessary to address whether the U.S. Trustee’s complaint was timely filed because the debtor had waived her right to appeal on this point. Failure to raise a non-jurisdictional issue before the Bankruptcy Court will generally be treated by the District Court as a waiver of the right to have the issue heard.
     The District Court stated that the debtor argued for the first time on appeal that the errors and omissions of her schedules should have put the U.S. Trustee on notice of possible fraud, triggering an obligation to investigate. Because the U.S. Trustee began investigating possible fraud only after receiving a telephone call concerning the debtor’s bankruptcy about a year after the entry of the discharge order, the debtor argues that the Trustee could not rely upon the “did not know” provision of Bankruptcy Code Section 727(d)(1). The District Court noted again, however, that the debtor did not raise the issue of the trustee’s knowledge in her answer or at trial, and the issue did not fall within the “very limited circumstances” of plain error which would result in a miscarriage of justice. The debtor waived her right to have this issue considered on appeal.
     The District Court next noted that the debtor did not dispute that her schedules and Statement of Financial Affairs contained false oaths. Instead, the debtor argued that she lacked the fraudulent intent, and that her omissions were de minimus. The District Court noted that the Bankruptcy Court’s determination of fraud was a factual finding reviewed for clear error. The District Court concluded that the Bankruptcy Court did not commit clear error in determining that the debtor knowingly and fraudulently made false oaths and that the oaths concerned materials facts. Nor could the District Court find error in the Bankruptcy Court’s conclusion that the debtor’s failure to read her bankruptcy papers constituted a reckless indifference to the truth and the functional equivalent of fraud.
     Finally, the District Court ruled that the Bankruptcy Court’s admission of certain exhibits relating to the debtor’s fraud, is error at all, did not even approach the standard of error so serious that it went to the integrity of the trial.
     Accordingly, the revocation of the debtor’s discharge was upheld.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Collections: Confessed Judgment Set Aside

     The United States District Court at Alexandria, Virginia, set aside a confessed judgment in the case of Benton Land Fund, L.P. v. NvMercure Ltd Partnership because the entry of the judgment was by a party not specifically authorized to confess judgment. The Court found that the provisions in the note at issue stated that judgment may be confessed by "any attorney admitted to practice in any jurisdiction or any vice president or senior vice president of the bank". The Court found that this language was not sufficiently specific to allow the plaintiff limited partnership to confess judgment because of certain ambiguities among the documents in identifying the "Bank" referred to in the note. Further, the language in the note did not entitle the person who actually confessed judgment to act as the attorney-in-fact for that purpose.
     This case serves as another reminder as to why competent legal advice should be sought, and why loan documents and contracts should be carefully read and strictly followed.