Category Archives: Strategic Default

How to combat a 1099 if the MDFA expires











I sure hope the Mortgage Debt Forgiveness Act (MDFA) is extended soon, so clients can relax their collective minds. It expires in 4 months.  I thought it would have been extended by now.

The MDFA says that if a homeowner is foreclosed upon or short sells his or her primary residence then no tax is due on the 1099 issued afterward.   For foreclosures, the mortgage amount minus the market value of the property is taxable to the owner under the 1099. For short sales, it’s the total mortgage amount minus the amount repaid in the short sale that’s taxable.

The graphic above from the Chicago Tribune shows that the AVERAGE foreclosure case in Cook County taxes 682 days. So, If you started a strategic default one year ago you have almost one more left to go. Meanwhile, the law is about the change and leave you hanging with one foot over a cliff. A big 1099 will be dropped in your lap at the end of the short sale or foreclosure and that will send many over the financial edge.

Short sales will no longer be an attractive option if the MDFA  expires. It’s great to get a release of deficiency in a short sale, but if a lender is shorted $100,000 after a short sale (not unusual) the owner faces a $25,000 tax bill (at an estimated 25% tax rate). That’s rough. Unless a client can claim insolvency and thereby knock out a 1099, a short sale will make no sense in many cases.

One strategy that will become very popular if the MDFA expires is the surrender of a property in a chapter 13 bankruptcy. This is not a new method of avoiding tax on the 1099, but it will take on new importance if the MDFA expires.

If we lose the MDFA, there will be three ways to avoid tax on the 1099:

Surrender house  in a chapter 13. The law allows a homeowner to file a chapter 13 bankruptcy and surrender the underwater house. This means the owner stops making payments on the house and it returns to the lender in a foreclosure.  It doesn’t matter what assets or income the owner has (there are limits on the size of the mortgage).  The owner does not have to pass the means test required in a chapter 7. The owner stops making payments, files the chapter 13 and stays in the home until the end of the foreclosure. The 1099 is wiped out by the chapter 13 and the owner is released from any deficiency judgment. The owner makes a few payments to the bankruptcy trustee for attorney’s fees and other costs and then is discharged from all liability including the 1099. Sweet, right? The negatives: attorney’s fees are about $3500.00 and the owner’s credit is damaged.  If the client has a second mortgage, there is a chance that the second mortgage company might file a claim that the mortgage is unsecured, but that usually does not happen. Very few clients other than real estate investors needed to use this .  That’s because in Illinois, there are few to no deficiency judgments on first mortgage foreclosures and the 1099s after a foreclosure were blocked by the MDFA, so there was no need to file a chapter 13 for the vast majority of primary residence foreclosures. I look for this to become a much-used strategy if the MDFA goes away.

Insolvency. A 1099 after a foreclosure is wiped out if the homeowner is insolvent, meaning that the sum of all debts is greater than the owner’s assets. I find that many clients do qualify as insolvent, which would mean they would not need to file a chapter 13. This is a simple remedy, but it’s all or nothing. You either are or are not insolvent.
Chapter 7. Filing a chapter 7 bankruptcy will knock out the 1099, but homeowners have to pass the means test which requires a relatively low income. Also, there are asset limits that have to be met. Generally, we use chapter 7s only when the owner passes these tests and has a large second mortgage or only a first mortgage and high credit card debt.

Of these three solutions, the chapter 13 surrender will be only  remedy that works for many clients and should at least be considered when constructing a strategy for an underwater property.





Top 3 reasons to try a short sale in Illinois

Lately, I’ve been on fire getting short sales closed. They’re getting approved right and left and I feel like LeBron in the fourth quarter of the NBA finals with James Harden trying to guard me.

Usually about 60% of short sales actually close and the rest go down the chute to foreclosure. Lately, it’s been more like 80% of short sales are closing to 20% short sale failure. It reminds of a recent trip to a casino. I don’t gamble much, but I started winning at blackjack and convinced myself that I had developed special blackjack powers. Note to self: Anytime one thinks one has special powers, head for the exits.  About an hour later, I lost my mojo and went limping out of the casino way in the hole.

Like blackjack, I don’t have special powers to get short sales closed.  It takes some knowledge and skill, but anyone who says that they have a special system or all the answers to closing short sales is goofy.

I’m glad that the shorties are closing at a decent rate, but I realize that it is basically luck and the convergence of positive circumstances, like a patient buyer, a favorable valuation (BPO) and a decent negotiator, that makes it happen.

As a threshold matter, I find that clients have a hard time deciding whether or not to try a short sale or to just bail out altogether and do a strategic default.

Here are the benefits of trying a short sale:

1. Shortens the foreclosure timeline so credit recovery is faster than foreclosure.

About 99% of clients who try short sales stop paying their mortgages when they list the property as a short sale. In Cook County, that means it will be 6 months of missed payments and 14 months in court with the foreclosure until it ends. That’s a long time. Thereafter, it will take another two years until the client’s credit recovers. If the client tries a short sale, the time that the mortgage is in default will be less than in a foreclosure. Most short sales close in 3 to 6 months after getting a sale contract. While credit scores drop about the same amount in a foreclosure or a short sale, the recovery is faster after a short sale and this is a major benefit of trying to short sell.

2. Get a full release and provide finality. For every short sale that’s closed this year, we’ve been able to get a full release of deficiency for the client. The short sale that closed yesterday required the seller to contribute $1500 to get a release, but it was money well spent. That means the lender can’t pursue the client for collection or get a deficiency judgment. This is very important to clients because it provides complete closure on the issue. Clients want finality. If a client strategically defaults and doesn’t try a short sale, the client will have an open liability for 10 years on the note. Some people can live with this, but most cannot. I tell clients over and over that first mortgages will not obtain a deficiency judgment against them in a strategic default, but almost every client asks “what if they do get one against me?” It never happens, but try living for 10 years with only my assurance to back you up.

3. Mortgage Debt Forgiveness Act (MDFA) is expiring, so try to slip it in before that happens. The MDFA says a foreclosure or short sale is not taxable if the property foreclosed or short sold is one’s primary residence. Unfortunately, that law expires December 31, 2012. If this expires, then homeowners in foreclosure will owe income tax after the foreclosure. It’s a good idea to at least try a short sale of your primary residence before the MDFA expires. That way you can avoid a hefty income tax bill if the MDFA is not extended.

Sometimes a short sale may not be worth trying. Some reasons you may NOT want to try a short sale are:

1. Big second mortgage and/or high credit card debt. You are better off filing a chapter 7 bankruptcy than doing a short sale if you have a large second mortgage and/or a lot of credit card debt. You can clear the decks of credit card debt and liability on the second mortgage and start over. A short sale is unnecessary.

2. High income. I’ve written before about high income homeowners and their reluctance to do short sales. Still true.

3. Property is rented. If you rent out a property it will be difficult to impossible to do a short sale because the tenant will not cooperate.

4. Difficult lender, FHA loan or PMI. I did a short sale with ING Direct. They allow no attorney’s fees and require that you use their title company. They are a nightmare to deal with. I would never do another one with them. FHA short sales follow a different pattern than conventional mortgages and can be very difficult to close. Also, if you have PMI on a conventional loan, it is likely the PMI company will hit you up for a contribution or promissory note.



How I was banned from an underwater home forum

All you have to do is look at my facebook page to see how much I participate in online forums. I’m  mainly a lurker and don’t contribute much. It’s probably a character defect, or an overreaction to giving the wrong answer to Sister Margaritas  in fourth grade religion class. Man, that ruler hurt.

I’m barely a contributor and certainly not a flame war type of guy, but now I am banned from an online forum. The ban is not temporary, it’s for life.

Here’s how it happened:

This week I was looking at the statistics for and I saw a bunch of incoming clicks coming from is an online discussion forum in which people talk about foreclosure, short sales and underwater real estate. I registered for the site a long time ago and posted one time about a year ago in response to someone asking a foreclosure question. I rarely go to the site, but I do get many hits from this site to my site because users of  post links to things I’ve written about Illinois foreclosures and short sales.

Here is a typical day and the chart below shows people clicking a link to my site from  the site. is an active forum. It’s kind of a venting, spill your guts type of affair where people post their personal story about their underwater real estate and everyone else comments on it. Here is a typical example of a post by Miserable In Cook Co. A lot of the “advice” and comments are way off base, but occasionally there is a reasoned, accurate response. You see a lot of comments like “all attorneys are stupid” and “I will never deal with a bank again.”

Anyway, I clicked on a link from Loansafe. org  to this post that I wrote about how collection cases on  second mortgages are a bigger risk than deficiency judgments.  The moderator, some goof named Tom Eason, commented on my post saying.  “That is the site of Tom Sammons, a solo attorney bankruptcy mill.” Then he wrote, “Doesn’t he sound like a typical bankruptcy mill lawyer , LOL.” Tom felt that I was encouraging everyone with an underwater home to file bankruptcy.

Tom is a volunteer moderator who lives in California and hands out advice across the country to everyone and anyone. In fact,  one would think that he had the wisdom of a thousand  Buddha’s from the way he holds forth.

I was not happy to see  this guy trashing me. I responded  back with a post that I was not a bankruptcy mill and that my second mortgage post was accurate. Tom, the moderator, never responded. The site administrator deleted my response and when I logged in I saw this:


If I were a character in my favorite show “Game of Thrones,” the shame and dishonor of a lifetime ban on would have forced me to join the Nights Watch (a group of rejects who can’t have girlfriends and are forced to protect the kingdom against encroaching monsters). Sometimes I think it might be easier to fight whitewalkers all day than to  practice law. But I live in suburban Palatine, not Winterfell, so I soldiered on.

Now having recovered emotionally from my lifetime ban, I wondered what should you watch for when reading online about underwater real estate?

1.  Beware of the closed ecosystem. Most forums  value healthy discussion. They monitor posts for vulgarity and stop hostile flame wars, but that’s it. edits out any post that threatens its self-appointed expert status. After I was banned, the moderator of the site went back and tried to clip out all of the links to my site, but she missed a bunch of them.

2. Don’t take advice from out-of- state experts. Real estate is hyper local. I would never give advice to anyone outside of Illinois. Be very careful about taking advice from out-of-state, non-lawyers about your underwater property.  It’s a complicated topic and you want to be sure to get a balanced view on your case.

3. Diaries written by others are cathartic for the writer, but won’t really help you . One thing I have learned by doing phone consultations with Illinois clients on underwater real estate is that every case is different and you need to know a lot of details to give the proper guidance to a client. Reading about someone else’s journey through foreclosure is interesting and all, but it will rarely help solve your problem.


Update on Mortgage Debt Forgiveness Act-no extension yet

There is still no extension of the Mortgage Debt Forgiveness Act (MDFA) that expires December 31, 2012.

Now there are two bills pending to extend it.

The MDFA says that if a homeowner’s primary residence is foreclosed or short sold, then the 1099 issued afterward is not taxable.  Normally, a homeowner would owe tax on the difference between the mortgage balance and the value of the property.

The Democrats have introduced  HR 4202 that proposes a 2 year extension of the MDFA through the end of 2014. Republicans are pushing HR 4336 that suggests a 1 year extension through December 2013. Both bills are stalled in the House Ways and Means Committee.

I think that The MDFA will be extended at the last minute.

It will not be pretty if the MDFA expires. Some homeowners will still avoid tax on the 1099 by claiming insolvency, but few will meet the tough definition of insolvency.

Here is what to do if the MDFA does expire.

(Thanks again to Chris D. for staying on top of this.)

“Vacancy posting” stickers on foreclosures mislead owners

Last week, a client in foreclosure arrived home from a long day at work and found this notice slapped on her front door:

Vacant Posting Notice

This property has been determined to be vacant. This information will be reported to the mortgage servicer responsible for maintaining the property. The mortgage servicer intends to protect the property from deterioration. The property may have its locks replaced and/or plumbing systems winterized in the next few days. If this property is NOT VACANT please call BAC Field Services immediately.

She was pretty alarmed by this and thought that her lender, Bank of America, might try to change the locks and take back possession of the house.  Of course, in Illinois, possession is not given back to the lender until about 60 days after the sheriff’s sale. The sheriff’s sale isn’t until the end of the foreclosure ( about 10-12 months after it starts), so it takes a long time for the lender to get possession.

My client was about 3 months into the foreclosure,  she had a short sale contract signed and the closing date was fast approaching.

I called BAC Field Services and told them the property was occupied and if they contacted my client again she would file a construction eviction case against them. Since this was B of A, I also sent them a direct message on twitter to @BofA_help. As a side note,  B of A twitter help account is very helpful. They respond almost immediately and really try to help you with any foreclosure or short sale related matters. If the B of A short sale department was as good as @BofA_help, then doing a short sale with B of A wouldn’t be the god-awful cluster that it is. But that’s a post for another day.

These vacancy posting notices are ridiculous. I understand that the lender wants to monitor and take care of obviously vacant foreclosures, but they have no right to bother and annoy owners still in possession of the property. The notices imply that the lender has the right to possession, when they don’t have that right.  The notices confuse owners who are already under stress due to a short sale or foreclosure

In one case, BAC Field services entered the property after it was sold to a new buyer.  Welcome to the neighborhood, here’s your complimentary lock change and winterization! Oops, sorry wrong house.

If you get a vacancy posting notice, just call the phone number and tell them the property is still occupied. Tear off the sticker and toss it where it belongs.

Buy and Bail in Illinois: Q & A

What is Buy and Bail?
 Buy and Bail is a version of strategic default. The owner of a severely underwater house or condo buys a new house.  After they close on the new house, they either try to short sell the old home or stop making payments on it and strategically default on the old house.

What is the advantage of Buy and Bail?
 If a homeowner sells a home in a short sale or stops paying and loses the home to foreclosure in a strategic default, the owner will be unable to buy a new house for between 2 and 5 years.  The hit to the owner’s credit will stop them from qualifying for a new mortgage. Buy and Bail allows you to own your new house at today’s low prices and avoid renting.

Is Buy and Bail illegal or unethical or both?
 Go ahead and google “Buy and Bail” and you will see many blog posts that say it is fraud to buy a new house with the intention of dumping the old one. I disagree with that. It is loan fraud to lie on a loan application. But most loan applications just ask for your financial data and don’t require any statement concerning your current home. I have seen mortgage lenders ask the buyer for a statement explaining why they are buying a new house in the same area as their current home. Most clients explain that they have a growing family and want to take advantage of the low prices to buy a bigger house. As long as you qualify for the new loan and don’t misstate  anything on the application, there is no fraud involved in my opinion. It is total loan fraud to do a fake lease on your current property. Don’t do that, please. The rental income probably won’t help you qualify for the loan anyway (see below). I will leave the discussion of whether Buy and Bail is unethical to greater minds than mine. That is up to you to decide. Blog comments on Buy and Bail  range from “everyone who does it should be shot” to “the banks caused all this and they deserve it.”

Do I have to qualify for both mortgages?
 Yes, you pretty much have to have a high enough income that you qualify for the old mortgage and the new mortgage. Take your gross monthly income times 28% and your mortgage payments on both places cannot be more than that amount. You have to have a pretty good income to qualify. Many people apply for an FHA loan, which is only 3.5% down as the new mortgage. You can get an FHA mortgage as long as the mortgage on your old home is not FHA. They only allow one at a time. Some get Homepath financing, which requires only 3% down, has no PMI and is offered on the sales of many FNMA foreclosures.

Will my mortgage lender let me count rent I receive as income?
 Probably not. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac cracked down on Buy and Bail a few years ago and they only allow rental payments to be considered as income if you have 30% down or more in your “old” house. Most people have little to no equity in their current house, so they can’t count the rental income.

Will my new mortgage lender call my loan due if I stop paying on my old house?
 No, the two loans are totally independent of each other. If you decide to Buy and Bail your credit will drop to the low to mid 500s and will stay there for several years. This explains how quickly credit recovers after a foreclosure or short sale.

Will my old mortgage lender try to take my new house from me? 

Buy and Bail is really a strategic default. This post explains the risks in a strategic default and the same applies to Buy and Bail. If you have a second mortgage, it is not wise to Buy and Bail because the second mortgage company likely will try to sue you separately from the foreclosure.

Katie bar the door: Deficiency judgment okay with abode service

I recently ran across a new Cook County case and, while the case is interesting, I hesitate to even bring it up because everyone will think that it’s open season now for deficiency judgments in Illinois.

Trust me, it’s not. Deficiency judgments are still nonexistent to rare in Illinois.

The case is Metrobank v. Cannatello, 2012 Ill App 1st 110529. Here’s what happened: Cannatello borrowed almost $200k for a multi-family property in the south side of Chicago from Chicago Community Bank (Metrobank took over Chicago Community Bank along the way). A foreclosure was filed against him and the lender asked for a deficiency judgment of about $50k after the sheriff’s sale.

When the foreclosure started, a member of Mr. Cannatello’s family was served with the summons at his house. He lived elsewhere, not in the property being foreclosed. This is called “abobe” or “substitute” service. Any person over age 13 who answers the door at the defendant’s house can be served on the theory that  the person receving the summons will tell the defendant (and hopefully will not just throw it in the garbage). This applies to all civil cases, not just foreclosures.

To make a long story short, the court said that it was allowable to enter a deficiency judgment after abode service and that personal service on the defendant was not necessary. This is not really a surprising result.

What does this case mean? The case just makes it clear that a deficiency judgment can be entered if a member of your family accepts the summons.

Are lenders starting to get deficiency judgments? No. They are still very rare. This was a loan on a multi-family investment property from a small bank. I have said before that mortgages given by small, local lenders hold a much higher rise of deficiency judgments than your garden variety single-family home mortgage from Wells Fargo or Chase.
Should I answer the door if I am being served with a summons in a foreclosure? That is up to you.  The lender cannot get a deficiency judgment unless there is personal service (the summons is handed to you) or substitute service (summons is give to someone over age 13 at your house).  Deficiency judgments are still extremely rare, so if you are served with the summons it’s not the end of the world because it’s unlikely that a deficiency will ever be entered. But people are touchy about this and, to be honest, it seems like most of them do dodge service. I have talked to people during the period when the process server is trying to serve them and they are, shall be say, a tad jumpy about it, because it’s an unfamiliar situation, and they feel like quasi-criminals because someone is pursuing them. Some accept the summons because they literally can’t take the pressure for the two weeks that the process server attempts service.

Mortgage Debt Forgiveness may be extended through 2014

(Note: The MDFA expired at the end of 2013. This is an old post that and it was not extended through 2014-sorry folks. TS)


It looks like there is a proposal in the 2013 budget package to extend the Mortgage Debt Forgiveness Act (MDFA) through 2014.

The MDFA is an important law that allows homeowners to avoid being taxed on foreclosures and short sales for their primary residences. It was supposed to expire at the end of 2012.

This is not passed yet, but at least it’s in the works

*Thanks to sharp-eyed Chris D.  for pointing this out. 

What are an owner’s last steps in a condo foreclosure?

Condo foreclosures are tricky little devils to handle.

There is a high potential for lawsuits, in addition to the main lawsuit, which is the foreclosure. That’s because condo associations want the dues to be paid during the foreclosure and will file a lawsuit if the owner doesn’t pay.  Also, if contents insurance is cancelled during a foreclosure and there is a leak or water problem that affects another unit,  then your neighbor or the association may file suit against you for the water damage.  Without insurance coverage, you can get dinged for the  damage to your neighbor’s place.

I always recommend that clients continue to pay the association dues until the end of the foreclosure. The association may try to charge you a foreclosure monitoring fee, but it’s usually only $200 or so and you are better off paying that, than refusing to pay it. Refusing to pay it will just mean that the amount will balloon from $200 to $1200 after costs and attorney’s fees are added. It’s just not worth fighting.

Utilities have to be paid until the end of a condo foreclosure. Clients who walk away from condos get really mad when they call the village to shut off the water and are told that it can’t be turned off until the property is transferred to the new owner.  The same is true of water and gas service. The utility companies will not take service out of your name until a new owner takes over.

There is precious little information online concerning sheriff’s sale, but generally the owner is mailed notice of the sheriff’s sale, so he or she know when  it happens.  Clients often expect that they will be mailed a copy of the sheriff’s sale deed that puts the lender in title, but it is not sent to the owner. The best way to check if  the sheriff’s sale has happened is to check for a completed sale on one of these sites or to wait until you get the motion to confirm the sheriff’s sale and use that as evidence that it actually happened.  (Note: A certificate of sale is issued at the sheriff’s sale, but the sheriff’s deed is issued after the sheriff’s sale is confirmed in court about 30 days later.)  Most associations and utility companies will not distinguish between the sheriff’s sale date and the confirmation of the sale in court. Technically, the title doesn’t transfer until the sale is confirmed in court.  I’ll leave that fine point up to you:)

After the sheriff’s sale you should do the following:

1. Write a letter to the utilities telling them the date of the sheriff’s sale.  Tell them to take the utilities out of your name and to close the account.

2. Write a letter to your association telling them the sheriff’s  sale occurred. Sure you can try to prorate the dues and pay through the actual date of the sheriff’s sale, but let’s not be Mr. Precision here.  It’s best to pay through the confirmation of the sheriff’s sale to avoid problems.

3. Cancel contents insurance. Call your agent and cancel the contents insurance.

4. Arrange a cash for keys. If you are still living in the unit, contact the lender’s attorney and ask for the name of the real estate agent handling your case and politely ask for relocation assistance and you may get $1,000 to $2,000 to help set up your new place.

New Illinois short sale law chopped to pieces

This video from one of my favorite movies (Monty Python and The Holy Grail) is symbolic of what happened to the new Illinois short sale law as it wound its way through the legislature. You’ve seen it.  King Arthur and the Black Knight get into a sword fight. King Arthur carves up the Black Knight  limb by limb, until nothing remains.  That’s pretty much what happened to this new statute just signed into law last week.

When I first saw that a new short sale law was working its way through the legislature, I hoped that it would help clear out the backlog of near-foreclosures and get the real estate market back on track. Initially, the new law required lenders to respond to a short sale offer in 30 days and it said that all approved short sales in Illinois must include a release of deficiency. California passed a law that prohibited deficiency claims on first and second mortgages not too long ago and I was hoping for a law similar to theirs. But as the law worked its way through the legislature over the past year, the forgiveness of deficiency was amended out of it and the requirement that the lender respond in 30 days was extended to 90 days.

As passed,  the law does one thing:  Requires the lender to respond to a short sale offer in 90 days. That’s it. And there’s no penalty if the lender doesn’t respond. Basically, the new law does nothing and that’s  not good at a time like this when so many homes are way, way underwater.