01/11/2013 12:04:00 PM EST
Consumer Chapter 11: When Big Bankruptcies Get Personal
Whether it's "Mr. Las Vegas" or crazy actors, celebrities always seem to have financial
troubles. That's part of what makes them so entertaining. Understandably, the
large amounts of money they make (and owe) can sometimes push them into
consumer bankruptcies of the Chapter 11 variety. But it turns out that this is not
the exclusive territory of the rich and famous. In fact, every lawyer should be
aware of how Chapter 11 is playing out today-after all, you
might just end up representing a debtor or creditor very soon.
Bet the Farm, Keep the House
One reason that even normal, non-celebrity people are
interested in consumer Chapter 11 is housing. A few years ago when housing
prices were high, many borrowed against their home equity with multiple
mortgages, betting that housing prices would keep going up. They did not.
Today, with more than one in
four U.S. mortgages still underwater, this is still leading to bankruptcies
(though the situation is getting better now). If the homeowners' secured
debt exceeds $1,081,000 or their combined unsecured debt exceeds $360,475, and
they want to keep their house, Chapter 11 becomes their only bankruptcy
option because of limits on the amount of debt allowed in Chapter 13.
Unlike those filing individual Chapter 7 bankruptcies, debtors under
Chapter 11 are often able to keep their homes, sometimes eliminate their
junior mortgages, and restructure other secured debts. That sounds really good
for the debtors, doesn't it? Well...
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