C. Myblog

Are Your Second Mortgages Secured?

September 2, 2010

As we discussed in our April post, Bankruptcies on the Rise and the Evolving U.S. Debt Burden, bankruptcies have been rising at an alarming rate this year. The trend is likely to continue—it will be interesting to note how the situation evolves (since 1st quarter) when the U.S. Judiciary releases second quarter figures in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, more and more consumers are taking advantage of a loophole in Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceedings to effectively remove the debt of their second mortgages. Bankruptcy courts can reclassify 2nd mortgages as unsecured if the appraised value of the home is less than the amount owed on the 1st mortgage—in essence, when there is no value securing the 2nd.

For example, a borrower has a $200K first mortgage and a $40K second mortgage; the borrower’s home only appraises for $180K. Thus, since there is no equity, or value, to secure the second mortgage—the borrower can file suit to have it removed.

With unprecedented decline in home values across the nation, one lawyer estimates at least 20% of his clients would qualify for a reclassification (Liening on banks: Second mortgages are next housing crisis, New York Post, 7/11/10).

If you have a significant portion of assets in second mortgages, we recommend stress testing what could happen to your risk profile should a significant amount be charged off due to continued credit risk and bankruptcy proceedings.

Furthermore, everyone should consider what could happen to the broader economic landscape should 20% of the nation’s $1 trillion second mortgage market be put at risk of reclassification.

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