Friday, May 28, 2010

New Blog Address

I have finally made the leap to a Wordpress blog on my You can access the blog by going to I will no longer be blogging at this address.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bill would limit municipal bankruptcies in California

The almost unfettered power that unions possess in California takes one's breath away. One place that is not the case is in Chapter 9, a.k.a., municipal bankruptcy. In Chapter 9, a city can renegotiate union contracts in a fair and open forum. But the California Senate is trying to limit the right of municipalities, including hospitals and water districts, to file Chapter 9.

The Senate Local Government Committee on Monday approved legislation that would require cities to first secure permission from an obscure appointed state agency before they could file for bankruptcy.

That panel would have the authority to force cities and local districts, including those providing water service and hospital care, to slash budgets elsewhere before seeking bankruptcy protection.

“It’s a bad idea,” Jay Goldstone, the city of San Diego’s chief operating officer, said in an interview. “The state should not be dictating whether a local government does or does not qualify for bankruptcy. … That’s what the courts should be for.”

* * *

Coincidentally, Goldstone is one of the appointees to the California Debt and Investment Advisory Commission, which would be granted the new oversight power. The commission now provides local governments with advice and technical assistance on debts and investments.

Bankruptcy is not a job for the commission, Goldstone said.

“This just adds another bureaucratic layer at a time when we probably need less bureaucracy, not more,” he said.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Senate Considers Allowing Small Businesses to File Chapter 12

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled Could Bankruptcy Reform Help Preserve Small Business Jobs on March 17, 2010. The ideas presented at the hearing included a proposal to add a new category of entity that could file Chapter 12 (formerly reserved for family farmers and fisherman)--"small business enterprises."

A small business enterprise would be defined as a small business with $10 million or less of debt where at least 50% of the debt had been incurred for business purposes. An exhaustive analysis of the proposal and proposed bill langauge can be found at

This kind of proposal makes a great deal of sense for many reasons. First, it is rare indeed to find a Chapter 11 case that can be completed for less than $30,000 in attorney fees. A Chapter 12 case, on the other hand, might be able to be done for half of that on a fairly regular basis. Second, Chapter 13 would also be an inexpensive route, but the debt limits for Chapter 13 are so low that many small businesses do not qualify and Chapter 13 only applies to individuals, not LLC's or corporations. Consequently, many small businesses that are incorporated (even those under the debt limits) do not qualify to file Chapter 13.

Opening up Chapter 12 like this makes a great deal of sense and the Senate should be encouraged to take up such a bill and to pass it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mr. Fear Quoted in Article on Debt Consolidation/Negotiation

I was recently quoted in an article in The Business Journal entitled: Local attorney cautions against debt consolidation. The reporter in this story was trying to do a story setting out the pros and cons of debt negotiation/consolidation. I highly encouraged him to try to contact a debt negotation company for an interview. I even gave him quite a few questions to ask. Apparently, he was unable to get anyone to give him an interview, because they are not quoted here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

New Bankruptcy Judges' Bill Proposes New E.D. Cal Judgeships - HR 4506

Congress is considering H.R. 4506, a bill to add new bankruptcy judgeships. The bill passed the house nearly unanimously and is expected to pass the Senate. Under the new "pay-go" standards, the bill must be revenue neutral. It achieves this by increasing the Chapter 7 filing fee by $1 and Chapter 11 by $42.

The bill would add two (2) new bankruptcy judgeships to the Eastern District of California and make permanent the temporary judgeship currently in place, bringing to nine (9) the total number of bankruptcy judgeships in the Eastern District of California.

The Eastern District of California has one of the highest judicial workloads in the country and adding two new bankruptcy judges to the Eastern District would be a significant step toward relieving that workload.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Proposed FTC Rule Bans Up-Front Fees for Modifications

California law already prohibits upfront fees for loan modification services. Now the Federal Trade Commission has prposed a similar rule.

The Federal Trade Commission has proposed a new rule that would prohibit third parties, including loan modification specialists and loss mitigation attorneys, from collecting payment for foreclosure prevention services until after they obtain a documented offer from a lender or servicer for a modification or other form of mortgage relief.

Interestingly, the rule would apply to attorneys as well, with a limited exception for attorneys representing a consumer in a bankruptcy or other legal proceeding.

“Homeowners facing foreclosure or struggling to make mortgage payments shouldn’t have to contend with fraudulent ‘companies’ that don’t provide what they promise,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said. “The proposed rule would outlaw up-front fees so companies can’t take the money and run.”

The FTC has brought 28 cases against companies suspected of foreclosure rescue and mortgage modification scams, and state and federal law enforcement partners have brought hundreds more. According to the agency, generally these cases charged that companies do not provide the services they promise and that they misrepresent their affiliation with the government and government housing assistance programs, including the Making Home Affordable program.

Apparently, this has become a big enough problem that the FTC in Washington has heard about it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Beware of Southern California Loan Modification Lawyers

This article in the Fresno Bee should give pause to anyone thinking about hiring one of the Southern California loan modification mills. What generally happens is the client sees an internet or other advertisement, calls the number and reaches a call center. They then are asked to put down $1,500 - 5,000 to get a loan modification. Sometimes, a loan modification can be achieved, but oftentimes, the client could have obtained a loan modification without the significant cost incurred. The California State Bar has been actively investigating these cases, providing news releases tracking their progress (See July 15, 2009, August 15, 2009, September 18, 2009, October 21, 2009, and November 10, 2009). The article also notes the following:

The loss to the public from loan-modification cases is in the millions of dollars, State Bar officials say. Most of the attorneys under investigation are from Southern California, but many of the victims live in the central San Joaquin Valley, enticed by loan-modification companies that advertised on the Internet.

I have seen that happen time and time again. I have also seen similar lawyers from Southern California try to represent clients in Bankruptcy Court in Fresno and they almost always make a mess of the case, especially in Chapter 13. If you are thinking about filing a bankruptcy, hire a local lawyer.

Major Asset Manager Proposes Allowing Mortgage Modifications in Bankruptcy

BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, has proposed creating a bankruptcy option that allows modification of home loans in bankruptcy. Interestingly, BlackRock is not proposing that it be done in Chapter 13, but rather through some other bankruptcy route that allows all of the unsecured debt to be discharged so that home owners can focus on making the new payment on their mortgage. I think that Chapter 13 is still the best place for allowing loan modifications, especially in districts where there is no set minimum that has to be paid to unsecured creditors. Chapter 13 trustees, debtors' attorneys, creditors' attorneys and bankruptcy judges are the best-equipped people to handle these types of modifications, because they do it every day with every other type of collateral.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Real Message of the Massachusetts Senate Election

Everyone is trying to figure out the meaning behind Republican Scott Brown's mind-numbing 5-point victory to fill Teddy Kennedy's seat in the U.S. Senate. Most people think it has something to do with the health care legislation, and I would agree with that. I think people don't believe that government can actually keep health care costs down. But I think the real issue is that people are so upset the health care bill has taken up almost a year of legislative work, when the big issue is the economy and legislative action on the economy has been either non-existent or completely ineffectual. Instead of wasting all this time on health care, why don't you put your heads together to come up with some economic reforms, voters are saying.

I think Congress thought they had done somethink like that with the stimulus and loan modification program passed early in the year. But neither of those programs have done anything to put a dent in the economic situation. The stimulus is a pork-laden and bureacratically-entangled mess, which is incredibly inefficient at getting money back into the economy. And the loan modification program has proven a collosal failure. Only a small percentage of the estimated loan modifications have taken place. President Obama indicated he wanted to use a carrot and stick approach to loan modifications. Well, Mr. President, we have tried the carrot and it has not worked. Its time for the stick.

It is time to look again at legislation allowing modification of home loans in Chapter 13 bankruptcy. You can modify car loans, boat loans, rental loans, farm loans, and just about any other kind of loans. But you can't modify a loan on the principal residence of the debtor. It is time to remove that favored treatment to let people keep their houses. This will stave off the next foreclosure wave that everyone is so nervously talking about, and the deleterious effect on home prices from the shadow inventory of foreclosed homes banks are holding, and allow the market to stabilize.

As I have discussed in numerous posts (see, e.g., one, two, and three), dealing with this problem in bankruptcy is the best place to do it for the following reasons:

1. Bankruptcy is a last resort. Nobody wants to file bankruptcy. So only those who are most desparate for the relief will file, thus limiting the number of people taking advantage of this relief.
2. Bankruptcy provides a built-in mechanism to determine if people should be eligible for the relief of modifying the loan. There is no better mechanism out there for determining what people should qualify for a modified loan.
3. All of these modifications would be supervised by the bankruptcy court. The bankruptcy court is pre-equipped with the knowledge and resources to properly vet requests to modify loans. The bankruptcy court does it all the time in contexts other than home loans. (And in Chapter 12, it even supervises modification of home loans.)
4. A Chapter 13 plan takes a lot of doing to finish. Debtors would have to comply with every provision and make every payment on time for 5 years to get the relief of a modified loan. Anything else would result in dismissal of the case and vitiation of the relief requested.
5. Almost all of the mortgages in this country are held in trusts. Each of these trusts has a whole panoply of parties responsible for various aspects of the mortgage, many of which have conflicting interests. Often, the various parties to the trust don't want to act for fear of being sued or don't want to act in a way that is in the interest of the investors because that is against that parties' interest. By allowing mortgages to be modified in Chapter 13, these sticky conflicts are avoided and the Bankruptcy Code can accomplish what it was intended to do: give the debtor a fresh start and treat all creditors fairly.
6. These trusts are known as REMIC trusts and are given special tax treatment. That tax treatment can be threatened if too many of the mortgages are modified.

And the best part about this solution is that it should be inherently palatable to both sides of the aisle. It is inherently free-market because it removes special protections for certain types of loans and would result in little, if any, increased government expenditure or regulation. It is also inherently populist, because it helps the little guy by giving him the same rights to modify a loan in a small bankruptcy that a big corporation has in Chapter 11. It is time to allow home loan modification in Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

The Problem of Loan Modification Assistance Providers

Clients and acquaintances often ask me if I can refer them to someone who can help get a loan modification. Unfortunately, I can't. I don't know of anyone who is going to do any better of a job than the client could do working directly with the lender. So I usually suggest that clients try to negotiate directly with the lender to obtain a loan modification. Almost all loan modifications now are done through the HAMP program, so I put together an article on the HAMP program that gives a basic framework of how that program works.
Recently, I noticed a press release from the State Bar identifying various loan modifications that were under investigation. (The release is dated 9/18/09.) I don't know what the current status of this investigation is, but I would highly suggest that individuals in California considering using a loan modification law firm contact the California State Bar to see if there have been any complaints regarding the firm they propose to use.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Personal Bankruptcy Filings Rising Fast -

This is an interesting article from the Wall Street Journal entitled, "Personal Bankruptcy Filings Rising Fast." The article states that in 2009 there was a 32% rise in bankruptcies over 2008. The question is, will this trend continue in 2010? Only time will tell, but I am inclined to think that it will level off a little bit in 2010. In the article, they state that bankruptcies had peaked, which is probably accurate. But I would not be surprised if they stayed close to that peak for quite some time to come.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Citi decides not to play Scrooge for the holidays, but in January all bets are off

Trying to repair an image that is pretty bad right now, Citi has decided not to pursue foreclosures for the Christmas holidays. But, because life does go on, they will start back up again in January. Citi estimates this will benefit about 2,000 homeowners, albeit temporarily. What if Citi got some real Christmas cheer and looked seriously at some of the 100,000 loan modification requests they have received? That would be something. Unfortunately, Citi has only modified 270 of those loans. Think about that--a 2.7% loan modification rate. That is pretty bad and brings us back to the point discussed on this blog many times: the only way lenders will make serious changes to their loan modification process is if Congress allows mortgages to be modified in Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Will it happen? Only time will tell.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

AB 1046 Signed by Governor - $25,000 Increased Homestead Exemption

The Governor signed AB 1046 (click here for history) on October 11. The bill increases the homestead exemption by $25,000. The full bill can be found here. The homestead exemption is increased to $75,000 for an individual debtor, $100,000 for debtor who is member of a family unit, and $175,000 for debtors 65 and over and disabled debtors. The bill takes effect on January 1, 2010.

Friday, October 09, 2009

COP: HAMP Not Enough; Chapter 13 Mortgage Modification Needed

The Congressional Oversight Panel appointed to oversee the Home Affordability Modification Program (HAMP) has put out a very interesting 6-month report on the effectiveness of HAMP. The report first analyzes the current market and what has happened to date.

The report notes that the crisis has come in waves. The first was driven by speculators abandoning homes when the prices started falling. This drove the prices even lower and brought about the second wave with Option ARMs and other exotic mortgages resetting, homeowners were unable to refinance and faced the choice of whether or not to let the house go because they could not refinance to an affordable payment.

The next wave has been a little more subtle but has continued to grow unabated and is now the dominant factor in the residential market: negative equity. Life changes sometimes force relocation and debtors do not have the option of staying in a particular house. If the house has positive equity, it is easy to sell the house. But, if the house has no equity, it must either be foreclosed upon or sold at a short sale. Foreclosures and short sales almost always result in lower sales prices than market sales. Thus, market values have been driven lower and lower forcing more and more people into the negative equity situation and the cycle perpetuates itself. In California, approximately 35% of all homeowners have no equity in their home. In Nevada, approximately 60% of all homeowners have no equity. The negative equity loop was described as follows:

Homeowners with negative equity are also constrained in their ability to move, absent abandoning the house to foreclosure. There is a wide range of inevitable life events that necessitate moves: the birth of children, illness, death, divorce, retirement, job loss, and new jobs. When one of these life events occurs, if a homeowner has negative equity, the primary choices are between forgoing the move, finding the cash to make up the negative equity, or losing the house in foreclosure. Many have chosen the foreclosure route.

Unfortunately, as the Panel has previously observed, foreclosures push down the prices of nearby properties, which can in turn result in negative equity that begets more defaults and foreclosures.21 A negative feedback loop can develop between foreclosures and negative equity. To the extent that negative equity alone may produce foreclosures, progress in addressing loan affordability will have a limited impact on foreclosure rates over the long term.

The Panel noted that the only way to stop the negative equity foreclosure loop is to make a way for a substantial number of borrowers to fix their negative equity problem. HAMP currently provides an option for lenders to reduce principal balance to solve the negative equity problem, but lenders are almost never taking advantage of that option. One option would be to mandate principal reductions under HAMP, but the Panel noted this would create a perverse incentive for borrowers because there was little cost to the borrower to get the principal write-down. The Panel then noted that Chapter 13 revision might be the way to resolve that issue by authorizing mortgage modification in Chapter 13. That would involve significant cost to the borrower due to the rigor and negative credit effect of going through bankruptcy, but would allow a significant amount of principal reduction that would help to stabilize values. The Panel said:

Negative equity can only be eliminated through principal write-downs, but this raises a number of difficult and complex issues. When principal is written down, it impairs the balance sheets of the owners of the mortgages. In many cases, this means the impairment of the balance sheets of the very financial institutions whose stability is an essential goal of the EESA. To be sure, if principal write-downs actually increase the true value of the loans, by reducing redefault rates, then principal write-downs might cause more immediate losses, but they would produce more realistic, and therefore more confidence-inspiring, balance sheets.

One concern related to the idea of principal reduction is the incentives it may create. Witnesses at the Panel‟s foreclosure mitigation field hearing were asked about this matter. Dr. Paul Willen, Senior Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, testified that the “problem with negative equity is basically that borrowers can‟t respond to life events.” Borrowers with positive equity simply have “lots of different ways they can refinance, they can sell, they can get out of the transaction.”330 He noted that although most borrowers with negative equity are likely to make their payments in the present or over the next couple of years, they still remain “at-risk homeowners” and may face more serious issues several years down the road should a life changing event, such as unemployment, occur.331 In that sense, Dr. Willen offered that principal reduction may have some virtue. He also noted, however, that most borrowers with negative equity make their mortgage payments, and that if principal reduction is provided as an option, one runs the risk of incentivizing borrowers, who would otherwise continue to make their mortgage payments, “to look for relief” even when it is not necessarily needed.332 In this sense, according to Dr. Willen, mandating a principal reduction option under HAMP could put additional pressures on the program, and ultimately reduce its overall effectiveness. However, in response to a question from the Panel, Dr. Willen agreed that revising bankruptcy laws to permit principal modification was a clear way to address the idea that there should be a cost for receiving a principal reduction.

Other witnesses at the hearing also argued that the incentive “to look for relief” may be reduced if the costs to the borrower of opting for principal reduction were significantly greater.333 For example, revising Chapter 13 bankruptcy to include a cramdown or a principal reduction component could be one way to impose more significant costs. Because of these costs, such a revision could provide borrowers with the option of principal reduction without creating the potential perverse incentives to other borrowers that may occur by mandating principal reduction as an option under HAMP. Filing for bankruptcy is not an appealing choice to any borrower; however, to the borrower facing certain foreclosure it may be the only choice. Whereas mandating principal reduction as an option under HAMP may attract a larger than desired group of borrowers, allowing principal reduction as an option under Chapter 13 is more likely to attract only those borrowers who are truly in need of such assistance. In this sense, Chapter 13 bankruptcy could be used as a tool to employ the benefits of principal reduction to borrowers in need without attracting other borrowers and putting any additional pressures on HAMP.

I think this makes a great deal of sense and that Chapter 13 mortgage modification could help to stabilize home values.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Where’s the note, who’s the holder: Enforcement of the promissory note secured by real estate |

This is a very good article about finding a note holder for a real estate loan: Where’s the note, who’s the holder: Enforcement of the promissory note secured by real estate. It was written by Hon. Samuel Bufford out of the Central District of California. The article has some good information on standing:

Often, the servicing agent for the loan will appear to enforce the note. Assume that the servicing agent states that it is the authorized agent of the note holder, which is “Trust Number 99.” The servicing agent is certainly a party in interest, since a party in interest in a bankruptcy court is a very broad term or concept. See, e.g., Greer v. O’Dell, 305 F.3d 1297, 1302-03 (11th Cir. 2002). However, the servicing agent may not have standing: “Federal Courts have only the power authorized by Article III of the Constitutions and the statutes enacted by Congress pursuant thereto. … [A] plaintiff must have Constitutional standing in order for a federal court to have jurisdiction.” In re Foreclosure Cases, 521 F.Supp. 3d 650, 653 (S.D. Ohio, 2007) (citations omitted).

Also, some very good information on MERS:

For those of you who are not familiar with the entity known as MERS, a frequent participant in these foreclosure proceedings:

MERS is the “Mortgage Electronic Registration System, Inc. “MERS is a mortgage banking ‘utility’ that registers mortgage loans in a book entry system so that … real estate loans can be bought, sold and securitized, just like Wall Street’s book entry utility for stocks and bonds is the Depository Trust and Clearinghouse.” Bastian, “Foreclosure Forms”, State. Bar of Texas 17th Annual Advanced Real Estate Drafting Course, March 9-10, 2007, Dallas, Texas. MERS is enormous. It originates thousands of loans daily and is the mortgagee of record for at least 40 million mortgages and other security documents. Id.

MERS acts as agent for the owner of the note. Its authority to act should be shown by an agency agreement. Of course, if the owner is unknown, MERS cannot show that it is an authorized agent of the owner.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

9th Cir BAP - "NO" to Stripped Mortgage and Surrendered Property Deductions on the Chapter 13 Means Test

The Ninth Circuit BAP ruled in two cases, In re Martinez and In re Smith, that Chapter 13 debtors may not take deductions for payments on stripped mortgages and surrendered property, respectively. They relied heavily on the "reasonable and necessary" language of 1325(b)(2), finding that the application of the means test as stated in (b)(3) was limited by the reasonable and necessary language in (b)(2).


More analysis to come . . .

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Wells Fargo Exec - "We know we've fallen short of our customer service goals . . ."

Now there is the understatement of the year. In this article on The Business Journal, online version, Mike Heid, co-president of Wells Fargo's mortgage unit is quoted as saying, "We know we've fallen short of our customer service goals in some cases." The reason? Wells Fargo has only modified six percent (6%) of eligible loans under the HAMP program.

By comparison, Chase had modified 20% and Citigroup 15%. On the other end of the spectrum, Bank of America had only modified four percent (4%).

"We think they could have ramped up better, faster, more consistently and done a better job serving borrowers and bringing stabilization to the broader mortgage markets and economy," said Michael Barr, the Treasury Department's assistant secretary for financial institutions. "We expect them to do more."

Possibly. But these lenders have to add and train staff. That takes money and time and servicers are getting compensated very little for doing these modifications. The better resolution would have been to allow modifications in Chapter 13 bankruptcy. That would have required very little additional investment by servicers, but would have made it readily available to the most needy borrowers.

The lending industry is asking for patience, saying the industry needed time to implement the program.

Very interesting. Will these same lenders exercise patience waiting for borrowers to make unmanageable payments because the lender does not have the staff to process the loan modification? Call me synical, but I doubt it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Are Foreclosures in Lenders' Best Interest?

Foreclosures Are Often In Lenders' Best Interest says a story from the Washington Post. But are they really?

But a study released last month by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston was downbeat on the prospects for widespread modifications. The analysis, which looked at the performance of loans in 2007 and 2008, found that lenders lowered the monthly payments of only 3 percent of delinquent borrowers, those who had missed at least two payments. Lenders tried to avoid modifying the loans of borrowers who could 'self-cure,' or catch up on their payments without help, and those who would fall behind again even after receiving help, the study found.

The article goes on to quote industry insiders saying, essentially, "ergo, loan modifications don't make sense for lenders." That conclusion doesn't make a whole lot of sense itself. The reason that not a lot of loan modifications are being done is that not a lot of loan modifications offered by mortgage servicers make sense for borrowers. Most of the modifications don't actually decrease the cost of the loan very much and even in those that do, the total amount of debt on the property is still often $100,000 to $150,000 more than the property is worth, with no hope in sight (or 10 to 15 years, at least) for the property values to eclipse the loan amount.

The question I am asking myself constantly is "why aren't servicers doing more reasonable loan modifications?" I think there may be several reasons:

1. The old problem of who is really in charge with all of the mortgage backed securities and the conflicting interests of trustees, servicers, and bondholders in the trust. Servicers are the one's really calling the shots and it doesn't make a whole lot of financial sense for them to invest a lot in doing voluntary loan modifications, because they don't make a ton that way and open themselves to possible litigation if they do too many modifications.

2. I think that the financial services may be leery of doing too many modifications because it might encourage people who can actually pay the mortgage to ask for a modification. And they want those who can actually pay to keep paying the mortgage. If servicers had to rewrite everyone's loan that was underwater, half the mortgages in the country would probably have to be rewritten. I think they may want to keep these to a minimum, with no one getting a decent modification so that they don't go tell their friends what a great deal they got.

3. Probably most important--they don't have to. Because the prospect of modifying home mortgages in bankruptcy is now dead (at least for the time being), mortgage servicers can do whatever they want.

All of these problems create a real frustration for those watching homeowners who could afford a reasonable payment get washed out in the foreclosure deluge. I had a homeowner talk to me the other day who had worked out a loan modification with one of the larger mortgage servicers. Shortly thereafter, however, the loan was sold to another entity (of dubious distinction) that is insisting they will take nothing other than payment in full or they will foreclose and that they will not honor the servicers commitment to modify the mortgage. And there is little this person can do about it. The mortgage servicers hold all the cards.

Good Article from Regarding Benefits of Bankruptcy

This is a good article from the Wall Street Journal regarding filing for bankruptcy. A few important excerpts from the article:

There's a surge in personal bankruptcy filings at the moment, for obvious reasons. Some 30,000 Americans are filing each week, and the figures could top 1.4 million for the year.

But too many people are talking about bankruptcy as if it's a sign this country's social safety net has failed.

It isn't. Bankruptcy is part of the safety net. Other countries have welfare states, America has bankruptcy.

And some additional good advice:

Every middle class family should be aware of the risks of bankruptcy, and how to protect their assets if the sky falls.

Bankruptcy laws are complex and vary from state to state – if you want to make substantial plans you should probably talk with a lawyer in your state who specializes in the subject.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

NBI | Nuts and Bolts of Bankruptcy Law | Live Seminar

Mr. Fear will be speaking at a Nuts and Bolts of Bankruptcy Law seminar sponsored by the National Business Institute on August 5, 2009.

Foreclosure rates up in Fresno

The Business Journal is reporting that foreclosure rates in Fresno are up from 2.1% of all single family residences in foreclosure last year at this time to 3.5% this year. That is an increase of 67% over last year's historically high foreclosures.

The interesting thing about this statistic is that a lot of mortgage companies are actually delaying foreclosures in some cases because they don't have the capacity to liquidate all of the properties and they don't want the liability of dealing with a lot of property on their hands. Consequently, I often have clients who want to surrender a property to the creditor where it will take 6 or even 12 months before the mortgage company will start the foreclosure process. Then, it takes another 6 months or so to complete the process. These numbers could be a lot higher.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

1 out of 8 U.S. Homeowners in foreclosure or late on mortgage payments

Reuters is reporting that 1 out of every 8 homeowners (approximately 12% of homeowners) in the United States is late on mortgage payments or in the foreclosure process. That is a staggering statistic. In California, the problem is worse than the nation as a whole, so the number is probably even higher for California. I think we are close to where the bottom for home prices should be (based mostly on income ratios), but due to all of these foreclosures, I think home prices are going to continue to drop to a number lower than what prices should be. For people with cash (and maybe first-time home buyers who can get a loan), that will be an opportune time to buy. Everyone else is in for a difficult ride.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

New York Bankruptcy Court: Debtors and Chapter 13 Trustees Should Object to Stale Proofs of Claim

One issue that frequently comes up in bankruptcy cases is the filing of "stale" (i.e., beyond the statute of limitations) claims. What happens is that debt buyers, such as LVNV, purchase a large volume of debt at pennies on the dollar. When a debtor files a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, they attempt to collect on that debt by filing a proof of claim. The debt, however, may be 10 years old and the debt collector could not have pursued the claim in state court. Confronting this issue, a bankruptcy court in the Southern District of New York had the following to say:

C. Debtors and Their Counsel, If They Are Represented, and the Chapter 13 Trustee Should Scrutinize and Object to Stale Claims

In most circumstances it would be enough for the Court to stop with its ruling sustaining the objections and expunging the claims. But these claims and objections highlight a larger problem for this and other bankruptcy courts across the country. Two of the three claims at issue here were filed by LVNV, one of numerous bulk-claims purchasers that regularly file stale claims in bankruptcy courts. As stated in In re Andrews, 394 B.R. at 387, “[t]he phenomena of bulk debt purchasing has proliferated and the uncontrolled practice of filing claims with minimal or no review is a new development that presents a challenge for the bankruptcy system.”

While agreeing that the practice of bulk-claims purchasers filing stale claims is a serious problem, the court rejected the debtor’s argument that the conduct was sanctionable, as had other courts before it. Id. (citing cases). As pointed out in Andrews:

Allowing claims based on unchallenged proofs of claim is efficient
and economical in most cases. However, requiring debtors to file
objections and to raise affirmative defenses to large numbers of stale
claims filed by assignees based on a business model rather than after
careful review and evaluation is both burdensome and expensive.

Id. The solution suggested by the court was rules amendments:

The court will ask the Advisory Committee on Bankruptcy Rules
to consider whether changes should be made to the Federal Rules of
Bankruptcy Procedure and to the Official Bankruptcy Forms to alleviate
the significant burden on individual debtors and on the bankruptcy system
caused by the large number of undocumented, stale claims being filed by
the bulk purchasers of charged-off debts. . . . Finally, because the federal
rule-making process typically takes no less than three years to produce a
new rule, this issue will also be referred, with the consent of the two other
judges of this district, to the Local Rules Committee . . . .

Id. at 389.

Unless and until local or national rules changes are made, it is incumbent on debtors, their counsel, and the Chapter 13 Trustee, carefully to scrutinize proofs of claims to identify and object, if appropriate, to stale claims. The Chapter 13 Trustee clearly has standing under Bankruptcy Code § 1302(b)(3) to object to stale claims. See Overbaugh v. Household Bank N.A. (In re Overbaugh), 559 F.3d 125, 129 (2d Cir. 2009). Particularly in cases with pro se debtors, the Chapter 13 Trustee plays a crucial role and has an important responsibility in assuring that only proper claims are allowed and paid from the debtor’s estate.

In re Hess, --- B.R. ----, 2009 WL 1285296 (Bkrtcy.S.D.N.Y. May 06, 2009).

How Do I Modify My Home Mortgage?

One question I get almost every day is "how do I modify my home mortgage?" This website, Making Home Affordable, is good place to start. It describes the Home Affordable Modification Program and has links to all of the servicers who have signed up under the program. Most of the servicers have some information as to what is needed. Hopefully, this program will provide the necessary motivation for servicers to make reasonable loan modifications.

Mortgage Modification in Chapter 13 Unlikely

Well, it looks like Chapter 13 Mortgage Modification is dead for now. (See House Likely to Pass Housing Bill This Week Without ‘Cramdown’.) This is unfortunate, because getting voluntary modifications from servicers has been well-nigh impossible. The new administration wanted to use a carrot and stick approach to loan modifications. They got the carrot, but no stick. Without the stick, I think loan modifications are going to be increasingly rare--everybody talks about them, but no one has ever seen one. (I have actually seen them, but they are few and far between and I have only seen one that really made sense for the debtor.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

U.S. judges debunk red herring in mortgage cramdown fear

Judge Keith Lundin, author of an authoritative treatise on Chapter 13 bankruptcy, has sounded off on the reaction to the mortgage modification bill from "chicken littles" in the mortgage industry.

Mortgage bankers are in knots over proposed U.S. legislation that allows loan contracts to be broken up in bankruptcy court, fearing it will taint the core of their business and raise interest rates.

But their fight against the bill gaining momentum in Congress is an overreaction, or a red herring to prevent the industry from realizing inevitable losses, some judges said.

"Judges aren't just going to run wild," said Judge Keith Lundin, of U.S. bankruptcy court in Nashville, Tennessee.

I have often wondered why mortgage bankers have been so virulently opposed to the mortgage modification bill. My guess is that they are more concerned about artificially propping up balance sheets filled with toxic assets so that they can continue to get their bonuses. Judge Lundin addresses that issue as follows:

Bankers are merely putting off the realities of the ailing housing market, Judge Lundin said.

"If these guys are worried about value, it's about what they did, not because of what I'm going to do," said Lundin, speaking of bankers' roles in offering risky loans. "They don't want someone with authority telling them what their securities are worth, that's what they're afraid of."

Judges in the mid-1980s used Chapter 12 of the bankruptcy code to rewrite farmland values, aiding farmers who were also faced with falling commodity prices. After a year or two, the real estate market adjusted, Lundin said.

"I guarantee you, that is exactly what will happen if you allow home mortgages into Chapter 13" bankruptcy, he said.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

California 90-day Foreclosure Moratorium

On February 20, 2009, the Governor signed Senate Bill SBX2 7, which puts an additional 90-day hold on foreclosures to allow for loan modifications. In cases where the lender is not willing to do a modification, this will not force them to do so. They just have to wait another 90 days. However, it will provide a little breathing space for some people.

The bill is not in effect yet and does not go into effect until 14-days after certain regulations have been drafted. And even after it goes into effect, mortgage companies can apply for an exemption upon a showing that they have an acceptable loan modification program. My personal feeling is that this will do little to stem the flood of foreclosures.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Recipe for Disaster: The Formula That Killed Wall Street

This is a fascinating article about a formula used for measuring risk on collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps and how the misuse of that formula led to many of the problems we are experiencing now.

Mortgage Modification Bill--How do I Prepare?

I get this question all the time: How can I take advantage of the mortgage modification bill going through Congres right now?

My first answer is a caveat: We have no idea what the final bill will look like (or if it will even pass), so any action we take right now is speculative. With that caveat in mind, however, we do know that there are several pre-filing requirements that will probably be in the mortgage modification bill. There are two pre-filing prerequisites under the current bill: (1) the debtor must have requested a loan modification from the lender at least 15 days before filing (unless the filing is within 30 days of a foreclosure sale) and (2) the debtor must have received a notice that a foreclosure may be commenced. The first is easy and most of my clients have done this on their own before they ever come to see me. The second is a little more complicated because (depending on what this means), debtors would likely have to get behind on their mortgage payments to make this an option. Some people have suggested that this could refer to the original deed of trust, but I don't think I would rely upon that. However, a letter mentioning foreclosure should be sufficient. That being said, I would not advise a client to do anything that might result in them getting a foreclosure notice until after this bill has been signed, because we still do not know (1) whether the bill will be signed and (2) what provisions will be in the final bill.

View the current text of HR 1106 here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Finally, a Voluntary Loan Modification That Makes Sense

I have gone over numerous loan modification proposals sent to my clients recently. In almost every case, the proposed modification makes no sense and you know the client will end back in the same situation in about 6 months. (One exception is modifications obtained through litigation.) However, I just saw a loan modification from Wachovia that actually made sense. It had principal reduction of about 20%, interest only payments for about 10 years and then a fully amortized principal and interest payment for the next 30 years. Congratulations to Wachovia Mortgage for doing at least one reasonable loan modification.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Credit Suise Study: Bankruptcy Mortgage Modification Bill will cut foreclosures 20 percent

Credit Suisse came out with a new study finding that if the mortgage modification in bankruptcy bill passes, it would cut foreclosures by 20%.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A plan to let bankruptcy judges erase some mortgage debt will help lower foreclosures by 20 percent and stabilize the troubled housing market, a Credit Suisse report concluded on Monday.

The possibility that judges could lower, or 'cram down,' a loan amount will give mortgage companies an incentive to modify more failing loans on their own, the investment bank's researchers said.

"We expect the new bankruptcy reform will increase loan mods, particularly principal reduction mods, as it is likely to both pressure and also give justification to servicers to more actively pursue principal reduction mods," the report from Credit Suisse Fixed Income Research stated.

A two-year-old housing downturn has pushed foreclosures to record levels as more families struggle to make payments on properties that are slipping in value.

Many of those sour loans were bundled by Wall Street into complex securities that are difficult to modify.

Advocates for mortgage "cram-down" argue that bankruptcy judges are uniquely able to cut through mortgage contracts and rewrite loan terms.

Late last week, Democratic leaders who control the White House and Capitol Hill agreed to push a cram-down bill early this year.

"A large percentage of delinquent borrowers could benefit from cram downs," the report states. "We expect the bankruptcy plan will provide about a 20 percent reduction in foreclosures."

A separate report on Monday warned that redrafting bankruptcy rules could scare more lenders away from the housing market and damage banks that specialize in mortgage second-liens.

"(Cram-downs) will create long-term problems for the housing market through higher mortgage rates and reduced affordability, which will likely further destabilize home values and wreak havoc on second-lien and consumer lenders," the report from Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co said.

Second-lien holders would likely be wiped out by a bankruptcy judge, the report concludes, and lenders that specialized in those loans will be hurt.

Many troubled consumers will be enticed by the possibility of getting relief through the courts, and increased bankruptcy filings will mean more write-offs across the sector, the investment bank stated.

"A spike in bankruptcy filings would also cause a surge in credit card losses, as lenders are required to charge off the account upon receipt of the bankruptcy notice," the report states.

(Reporting by Patrick Rucker; Editing by Kenneth Barry)

JP Morgan Chase Analysts Admit Mortgage Modification Bill a "Necessary Evil"

In this article, JP Morgan Chase analysts admitted that the proposed bankruptcy legislation would stabilize home values through decreased foreclosures.

However, the bill may be "a necessary evil," JPMorgan Securities analysts said, and others agreed. Allowing bankruptcy cram-downs would force servicers to use principal forgiveness with loan modifications. "In the long run, cram-downs can help stabilize home prices through reducing distressed sales," the analysts said.

Indeed, while redefaults remain high - a generic 25% payment reduction results in a 50% redefault rate - a 25% balance reduction, which is the type of modification a cram-down would accomplish, makes for a lower 30% redefault rate, according to Merrill Lynch data.

This may ultimately be a better alternative for bond holders as compared with the growing number of defaults and foreclosures, which is where the trend line is going, Telpner said. He pointed out that these modifications could stabilize assets in the pool even if investors are getting paid less on the dollar. "For some ABS pools, cram-downs may provide greater recovery because they serve as an alternative to writing off an increasingly large portion of the pool," he said.

(c) 2009 Asset Securitization Report and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Citigroup's Letter

This is a link to the letter sent by Citigroup stating that they will support the Helping Families Save Their Homes in Bankruptcy Act of 2009. The letter states that with three modifications, Citigroup supports the "swift passage" of the legislation with those changes. The changes requested are as follows: (1) mortgage modifications limited to loans made before date of enactment, (2) TILA provision in bill would only apply to claims where debtor has right to rescission (won't apply to most debtors anyway), and (3) debtor must contact lender to attempt to modify before bankruptcy is filed. Regarding the last item, I understand that this provision will not apply if a foreclosure is scheduled within 30 days after the filing of the bankruptcy.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Citi Backs Bill to Allow Mortgage Modification in Chapter 13

Financial titan Citigroup, Inc. agreed to support a bill that would allow mortgages on personal residences to be modified in Chapter 13. Citigroup is one of the most influential banks in the United States and its support will hold great sway among members of the Congress on both sides of the aisle. With this news, I believe it is now likely that we will get mortgage modification in Chapter 13. The only questions are when and what will it look like?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Why Bankruptcy Professionals Care About Credit Default Swaps

This is a great article from the American Bankruptcy Institute regarding credit default swaps and why they are important to bankruptcy professionals. (Membership required to access article.)

A credit default swap (CDS) (essentially) is a contract in which the holder of the indebtedness (the creditor) pays a third party to guarantee payment of the debt. When a "credit event" occurs (e.g., default in payment), the third party is required to purchase the debt from the original creditor with a given period of time. The parties (creditor and third party) are swapping risk for return. The creditor will get less interest on the debt, but is guaranteed full payment of the principal, so the risk goes down. The third party shoulders the risk of default, but gets the increased interest to compensate for the risk.

So why does this matter in the bankruptcy arena? If a debtor calls a lender trying to workout a loan modification and the lender has a CDS on the debt, they will tell the debtor: "Why should I work out a modification with you? I'm going to get paid in full for this debt." Now, once the debt is swapped to the third party, the third party may or may not be willing to work out a loan modification based on the reason the third party bought the CDS. However, in the confusing morass of figuring out who owns the debt and which of the possible owners might be willing to work with him, the debtor usually gets discouraged and figures there is no way to save his home.

This is yet another reason why allowing mortgages of personal residences to be modified in bankruptcy makes a great deal of sense.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Modern Money Mechanics

Modern Money Mechanics is a workbook originally published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. (First publication in June 1961; last updated June 1992; now out of print.) This little pamphlet does a fantastic job of describing exactly how our money system works in the U.S. Most people have no clue how this works, but the effect of monetary policy on our everyday lives is a hot issue right now and for those who want to know, this is a good resource. (For a link to the PDF version of the workbook, click here.)

Particularly fascinating is the expansion and contraction of the monetary supply made possible by the fractional banking reserve system. You could end up with $90,000 worth of assets and liabilities based on $10,000 in deposits.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New Bill Introduced to Allow Mortgage Modification in Bankruptcy

Senator Durbin recently introduced S. 3690 that would allow modification of mortgages in Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The operative text of the legislation is as follows:

(a) Special Rules for Modification of Loans Secured by Residences.--
(1) IN GENERAL.--Section 1322(b) of title 11, United States Code, is amended--
(A) in paragraph (10), by striking ``and'' at the end;
(B) by redesignating paragraph (11) as paragraph (12); and
(C) by inserting after paragraph (10) the following:
``(11) notwithstanding paragraph (2) and otherwise applicable nonbankruptcy law--
``(A) modify an allowed secured claim secured by the debtor's principal residence, as described in subparagraph (B), if, after deduction from the debtor's current monthly income of the expenses permitted for debtors described in section 1325(b)(3) of this title (other than amounts contractually due to creditors holding such allowed secured claims and additional payments necessary to maintain possession of that residence), the debtor has insufficient remaining income to retain possession of the residence by curing a default and maintaining payments while the case is pending, as provided under paragraph (5); and
``(B) provide for payment of such claim--
``(i) in an amount equal to the amount of the allowed secured claim;
``(ii) for a period that is not longer than 40 years; and
``(iii) at a rate of interest accruing after such date calculated at a fixed annual percentage rate, in an amount equal to the most recently published annual yield on conventional mortgages published by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, as of the applicable time set forth in the rules of the Board, plus a reasonable premium for risk; and''.

As I have opined before (and here and here), there are many reasons why allowing mortgage modification in Chapter 13 makes a great deal of sense. Here are a couple more reasons:

1. Almost all of the mortgages in this country are held in trusts. Each of these trusts has a whole panoply of parties responsible for various aspects of the mortgage, many of which have conflicting interests. Often, the various parties to the trust don't want to act for fear of being sued or don't want to act in a way that is in the interest of the investors because that is against that parties' interest.
2. These trusts are known as REMIC trusts and are given special tax treatment. That tax treatment can be threatened if too many of the mortgages are modified.

By allowing mortgages to be modified in Chapter 13, both of these sticky conflicts are avoided and the Bankruptcy Code can accomplish what it was intended to do: give the debtor a fresh start and treat all creditors fairly.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Mortgage Companies Afraid to Modify Mortgages Because of Securitization Mess

This article from the New York Times has an interesting quote:

So far, many companies have been reluctant to aggressively reduce payments because they are afraid that borrowers might default again or that investors in mortgage securities might file suit.

Almost all of the mortgages out there have been securitized. Click here for a colloquial explanation of mortgage-backed securities. This means that the mortgages have been pooled and sold to a trust, and shares of the trust have been sold to investors. The trusts hire servicers to interact with the borrowers. Those servicers are bound by a pooling and servicing agreement, which usually provides a maximum amount of mortgages that can be modified in any particular trust. Usually, the number is around 5%. Default numbers for many of these trusts are climbing over 30% now, so there are a lot more than 5% of the mortgages that need to be modified.

However, the lenders are afraid to modify, because they might get sued by the investors. So, they are sitting pat, doing nothing, while millions of homeowners are losing homes that could have been saved with a reasonable loan modification. This is another great reason to allow modification of mortgages in Chapter 13 bankruptcy. This would remove the whole servicer/investor dynamic and would rely entirely on the value of the house. The investor couldn't sue the servicer, because it was the bankruptcy court that modified the mortgage

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bloomberg: It's Easier to Keep a Second Home in Chapter 13 than your Primary Residence

Interesting analysis on stating that it is easier to keep your rental or beach house than your primary residence. Unfortunately, this is true and, in my opinion, should be changed. Currently, the law allows you to modify mortgages on real property if the real property is not the principal residence of the debtor. If, however, the residence is the principal residence of the debtor, you can't modify it and are stuck with the terms, however horrific. Following is the story from Bloomberg:

Buy a Beach House for Shelter When Going Bankrupt: Ann Woolner

Commentary by Ann Woolner

Oct. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Say an absentee landlord owns the house next to yours. Neither of you keep up your mortgage payments.

If you both declare bankruptcy, chances are better that he would keep his place than you yours. However beloved your home or settled your family is in the neighborhood, you can't force your mortgage holder to change its terms to escape foreclosure.

The landlord can.

Bankruptcy law favors the landlord over the homeowner when it comes to modifying mortgages. It's easier to hold onto a second home at the beach -- and a boat to go with it -- than your home sweet home.

Backward? Absolutely.

A speculator with slum properties all over the city, who owns a place in Manhattan and a house at the Hamptons, gets better treatment under bankruptcy law than a salaried worker's family with only one, modest bungalow.

``Current law permits modification of any type of debt in bankruptcy except for a single-family principal residence,'' says Adam Levitin, who teaches law at Georgetown University.

``You can modify credit-card debt. You can modify student loans. You can modify debt on a yacht,'' points out Levitin.

The one item that bankruptcy can't force a creditor to alter is the loan on the roof over your head. And yet, that's the debt most deserving of modification to help the economy recover and to offer some sense of stability to the debtor.

Vacant Houses

As vacant houses scar neighborhoods and each day brings 10,000 new foreclosure filings, the surplus of empty abodes drags down an economy made sick by reckless lending.

The housing bubble's burst deflated home values below what some folks owe on them. But they still owe it, unless the lender agrees to alter the mortgage.

Otherwise, even in bankruptcy, homeowners still must meet those monthly payments toward the full principal and interest or find themselves out of their home and into somebody else's rental property, if they can afford the rent.

As foreclosures soar, so do bankruptcy filings -- almost 29 percent more in September than the year before, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute.

``We expect 1.1 million new cases by year end,'' the institute's executive director, Samuel Gerdano, said in a statement earlier this month.

Same Treatment

Why not give the primary home mortgage the same treatment in bankruptcy that goes to the second home and to every other debt obligation?

Presented with the chance to do that in April, the U.S. Senate rejected it 58-26, refusing to make it part of the housing bill. The yeas were all cast by Democrats; most of the nays came from Republicans. (Neither of the senators running for president cast votes, although Barack Obama co-sponsored it and has a similar proposal as part of his economic revival plan.)

``If the federal government is going to ride to the rescue of investment banks on Wall Street, it should also provide some relief to those who are about to lose their homes on Main Street,'' said the bill's sponsor, Democrat Richard Durbin, Illinois's other senator.

Way back then, the only rescue the government rode in for was that of Bear Stearns Cos., which was sold in March to JPMorgan Chase & Co. with help from the Federal Reserve.

Unimaginable in April were all the subsequent bailouts. But bankrupt homeowners are still waiting for help.

When Congress was voting on the super-duper, $700 billion bailout plan early this month, Democrats tacked the Durbin amendment onto it, where it stayed for days until it finally was sacrificed to woo Republican votes in the House.

Industry Opposition

The opposition stems from the mortgage industry, which says if lenders never know whether the original terms of the loan could be changed by a bankruptcy judge, interest rates on primary homes would soar by 1.5 percentage points.

``That's just laughable on its face,'' Levitin says. He says interest rates on loans for investment property tend to be only 0.38 percentage points higher than for primary homes mainly because of the extra risk that the borrower won't repay.

It will take a law to undo the restrictions imposed on home mortgages by the 1978 bankruptcy code.

``The sad thing is we've been pushing for this for about a year and a half, two years,'' says Henry Sommer, president of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys.

``It probably could have somewhat ameliorated the crisis we are facing now,'' says Sommer, who practices in Philadelphia.

Maybe next year.

In the meantime, if you find yourself in bankruptcy and have two homes, don't expect your lender to cut you a deal on the one where you live.

But you just might be able to get a break on the beach house. And wouldn't that be more pleasant than that rental property next door?

(Ann Woolner is a Bloomberg news columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Ann Woolner in Atlanta at

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Forrest Gump Explains Mortgage-Backed Securities

O. Max Gardner, III, one of (if not the) premier consumer bankruptcy lawyers in the country apparently spoke with Forrest Gump recently and got the following explanation of the mortgage mess:

Mortgage Backed Securities are like boxes of chocolates. The criminals on Wall Street stole several chocolates from the boxes and replaced them with turds that looked liked chocolates. Their criminal buddies at Standard & Poors, Moodys, and Fitch rated these boxes AAA Investment Grade gourmet chocolates, fit for a king so they could obtain the highest price and worldwide distribution. The boxes were then sold all over the world to investors and kings who loved gourmet chocolate. Eventually while eating their gourmet chocolates, the Kings and investors picked a "chocolate" out of the box to eat; bit into the chocolate and discovered it was a turd instead of a gourmet chocolate and thus, the fraud is exposed! Word spreads fast amongst the world's kings and investors who enjoy gourmet chocolates and suddenly no chocolate lover, loves or trusts American chocolates anymore around the world or wants to buy a box of American chocolate. The fear of eating turds spreads to Belgian and Swiss chocolates too. No one wants to eat turds! Suddenly, there is no market for gourmet chocolates and the fear spreads to chocolate milk, covered strawberries, and anything mixed with or made of chocolate!

Hank Paulson now wants the American taxpayers to buy up and hold all of the boxes of the turd-infested chocolates for $700 billion dollars until the worldwide market for chocolates return to normal. Yet, the turds are still in the boxes waiting for someone to bite into them again. Meanwhile, Hank's buddies who helped him make a billion dollars on turd infested boxes of gourmet chocolates, the Wall Street criminals who stole all the good chocolates, are not being investigated, arrested, or indicted.

Forrest's Mama always said: "Sniff the chocolates first, Forrest".

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Surprise!! Bankruptcy Filings are Up Again.

Last year (2007), bankruptcy filings for the Eastern District of California were up almost 100% over the previous year. This year (2008), they will be up almost another 100% over last year (i.e., about 400% over 2006). Here are the nitty gritty numbers. This doesn't show any sign of cooling off anytime soon.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Application of Mortgage Payments

The First Circuit recently decided the In re Nosek appeal. The case involved a lady who suffered substantial damages because a mortgage company misapplied payments received during the bankruptcy case. The Bankrtuptcy and District Judges both held that she was entitled to substantial damages under the Bankruptcy Code. The First Circuit agreed that it was a difficult circumstance for the debtor, but found no part of the Bankruptcy Code that provided a remedy for her. In doing so, the First Circuit stated as follows:

Morever, even if such a threat had been demonstrated by those practices, there was no language in Nosek's Plan, as it was confirmed, or in § 1322(b), that addressed how Ameriquest was to apply the payments it received from Nosek or from the trustee. Under such circumstances, the Plan would have to be amended to prescribe the accounting practices necessary to protect Nosek's right to cure before Ameriquest could be sanctioned for a violation of an order of the bankruptcy court.
In the absence of such specificity, there was no violation of § 1322(b) or the Plan and therefore no basis upon which to award Nosek damages under § 105(a). Because the bankruptcy court's judgment in the adversary proceeding is vacated, the order confirming Nosek's Third Amended Plan, which was based on the erroneous damages award, also must be vacated.

The court also acknowledged that new code section 524(i) was relevant to the discussion at footnote 15: "Congress's enactment of § 524(i) of the Bankruptcy Code
confirms the widespread nature of these problems and the difficult
issues that courts have faced addressing them."

Section 524(i) creates a new remedy for a debtor where the plan provides that mortgage payments are to be applied in a particular fashion and the creditor fails to do so. That section provides as follows:

The willful failure of a creditor to credit payments received under a plan confirmed under this title, unless the order confirming the plan is revoked, the plan is in default, or the creditor has not received payments required to be made under the plan in the manner required by the plan (including crediting the amounts required under the plan), shall constitute a violation of an injunction under subsection (a)(2) if the act of the creditor to collect and failure to credit payments in the manner required by the plan caused material injury to the debtor.

I think the Nosek case gives a prime example of why it is important to include language in a plan that explains how payments should be applied. I will post langauge I am currently using below, but I would note that at least one judge has rejected this language and I do not make and recommendation or warranty regarding these plan provisions:

7.11 - Application of Payments. Confirmation of the plan shall impose a duty on the holders and/or servicers of claims secured by liens on real property (1) to apply the payments received from the trustee on the pre-petition arrearages, if any, only to such arrearages; (2) to apply the direct mortgage payments, if any, paid by the trustee or by the debtor(s) to the month in which they were made under the plan or directly by the debtor(s), whether such payments are immediately applied to the loan or placed into some type of suspense account; (3) to notify the trustee, the debtor(s) and the attorney for the debtor(s) of any changes in the interest rate for an adjustable rate mortgage and the effective date of the adjustment; (4) to notify the trustee, the debtor(s) and attorney for the debtor(s) of any change in the taxes and insurance that would either increase or reduce the escrow portion of the monthly mortgage payment; and (5) to otherwise comply with 11 U.S.C. Section 524(i).

7.12 - Notice of Additional Charges. The holder and/or servicer of a mortgage claim ("Mortgage Creditor") shall provide to the debtors, debtors' attorney and trustee a notice of any fees, expenses, or charges which have accrued during the bankruptcy case on the mortgage account and which the Mortgage Creditor contends are 1) allowed by the note and security agreement and applicable nonbankruptcy law, and 2) recoverable against the debtors or the debtors' account. The notice shall itemize the fees, expense or other charges. The notice shall be sent annually, beginning within 30 days of the date one year after entry of the initial plan confirmation order, and each year thereafter during the pendency of the case, with a final notice sent within 30 days of the filing of the trustee's final account under Bankruptcy Rule 5009. The failure of a Mortgage Creditor to give such notice for any given year of the case's administration shall be deemed a waiver for all purposes of any claim for fees, expenses or charges accrued during that year, and the Mortgage Creditor shall be prohibited from collecting or assessing such fees, expenses or charges for that year against the debtors or the debtors' account during the case or after entry of the order granting a discharge.

7.13 - Mortgage Current Upon Discharge. Unless the Court orders otherwise, an order granting a discharge in this case shall be a determination that all prepetition and postpetition defaults with respect to all Class 1 mortgages have been cured, and that the mortgage account is deemed current and reinstated on the original payment schedule under the note and security agreement as if no default had ever occurred.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Is the Proposed Bailout Good . . . Or Really Bad?

For average Americans watching from the sidelines, the proposed mortgage bailout looked like something straight out of the Communist Manifesto. Perhaps that is why it was so unpopular everywhere but Wall Street and Washington, D.C. As this author describes, the bailout does look like something Karl Marx would have approved.

In his Communist Manifesto, published in 1848, Karl Marx proposed 10 measures to be implemented after the proletariat takes power, with the aim of centralizing all instruments of production in the hands of the state. Proposal Number Five was to bring about the “centralization of credit in the banks of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly.”

If he were to rise from the dead today, Marx might be delighted to discover that most economists and financial commentators, including many who claim to favour the free market, agree with him.

The author goes on to point out that only the Austrian School of economics realistically opines that the boom cannot go on forever. Interestingly, I have been reading a history and analysis of the Great Depression by Murray N. Rothbard, called America's Great Depression. You can download a PDF copy of the book from the Mises Institute (which embraces the Austrian School of economics) here. Rothbard was (and may still be) with the Mises Institute. The essential premise of the book is that there will always be a boom and bust cycle in the economy and that government intervention can lengthen the boom cycle, but when the bust cycle comes around it will be much worse. That is what we saw with the Great Depression and it looks like that may be what is happening now.

Monday, September 15, 2008

CCBA Institute - September 18 & 19, 2008

The Central California Bankruptcy Association 22nd Annual Institute will be held this week, September 18 & 19. The Institute brings bankruptcy professionals together from all over central California to discuss various bankruptcy issues. You can download the Institute flyer and program here. There is also a golf tournament held in conjunction with the Institute. Check out the website for more information about the Institute and how to join the CCBA.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Goodbye Negative Equity!

One of the changes under the 2005 BAPCPA is that car creditors' claims cannot be valued (i.e., paid only the value of the car or other collateral) if the car was purchased within 910 before the bankruptcy filing. This cut down significantly on the amount of cars that could be valued in Chapter 13.

One problem that came up was the problem of "negative equity," i.e., when a car is traded in and is worth less than what is owed on it, the dealership will often roll the extra debt into the new purchase. So, for example, if you trade in your 2002 car worth $5,000 when you owe $10,000 on it, your new car loan would be $5,000 more than it would have been otherwise. I will frequently see clients with $5,000, $10,000 or even $15,000 in negative equity on a vehicle. The question is whether the "negative equity" can be valued at its true worth (zero) or whether the whole amount of the loan has to be paid.

The Ninth Circuit addressed this question in In re Penrod, adopting the dual status rule. The dual status rule means that the portion of the debt allocable to negative equity may be valued because it is not "purchase money" and the portion of the debt that is not for "negative equity" cannot be valued. This ruling makes the most sense practically, because in most of those situations, the Debtor would not be able to afford the car with negative equity, whereas the Debtor could afford the car if the "negative equity" could be removed from the amount of the debt.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Bankruptcy Filings in Fresno are up 100% YTD

Bankruptcy filings in Fresno are up almost 100% year-to-date over 2007. I know that I am incredibly busy and it looks like everyone else in the bankruptcy field is too. Interestingly, Chapter 7 filings are up 115.7% and Chapter 13 filings are up only 44.1%. This is probably because more people are just letting the house go instead of trying to save it in a 13.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Judges Scrutinize Mortgage Docs, Deny Foreclosures

The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog has an interesting article entitled, "Subprime Legal: Judges Scrutinize Mortgage Docs, Deny Foreclosures." The article addresses one of the most common problems in mortgage lending and more specifically in foreclosures: who owns the note? These notes are transferred around so much, there is a significant question as to who owns the note and as to whether the foreclosing party has the right to be foreclosing on the property. The article also addresses several other common problem with many of these foreclosures. The full text of the article follows:

It’s been about nine months since several federal judges in Ohio issued the
widely-read foreclosure dismissals that shined a light on sloppy paperwork
done by companies that specialize in handling foreclosures.

Since then, the WSJ reports tonight, other judges across the country have
caught on and are carefully scrutinizing mortgage documents filed as part of
foreclosures and dismissing cases based on mistakes they’re finding, which
borrowers might be able to exploit when facing foreclosure. (For another good
read on judges and lawyers working to staunch foreclosure, click here for a
recent NLJ story.)

Among the issues hitting snags among the judges, according to WSJ:

“Backdated” mortgage assignments: Assignments, documents that transfer ownership of the mortgage, are executed after the foreclosure process has begun but state that they are “effective as of” a date prior to the foreclosure action. Some judges are dismissing those cases, saying attempts to retroactively assign the mortgage aren’t valid.

Suspicious multiple hats: Employees for mortgage companies are signing affidavits stating
they are employees of one company, but other mortgage documents say they work at
another firm. In some cases, an employee claims to work for companies on both
sides of a transaction, prompting one skeptical judge to ask for that person’s
work history for the last three years.

Shared office space: In foreclosure filings, one judge has found that numerous mortgage-related companies, including units of Wall Street banks, all claim to share the same address: a suite of a West Palm Beach, Fla., building. “The Court ponders if Suite 100 is the size of
Madison Square Garden to house all of these financial behemoths or if there is a
more nefarious reason for this corporate togetherness,” the judge wrote in a
recent decision.

Brooklyn Crusader: The judge making Madison Square Garden references is Brooklyn’s own Arthur M. Schack (pictured) of Kings County Supreme Court, who has dismissed dozens of foreclosures sua sponte because of shoddy documents or suspicious patterns he notices in the filings. Schack, 63, a former counsel to the MLB Players Association who is known for peppering his rulings with pop culture references such as Bruce Willis movies, says barely any of the foreclosures he has denied eventually are completed.

In one of his foreclosure dismissals, Schack (Indiana, New York Law School) cited the film
“It’s a Wonderful Life” to make the point that homeowners now deal with “large
financial organizations, national and international in scope, motivated primarily by their interest in maximizing profit, and not necessarily by helping people.”

In an interview, Schack, a Brooklyn native, told WSJ: “Taking away someone’s home is a serious matter. I’m a neutral party and in reviewing papers filed with the court, I have to make sure they’re proper.”

Monday, July 28, 2008

Fresno No. 9 Nationally in Foreclosures

According tothis report from, Fresno has the 9th highest foreclosure rate in the nation for the last quarter.

NACTT Mortgages Best Practices

The National Association of Chapter Thirteen Trustees put together a committee of Chapter 13 trustees, mortgage servicers, mortgagees and creditors' and debtors' counsel to come up with best practices for servicing mortgages in Chapter 13. Click here for the NACTT Mortgages Best Practices on the NACTT's website. The best practices are repeated below:


NACTT Mortgage Committee

The NACTT Mortgage Committee is comprised of Chapter 13
trustees, mortgage servicers, mortgagees and creditors' counsel. The committee's
mission is to foster communication between the parties, resolve differences and
to recommend best practices of conduct for all stakeholders. Our goal is to
improve the bankruptcy system. Although the committee recommends the practices
set forth below, we recognize that there may be other acceptable procedures.
Therefore, we remain open to further discussion and review.


servicers/mortgagees include a flat fee cost in the proof of claim for review of
the Chapter 13 plan prior to confirmation and for the preparation of the proof
of claim, it should be reasonable and fairly reflect the attorney's fee

If Servicers/mortgagees include attorney fees for pursuing
relief from stay, such fees should be clearly identified as well as how such
fees are to be paid in any agreed order resolving a Motion for Relief from Stay
or any other matter before the court.

Servicers/mortgagees should
analyze the loan for escrow changes upon the filing of a bankruptcy case and
each year thereafter. A copy of the escrow analysis should be provided to the
debtor and filed with the Bankruptcy Court by the servicers/mortgagee or their
representative each year.

Servicers/mortgagees should not include any
pre petition cost or fees or pre petition negative escrow in any post petition
escrow analysis. These amounts should be included in the prepetiton claim amount
unless the payment of such fee or cost was actually made by the servicer.

Servicers/mortgagees should attach a statement to a formal notice of
payment change outlining all post petition contractual costs and fees not
previously approved by the court and due and owing since the prior escrow
analysis or date of filing whichever is later. This statement need not contain
fees, costs, charges and expenses that are awarded or approved by the Bankruptcy
Court order. In absence of any objection or challenge to such fees, the trustee
should take appropriate steps to cause such fees to be paid as part of Debtor's
Chapter 13 plan.

Servicers/mortgagees should supply and maintain a
contact for debtor's counsel and trustee's for the purpose of restructuring,
modifying a mortgage, or other loss mitigation assistance including a short sale
or deed in lieu of foreclosure. The contact should be an individual or group
with the ability to implement or assess with objective criteria a loss
mitigation modification after filing of a chapter 13 petition with the goal of
keeping the Debtor in the house and the success of the bankruptcy.

Mortgage servicers should provide a dedicated phone line and contact for
Chapter 13 Trustee inquiry use only.

Mortgage servicers should monitor
post petition payments. If the mortgage is paid post petition current then the
servicers/mortgagees should not seek to recover late fees. No late fees should
be recovered or demanded for systemic delay but should be limited to actual
debtor default.

Pre petition payments should be tracked as applied to
pre petition arrears, post petition payments should be tracked as applied to
post petition ongoing mortgage payments.

Servicers/mortgagees should
file a notice and reason of any payment change with the court and provide same
to the Debtor

Servicers are required to file with court a notice of any
protective advances made in reference to a mortgage claim, such as non escrow
insurance premiums or taxes. Such notice should be provided to the debtors and
filed with the court.

Servicers/mortgagees should review the Trustee web
site or NDC for payment discrepancies with their system prior to the filing of a
Motion for Relief from Stay in Trustee pay jurisdictions.

Servicers/mortgagees should review the Trustee web site or NDC at the
close or discharge of the bankruptcy for payment discrepancies with their system
in Trustee pay jurisdictions.

Servicers/mortgagees should clearly
identify if the loan is an escrowed or escrowed loan and break out the monthly
payment consisting of Principal, Interest, Escrow and PMI components.

Servicers/mortgagees should identify nontraditional mortgage loans in
their proof of claims. Loans with options should identify on the proof of claim
the type of loan as well as the various contractual payment options available
during the bankruptcy to the borrower/Debtor.

Trustees should initiate a
communication with mortgage servicers when questions arise in a review of a post
petition escrow analysis.

United States Trustees and Trustee Education
Network should modify the requirements of the financial management class
regarding adjustable rate mortgages, the calculation of mortgage escrows and, in
particular, the potential of increased mortgage payments resulting from
increased taxes, interest rate hikes and/or mortgage premiums.

voucher checks, check stubs or vouchers provided with any other form of payment
contain the following information, except to the extent prevented from doing so
by local rule:

1. The Name of the debtor and case number.

2. The trustee's claim number.

3. The mortgagee's
account number (to the extent provided on the proof of claim).

4. If
the mortgagee account number is not available, e.g. not contained on the proof
of claim, at least one other piece of identifying information e.g., property

5. The amount of the payment.

6. Whether the
payment is for the ongoing mortgage payment or the mortgage arrearage.

7. If for the mortgage arrears, the balance owing on the arrears
claim after application of the payment.

8. If the trustee has set up
a separate claim for post-petition charges of the mortgagee, that the voucher
clearly identify that fact.

9. If any portion of the payment on
arrears is intended to pay interest on the mortgage arrears, the amount of that
interest portion of the payment.

10. If the mortgage is to be paid
off during the bankruptcy under the confirmed plan through payments by the
trustee, e.g., a total debt claim, the portions of each payment which represent
principal and interest, and the balance owing on the claim after application of
the payment.

There is a movement among servicers to redact all but the
last four numbers of the mortgagors' loan numbers on proofs of claim, because
those claims are public records. While mortgage servicers in general want as
much information as possible on the vouchers, the mortgage servicers on the
Working Group felt that if the voucher had the bankruptcy case number, the name
of the debtor and the redacted loan number from their filed claim, they would be
able to post the payment. Using the account number to the extent provided in a
filed proof of claim also insures that trustees are not disclosing information
on their website that is not already disclosed in the public record.

Voucher Narrative re Payments: The Working Group places particular
emphasis on No. 6 above. The voucher should identify if a payment is for the
regular mortgage payment or for the mortgage arrearage in consistent language.
While Chapter 13 trustee disbursement applications focus on the claims to be
paid, mortgage servicer computer systems focus on their mortgagor account
number. Posting of receipts, whether or not the account is in bankruptcy, is
typically handled by a Cash Processing group or department of the mortgage
servicer. Those departments focus on the account number on the voucher and the
narrative on the voucher for that account number to determine if the payment is
for the regular mortgage payment or the mortgage arrearage.

Arrearage Claims: When filing their initial proofs of claim, mortgage servicers
should state their mortgage arrearage up to the date of the filing date of the
bankruptcy petition, unless the plan or trustee indicates otherwise, or local
rule provides otherwise. The Chapter 13 Trustee will use the mortgage arrearage
claim to set up the arrearage balance on the claim, which in turn will show up
as the "balance" on the voucher check, absent objection to the claim.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Thorough Servicer Analysis

In In re Stewart, ___ B.R. ___ 2008 WL 2676961 (Bankr.E.D.La. July 9, 2008) (Westlaw access required), Judge Magner did a thorough review of Wells Fargo's mortgage servicing procedures in bankruptcy. These procedures are probably similar to those of most servicers and are instructive for dealing with mortgage servicers. That analysis is below:

Loan Administration

Ms. Miller explained that Wells Fargo administers 7.7 million home mortgage loans. [FN16] The management or administration of these loans is accomplished through several computer software packages, some owned by Wells Fargo, some licensed from third party vendors. Entries on the loan account are tracked with a licensed computer software platform commonly known as Fidelity Mortgage Servicing Package or Fidelity MSP. Fidelity MSP provides extremely sophisticated computer software for the management of home mortgage loans and is one of the largest providers of this service nationally. When a payment is received on a mortgage loan, it is entered into the Fidelity MSP system and then deposited. Fidelity MSP applies the payment to a borrower's account; in this case, satisfying outstanding fees and costs first.

In this Court's experience, virtually every home mortgage executed in the United States contains provisions that determine when payments are due, when they are considered late, what fees or charges may accrue if late, when a default can be declared, the remedies available on default, and which collection fees or charges are recoverable after default. In addition, most notes and mortgages provide fairly clear directives regarding the application of payments between principal, accrued interest, fees, costs, and amounts due to satisfy insurance and property taxes. Mercifully, most home mortgage loans have relatively standard, predictable language. However, the right to assess certain charges or fees on late payment or default is often at the discretion of the holder of the note. How this discretion is exercised is subject to guidelines not contained in the note or mortgage.

In this Court's opinion, the exercise of that discretion may be impacted by the relationship between the holder of the note and the party that administers its collection. In the present financial market, almost every home mortgage loan is packaged with thousands of other loans and sold to investors assembled on Wall Street. The securitization of mortgage loans allows the original lender to immediately recover the amounts lent, providing it with liquidity and reducing its risk of default. The investors that acquire these bundled loans or portfolios are most often not banks or credit unions, the traditional members of the lending community. Instead, they are investment or brokerage houses; insurance companies; hedge, pension, or mutual funds; and other investment groups. They then hire a loan service provider to administer the loan portfolio.

*6 The securitization of home mortgage loans has divorced the lending community from borrowers. Not only are the new holders of the mortgage notes nontraditional lenders, but a mortgage service provider is a buffer in the relationship between lender and borrower. The holders of notes do not see themselves as lenders, but investors in an asset. They have little interest in the relationship between lender and borrower except as it might affect their return on investment.

Mortgage service providers administer notes for a fee. The terms of their agreements with investors, as well as the guidelines the investors set for administration of the loan, have ramifications for the borrower. Most servicing agreements allow the service provider to charge a flat fee, usually stated as a percentage of the portfolio under administration. All principal and interest payments collected are paid to the note holder. Usually, fees are additional income to the service provider while costs are simply a pass through, or reimbursable items. In addition, servicers invest the "float," or funds held on deposit, and retain earnings on that investment. Therefore, amounts held in escrow or in debtor suspense are an addition source of revenue for the servicer. While a mortgage service provider and note holder's interests are closely aligned, they are not perfectly aligned. It is in a mortgage service provider's interest to collect fees and hold funds, both of which generate additional income for its account. Conversely, a note holder or investor is interested in the collection and application of payments to principal and interest.

Since many fees and charges are imposed at the discretion of the lender and must be "reasonable" under the law, servicing agreements may establish guidelines for the exercise of that discretion. [FN17] In this case, Wells Fargo did not produce its servicing agreement. Therefore, the exact terms of its relationship with Lehman Brothers and the financial incentives available to Wells Fargo are not in evidence.

In any event, Ms. Miller testified that once the guidelines for management of a loan are determined by the loan's investor, Fidelity MSP imports the guidelines into its internal logic. [FN18] For example, if investor guidelines suggest the assessment of a late charge every time a payment is fifteen (15) days past due, the Fidelity MSP system will automatically assess a late charge if payment is not posted to the account within fifteen (15) days of its due date.

Other charges or fees are assessed against the account by virtue of "wrap around" software packages maintained by Wells Fargo. These software packages interface with Fidelity MSP and implement decisions based on their own internal logic. For example, if a borrower is delinquent in making a payment, Wells Fargo's computer system may automatically send a demand letter to the borrower. Guidelines might also recommend a property inspection if a loan is past due. If such an event occurs, the computer system will automatically generate a work order for an inspection, allow the vendor to upload the completed report, generate a check to the vendor for the inspection, and charge the customer's account--all without human intervention.

*7 When a loan is involved in foreclosure, bankruptcy, or other litigation, Wells Fargo manages that loan through its Bankruptcy Department located in Fort Mill, South Carolina. Ms. Miller is the Vice President who oversees this department of 375 people.

The transfer of loans involved in a bankruptcy to Ms. Miller's department begins with America InfoSource ("AIS"), a third party vendor hired by Wells Fargo to provide daily information regarding new bankruptcy filings that may potentially involve Wells Fargo loans. At the inception of this relationship, Wells Fargo supplied AIS with a listing of every credit relationship it held or serviced, as well as certain fields of information (debtor's name, address, social security number, etc.) on each borrower. The information is updated daily as Wells Fargo acquires new relationships and old ones are closed.

AIS scans the electronic databases of all the bankruptcy courts in the country and attempts to match debtors to any of the information supplied by Wells Fargo. If a match is made for one field of information, Wells Fargo is immediately notified. The notification provides Wells Fargo with the debtor's name, address, social security number, the bankruptcy court, case number, chapter type, and judge assigned. Once notified, Wells Fargo verifies that the debtor is a borrower. To verify the "match," Wells Fargo scans the information supplied by AIS against its own records. Ideally, three fields or pieces of information will be verified and matched. [FN19] If a three field match is not secured by Wells Fargo's internal computer system, the system will reject the borrower and a manual match will be attempted. This is one of the few times any human being touches or reviews a loan's electronic record.

Once Wells Fargo's computers have verified the AIS borrower match, the program automatically activates a system within the Fidelity MSP software platform called a Bankruptcy Work Station ("BWS"). This sub-part of Fidelity MSP is allegedly infused with computer logic designed to manage a loan during a pending bankruptcy. The supervision of that loan then falls to Ms. Miller.

Once a borrower's status as a bankruptcy debtor has been confirmed, the Fidelity MSP/BWS automatically advises counsel for Wells Fargo when a loan is referred for legal action. Who is selected to represent Well Fargo is dependent on who owns the loan. If a loan is owned by Wells Fargo, it is automatically referred to one of its national counsel; either Brice or McCalla Raymer. If held by one of the federal agencies, Wells Fargo will refer the loan to a firm on an approved list supplied by the agency. If held by a private investment group, that group can specify counsel or can delegate the responsibility to Wells Fargo as the service provider. If the loan is managed by national counsel, local counsel are retained to physically file pleadings and make court appearances when necessary. Local counsel are not given access to either the electronic files or accounting history but receive all of their information from national counsel. They typically do not have direct client access and may even be prohibited from contacting the service provider or note holder by their retainer agreements. [FN20]

*8 Once the BWS notifies Brice that it has been retained, Brice is given immediate access to Wells Fargo's mainframe computer platform. In addition, the computer automatically searches different parts of Wells Fargo's multiple software packages and compiles a storage file where counsel can obtain all the information necessary to perform his or her duties. For example, when a loan is owned or serviced by Wells Fargo, the documents evidencing the initial loan transaction are kept in pdf format under a software platform called FileNet. FileNet is scanned for copies of the note, mortgage, recordation certificate, and other relevant closing documents. Those electronic files are then assembled in a storage file for counsel's use. The Fidelity MSP system, containing the loan's account history, is open to review by counsel. iClear, another computer program, contains copies of the invoices that represent costs billed to the loan. [FN21]

The first task of counsel, once a bankruptcy is filed, is to prepare a proof of claim. Because counsel has direct access to Wells Fargo's complete loan accounting, as well as the documents that support its debt and security interest, national counsel prepares the proof of claim without ever speaking to a Wells Fargo representative. In fact, Wells Fargo testified that it does not review any proof of claim prior to its filing. Wells Fargo's testimony was that only after filing was the proof of claim reviewed for accuracy. [FN22] Other legal assignments are executed in a similar fashion.

For example, when a loan goes into postpetition default, the BWS automatically notifies legal counsel of this fact. Legal counsel then prepares a motion for relief utilizing information obtained from the Fidelity MSP system and BWS, including attaching any necessary documents to support the motion and the financial allegations of the default. The motion is typically filed without Wells Fargo's input or review. Wells Fargo testified that it does not maintain records of the legal documents filed on its behalf but relies exclusively on counsel for this service.

The logic utilized by the BWS in its decision making process is both detailed, court, and even judge specific. For example, if under local rules, or even local custom of a particular district or judge, a motion for relief may not be filed until the loan is at least ninety (90) days past due, the computer can be adjusted to notify counsel of the need to file a motion for relief when the debtor's account is past due ninety (90) days rather than the typical sixty (60). Other adjustments to the system can be made to eliminate fees or charges prohibited by a particular jurisdiction or judge within a jurisdiction. In summary, Fidelity MSP and BWS allow Wells Fargo to input the individual demands of a particular investor or note holder as well as a court district or even judge.