The Wells Fargo Home Projects Card and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy
The Wells Fargo Home Projects Card is issued differently than most credit cards. As far as I can tell, they don’t market it directly to consumers. Instead, they get home improvement businesses to sign people up. That way Wells Fargo finances the home improvement and the business gets paid. Makes sense to me.
What doesn’t make sense to me is this: Wells Fargo uses that card to butt in line ahead of other credit card creditors in Chapter 13 bankruptcy. That’s because Wells Fargo claims to be a secured creditor. Secured creditors have to be paid ahead of regular credit cards in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy payment plan.
What’s a Secured Creditor?
What’s a secured creditor? A secured creditor is a creditor with a “security interest.” UCC § 9-102(a)(73). The Wells Fargo Home Projects card agreement claims they have a security interest: “You grant us a purchase-money security interest under the Uniform Commercial Code in the goods purchased on your Account.”
What’s a security interest? Your car finance company has a security interest in your car. The car finance company has a lien attached to the title of your car. If you don’t pay; they can come get it. (Bankruptcy clears your personal liability–you don’t have to pay. But the car still has to pay.)
Consumer goods–something like a washing machine–don’t have a title. But the people who finance them are still have a security interest. They are secured automatically. UCC § 9-309(1). Automatically, as long as you sign a paper with a description of the washing machine, so it can be reasonably identified.
Years ago Sears was very aggressive asserting their right to payment after bankruptcy on things like washing machines. So aggressive that they ended up getting hit with multi-million dollar sanctions by the bankruptcy court in Massachusetts. Conley v Sears 222 BR 181. D Mass 1998. A few years later, Sears got out of the business of issuing their own credit cards.
Wells Fargo though isn’t claiming a security interest in a car, or in a washing machine. In the cases I’ve seen, they claim a security interest in “trim,” in “replacement,” in “remodeling,” and most often in “items purchased.”
I call BS on the Wells Fargo Home Projects Card
I call BS on Wells Fargo. These come nowhere near the legal requirement that the consumer sign an agreement that provides a description of the collateral. UCC § 9-203(b)(3)(A). “Items purchased” could be anything. That’s not a description. By law, it’s not a description unless it “reasonably identifies what is described.” UCC § 9-108(a).
Second, a security interest does not exist in “ordinary building materials” once they become part of the building. Trim obviously becomes part of the building. UCC § 9-334(a).
On their website, Wells Fargo tells home improvement businesses what kinds of things they finance. Here’s the list.
Flooring Siding Windows/Doors
Remodeling Roofing HVAC
Doors and HVAC are a gray area. Are they part of the building, or not? Could go either way. But Wells Fargo can never be secured in flooring (once it’s installed, of course.) Or siding. Or windows, or remodeling, or roofing.
It looked to me like Wells Fargo always claims a legal right that they hardly ever actually have.
Wells Fargo Caved In
In the case of Merida Mejicanos, 21-10600-KHK, Wells Fargo Home Projects claimed a security interest in “trim” and “door replacement.” I objected, and privately dared them to come in and fight. They caved. Without admitting they were wrong, they dropped their claim. They said they wanted to avoid “the risk of further litigation.”
The big risk of course is that the judge would write that they were wrong–and other lawyers and judges would read it.