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Archive for the ‘Income Taxes’ Category

Avoiding Income Tax Interest and Penalties

August 10th, 2020 at 7:00 am

Bankruptcy timing can affect not only whether you must pay a tax debt but also whether you must pay certain tax interest and penalties.


This blog post is in a series about the importance of smart timing of your bankruptcy filing. Today we cover how good bankruptcy timing can prevent you having to pay certain income tax interest and penalties.

Avoiding Income Tax Interest and Penalties by Discharging the Tax Itself

Two weeks ago we discussed how to time a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” appropriately to discharge an income tax debt. “Discharge” means to legally, permanently write off the tax. Then last week we discussed how to discharge an income tax in a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case. When you discharge a tax in these ways what happens to the interest and penalties tied to that tax?

Generally, if you discharge an income tax debt, that also discharges any interest and penalties associated with that tax. That’s the most straightforward way to avoid such tax interest and penalties.

What If the Tax Does Not Qualify for Discharge?

If your tax debt doesn’t meet the timing and other conditions for discharge, what happens to the interest and penalties? That depends on whether you (with the help of your bankruptcy lawyer) file a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 case.

Interest and Penalties on Nondischargeable Tax under Chapter 7

If you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy you continue owing the tax, and the interest and taxes keep accumulating.

You do receive one brief benefit. During the 3-4 months of the bankruptcy procedure the IRS and/or state legally may not collect the tax. The “automatic stay” that stops just about all debt collection activity applies to all your income tax debts. But as soon as the Chapter 7 case is done, the tax collection activity can resume. The interest and penalties continues to accumulate even during your case. And after the case they will continue accumulating as normal until you pay the tax, interest, and penalties in full. So with taxes that don’t qualify for discharge, Chapter 7 does not help with tax interest and penalties.

Interest and Penalties on Nondischargeable Tax under Chapter 13

However, if you file a Chapter 13 case there is some help with tax interest and penalties. This can be true even with a nondischargeable income tax.

In most Chapter 13 cases you do not have to pay any ongoing interest and penalties after filing your case. Through your payment plan you pay the tax over the 3-to-5-year life of your case. But the IRS/state writes off any after-filing accumulating interest and penalties as long as you successfully complete your case. (If you don’t complete your case, the IRS/state tacks on any accumulating interest and penalties to whatever tax you didn’t pay.)

What about the before-Chapter-13-filing interest and penalties? You must pay the interest portion along with the nondischargeable tax that you have to pay.

However you usually don’t have to pay the before-bankruptcy-filing penalty portion in full. Sometimes you don’t have to pay any of it. The tax penalties are a “general unsecured” debt. You generally pay general unsecured debts only as much as you can afford to pay during the life of your Chapter 13 case. This means that you may pay as little as none of the pre-bankruptcy penalties.

Furthermore, in most cases these penalties don’t add a dime to the amount you must pay into your Chapter 13 case. That’s because in most cases you pay what you can afford into the pool of general unsecured debts over the life of your payment plan. A set amount filters down to these debts. So the dollar amount of tax penalties merely reduces how much other general unsecured debts receive. You don’t pay any more. The amount you pay just gets shifted around among these debts.

Exceptions

There are exceptions to the above. Sometimes the amount you pay into your payment plan is driven less by your budget than by non-exempt (unprotected) assets. Then you may need to pay more to your general unsecured debts (which includes the pre-bankruptcy penalties). You may even need to pay them in full—a so-called 100% plan. But that’s rare. Your bankruptcy lawyer will discuss this with you if you have this unusual situation.

What about the Effect of a Recorded Income Tax Lien?

That’s a great question. The recording of an income tax lien before filing a bankruptcy case can definitely create additional headaches for you. This can be true about both the underlying tax itself and the related interest and penalties.

So the simple timing preference is, when possible, file your bankruptcy case before the IRS/state records a tax lien.

The effect of a tax lien depends on whether the tax at issue qualifies for discharge, and whether you file a Chapter 7 or 13 case. We’ll cover these in our blog post next week.

 

Timing Chapter 13 to Discharge Income Taxes

August 3rd, 2020 at 7:00 am

Usually you can discharge income taxes (write them off forever) by waiting long enough to file bankruptcy. Here’s how it works with Chapter 13.


Our blog post of three weeks ago introduced the importance of timing your bankruptcy filing right. We gave a list of 15 examples where timing can make a huge difference. Two weeks we covered the first one, timing bankruptcy to cover as many debts as possible. Last week was about discharging/writing off income taxes, specifically under a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy.” This week is about doing so under Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts.”

How to Time a Chapter 13 Filing to Discharge a Tax?

See our last blog post about the timing rules under Chapter 7. That’s because whether you can discharge an income tax is the same under Chapter 7 and 13. Very briefly, you can discharge an income tax as long as you file your Chapter 13 case both:

  1. at least 3 years after the tax return for that tax was due, and
  2. at least 2 years after that tax return was actually submitted to the IRS or state tax authority.  

See Sections 507(a)(8)(A)(i) and 523(a)(1)(B) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code for these two timing rules.

You and your bankruptcy lawyer will carefully review and apply these rules to see if you can meet them. Your situation may be too urgent to wait long enough. There may be creditor pressures, by the IRS/state tax agency or other unrelated creditors, so you can’t wait. Or there may be other good reasons to file before enough time has passed.

But let’s assume that you find out that you can meet the two timing rules. Also assume that you meet other conditions for discharging the tax. (See last week’s blog post for some other conditions beyond the two timing ones.) You file the Chapter 13 case and the income tax debt qualifies for discharge.

Then what happens? How is the tax dealt with under Chapter 13?

Using Chapter 13 Instead of Chapter 7 to Discharge a Tax

Chapter 7 usually discharges a dischargeable income tax very fast. The moment you file your bankruptcy case the “automatic stay” would protect you from all collection of that tax. Then you would very likely no longer legally owe the tax about 4 months after filing a Chapter 7 case.

Chapter 13 is just as fast at protecting you from tax collection: the “automatic stay” goes immediately into effect. But the discharge of the tax happens only at the end of the case, usually 3 to 5 years later.

Furthermore, often you need to pay some portion of that tax before you can discharge the rest. Not always, but if you have money to spare in your payment plan some will go towards the tax.

Why in the world would you file a Chapter 13 case when it’s so much slower? Why would you when under Chapter 13 you risk paying something on the tax instead of nothing?

Why Discharge Tax through Chapter 13?

The straightforward reason is that Chapter 13 could be much better for you for other reasons. Those other reasons may outweigh the benefit of discharging your dischargeable tax debt quickly and completely.

Chapter 7 and 13 each has tons of potential advantages and disadvantages. Your bankruptcy lawyer’s job is to help you determine whether the other advantages of Chapter 13 outweigh these disadvantages.

What might be some of those advantages?

One example: you may owe some other income tax debt(s) which do not meet the timing conditions for discharge. So these other taxes would not be discharged under either Chapter 7 or 13. In a Chapter 7 case, you’d owe that tax in full immediately upon finishing the case, about 4 months after filing. Interest and penalties would continue accruing. Those tax/interest/penalties may be too large to pay off reasonably through a monthly payment plan with the IRS/state.  It may not qualify for an Offer in Compromise or other settlement. Chapter 13 would enable you to pay it more flexibly, usually without accruing interest and penalties. So, you could well save money and avoid significant risks by handling all of your taxes in a Chapter 13 case.

There are many, many other reasons unrelated to income taxes that Chapter 13 could be worthwhile for you. It could potentially prevent a home foreclosure or vehicle repossession, and then give you a workable way to save the home or vehicle. Chapter 13 can often solve child or spousal support problems much better than Chapter 7. There are many other situations where Chapter 13 gives you extraordinary powers over your debts. So those advantages can make this longer procedure very worthwhile overall.

How Does Chapter 13 Discharge an Income Tax?

Assume again that your tax debt qualifies for discharge, timing-wise and by meeting all the legal conditions. So it can get discharged in your Chapter 13 case.

However, Chapter 13 treats a dischargeable tax differently than under Chapter 7. As mentioned above, the discharge happens at the end of the case usually years later. And you may have to pay something on it before then.

What determines how much, if any, you pay on this tax?

Under Chapter 13 a dischargeable income tax debt is treated like the rest of your “general unsecured” debts. Under your payment plan all such debts receive the same percentage of their total amounts. That percentage may be any amount from 0% to 100% of the debt amount, depending on your budget and other factors.

That’s right: it’s theoretically possible that you’d have to pay 100% of your tax and other debts. But that’s highly unlikely. That only happens if you have enough money in your budget that you can reasonably afford to do so. That’s very rare.

More likely your budget is barely enough for living expenses and to pay special higher-priority debts during your case. That could result in your dischargeable tax debt (and all your “general unsecured” debts) receiving 0%—absolutely nothing.

To make better practical sense of this, let’s look at two situations: First, this “0% plan,” and second, where your tax debt does not increase what you pay to your creditors.

The 0% Payment Plan

As just mentioned, in this kind of Chapter 13 case all your available money goes to living expenses plus special debts. Those special debts are either secured or “priority” ones. These could include home mortgages, vehicle loans, nondischargeable taxes, child and spousal support, and such. The law usually requires you to pay them in full before paying anything to the “general unsecured” debts.  As a result it’s possible that during your 3-to-5-year payment plan there’s no money at all for your “general unsecured” debts. That means that one of those debts, the dischargeable income tax, also receives nothing. That’s called a 0% Chapter 13 plan. (The percentage means the extent to which you’re paying the general unsecured debts.) These 0%cases are not unusual (although there are regional variations).

If you successfully complete a Chapter 13 case, when you do your bankruptcy judge discharges the entire tax. Under a 0% plan, you didn’t pay any of the tax debt during the case. And then after the discharge you don’t have to pay any of it either, foreever.  

Fixed Total Amount Chapter 13 Plans

There are other Chapter 13 payment plans in which your tax debt does not increase the amount you pay. You pay a fixed total amount to your creditors based on the amount you can afford to pay beyond your living expenses.

Often the practical effect of this is that there is some money for your “general unsecured” debts. So it’s not a 0% plan.

But because the amount you pay over the life of the case is a fixed amount, the amount left over for the pool of general unsecured debts, after paying certain secured and priority debts, is a fixed amount as well. That in turn means that all the general unsecured debts have to split up that left over amount. (This is true as long as the total amount of those debts is greater than the amount you can afford to pay. That’s almost always the situation. Otherwise you likely don’t need Chapter 13 help.)

With all the general unsecured debts being paid out of that fixed amount, this means that the total amount of this debt doesn’t matter. If the total debt amount is higher, this just means that you pay each debt a lower percentage.

This means that having a dischargeable tax debt often does not increase the amount you pay.

An Example

Here’s a simple example. Assume that during the life of a 3-year payment plan you expect to have money to pay a total of $3,000 into the pool of general unsecured debts. That’s based on what you can reasonably pay to all your debts, minus what goes to secured and priority debts. Assume also that you have $60,000 in unsecured credit cards and medical debts. This means that the $3,000 you pay would amount to paying 5% of these general unsecured debts. ($3,000 divided by $60,000 equals 5%.) 

Now assume that you also have a $10,000 of dischargeable income tax debt. You add this to the $60,000, making a total of $70,000 of general unsecured debts. Now the $3,000 gets divided among the $70,000 in debts, meaning that now you are only paying 4.3% of those debts ($3,000 divided by $70,000 equals 4.3%.) 

This situation—where you’re paying a fixed amount to the general unsecured debts—is very common. So it’s common that having a dischargeable tax debt actually does not add anything to the amount you pay. That tax debt just reduces the percentage that all the general unsecured debts receive.

 

Timing Bankruptcy to Discharge Income Taxes

July 27th, 2020 at 7:00 am

  

Usually you can discharge income taxes (write them off forever) by waiting to file bankruptcy long enough. Here’s how it works under Chapter 7.

 

Our blog post of two weeks ago introduced the importance of timing your bankruptcy filing right. We gave a list of 15 examples of timing considerations. Last week we started with the first one, timing the filing to cover as many debts as possible. Today it’s about discharging/writing off income taxes, specifically under a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy.”

Here are a few eye-catching facts:

  • It is possible to discharge many income tax debts, so that you do not owe a dime of that tax.
  • You just have to meet a list of conditions.
  • Most, but not all, of those conditions involve the passing of time. You need to wait long enough before filing bankruptcy to permanently discharge a tax debt.
  • If you don’t meet the conditions, bankruptcy does not discharge the tax at all. You owe it in full. If you filed a Chapter 7 case, you have to pay the tax after completing the case.
  • In that situation you’d also have to pay the continuously incurring tax interest and penalties.
  • But if you do meet the conditions, your Chapter 7 case will discharge the entire tax. You will owe nothing after your case is finished (usually only about 4 months after filing it).
  • You will also not owe any of the related tax interest or penalties.
  • There are various additional factors—such as recorded tax liens—that can complicate the situation and the tactics involved.

Timing is Often Crucial

Although there is a list of conditions, often the ones that matter are the ones involving timing. Specifically they pertain to when you file your Chapter 7 case.

Much of the time a Chapter 7 case will discharge an income tax debt if you meet two timing conditions. The date that you and your bankruptcy lawyer file that bankruptcy case must be both:

  1. at least 3 years after the tax return for that tax was due, and
  2. at least 2 years after that tax return was actually submitted to the IRS or state tax authority.  

See Section 507(a)(8)(A)(i) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code for this first timing condition; section 523(a)(1)(B) for the second.

Note: Regarding the first 3-year condition above, add any time given through an extension to file the pertinent tax return. Section 507(a)(8)(A)(i) of the Bankruptcy Code. For example, assume you got the usual 6-month tax return extension from April 15 to October 15 for the pertinent year. Then you don’t start the 3-year time period until that October 15 instead of April 15.

Applying these Timing Rules

These two timing rules will make more sense when applied to an example.

Assume the following. You:

  • owe $10,000 in income taxes for the 2016 tax year, plus a bunch of accruing interest and penalties
  • had asked for a 6-month extension to October 15, 2017 (actually to October 16 since the 15th that year was a Sunday)
  • actually did not submit the tax return until December 1, 2017

If you file a Chapter 7 case before October 16, 2020, you would not discharge the $10,000 tax. You’d continue owing the $10,000 tax, plus the accruing interest and penalties.

However, under many circumstances if you file on or after October 16, 2020 you would discharge all of the $10,000. You would no longer owe any of it, including the interest and penalties.

Why the total difference? Because as of October 16, 2020:

  1. At least 3 years would have passed since the extended tax return due date of October 16, 2017, and also
  2. At least 2 years would have passed since actually submitting the tax return on December 1, 2017.

Other Conditions

Earlier we said that are other conditions to meet besides the two timing ones referred to here. So what are those other conditions that would result in an income tax not being discharged, even after meeting the above 2-year and 3-year conditions?

There are three other conditions or situations to look out for:

  1. Tax Fraud or Evasion:  The Bankruptcy Code says you can’t get a discharge of a tax for which you “made a fraudulent return or willfully attempted in any manner to evade or defeat such tax.” Section 523(a)(1)(C).  The problem is that language is quite vague. So bankruptcy judges interpret this language differently. For example, is it a willful attempt to evade a tax if you don’t submit the tax return when due, even if you submitted it voluntarily a year later? Talk with your bankruptcy lawyer about how your local bankruptcy court interprets this language. 
  2. Income Tax Liens: Once the IRS or state tax agency records a tax lien, that puts a legal cloud over either all your personal or real property, or both. Depending on what you own, that can turn a tax debt that bankruptcy will discharge in full into one that you still have to pay in full or in part. A tax lien creates complications that you need to thoroughly discuss with your bankruptcy lawyer.
  3. Offer in Compromise/Prior Bankruptcy: Have you made an “offer in compromise” to the IRS or state to settle the debt? Have you filed a prior bankruptcy case involving this same tax debt? Under these rather unusual circumstances there are some additional timing rules. Tell your lawyer if either of these circumstances applies to you, in order to meet the special rules.  

Conclusion

Assuming these three special conditions do not apply, and you’ve met the 2-year and 3-year conditions, a Chapter 7 case should discharge your tax debt.

 

Unfiled Tax Returns and Bankruptcy

June 29th, 2020 at 7:00 am

  

If you’re considering filing bankruptcy, should you first prepare and submit any unfiled income tax returns? Should you prioritize paying them? 


Our last two blog posts have been about what you should and should not do before filing bankruptcy. These are important to consider even if you hope to avoid bankruptcy but are sensibly admitting it’s possible.

So two weeks ago we focused on keeping, and not selling or giving up your:

  1. assets
  2. especially any retirement funds
  3. collateral on debts, such as your home, vehicles, or furniture

Last week we discussed whether to take on more debt to buy time and maybe avoid needing to file bankruptcy.

Today we look at whether you should file any unfiled income tax returns, and possibly prioritize paying unpaid income taxes.

The Quick Answer

In general you should:

  1. prepare but not submit your tax returns to the IRS/state before seeing your bankruptcy lawyer;
  2. not hold off on getting advice from a lawyer if you can’t get your tax return(s) prepared beforehand;
  3. avoid paying any income taxes before getting advice about doing so from a lawyer;
  4. if you’ve recently paid income taxes or are being forced to, all the more reason to get legal advice about how to proceed now.

Prepare Tax Returns

There’s a simple reason why it’s good to have any unfiled tax returns prepared before seeing a lawyer. The more information you can provide to your lawyer the more concrete his or her advice to you can be.

Bankruptcy can be a surprising good way to solve your tax problems, in numerous ways. It can virtually always stop tax collection, both forced (garnishments) and voluntary (installment payments). Bankruptcy can sometimes reduce payment of tax interest and penalties. Bankruptcy can buy you time, and protect you while you prioritize who you pay. And under the right conditions bankruptcy can even completely wipe out (“discharge”) an income tax debt.

But as you might expect the interplay between tax law and bankruptcy law can get complicated. For example, whether bankruptcy discharges an income tax debt depends on whether that tax meets some detailed conditions. So the more details about your taxes you bring to your lawyer the more specific the legal advice you’ll receive.

Therefore, if you haven’t prepared any outstanding tax returns, it helps to do so before visiting your lawyer.

But Do Not Submit the Tax Returns

There’s just as simple of a reason not to submit your tax returns to the IRS/state tax authority before seeing your lawyer. Once you submit them you can’t un-submit them.

Of course you are legally compelled to send in your income tax returns. And there’s a legal deadline to do so. And you can submit an amended return if you need to correct the original return.

But submitting a tax return is in effect a legal act which has consequences. For example, it may affect the timing of your bankruptcy filing, and impose otherwise avoidable timing pressure.  

So, when possible, it generally makes sense to see your lawyer before submitting the outstanding tax return(s).

Don’t Delay Getting Legal Advice

Life can get complicated, financial and otherwise. You may have big roadblocks to getting your tax returns prepared. You may not have the necessary information or documents available to do so. Your tax returns may need the help of a tax preparer and you don’t have the money.

However, your financial circumstances may be crying out for bankruptcy and/or other legal advice. You may simply not be able to prepare the tax return(s) beforehand. While doing so would likely be helpful, this should not stop you from getting advice when you need it.

Prioritizing Paying Income Taxes

Every situation is different but, generally, see your bankruptcy lawyer before paying taxes.

Again, obviously you have a legal obligation to pay your income taxes.

However, if you have more debts than you can pay, it’s legitimate to ask which you should pay first. What order should you pay an income tax debt vs. an unpaid home mortgage vs. a late vehicle loan payment?

If you owe more than one income tax, which should you pay first? The IRS or the state? The older or newer one? Can you earmark the payment and should you do so between the tax itself vs. the unpaid interest vs. accrued penalties?  

How does the timing of tax payments affect the timing of the possible bankruptcy filing?

So you can see that there are various fair questions about paying your income taxes when you’re considering bankruptcy. All of these questions, and likely more, would greatly benefit from legal advice.

If Paying Taxes Now

So what if you are making income tax payments now. Consider three scenarios.

First, you’re making agreed monthly installment payments on an older unpaid income tax. You know the IRS/state will come after you hard and fast if you stop paying.

However, the tax you’re paying may qualify for discharge—a complete legal write off. It may make sense to stop paying the monthly payments so you can put that money for better use. You need to determine your game plan and coordinate the timing with your bankruptcy lawyer.

Second, the IRS/state is garnishing your paycheck for an income tax debt. Whether or not that tax debt qualifies for discharge, a bankruptcy filing would stop the garnishments. Clearly you would benefit from learning about how this works, and especially the pertinent timing. Plus of course you need to learn about the different bankruptcy options for your entire financial situation.

Third, you’re paying an older income tax monthly, either voluntarily or by garnishment. As a result you’re not paying any or enough current tax withholding or quarterly estimated payments. As a consequence, you may be paying an older tax debt that bankruptcy would discharge and not paying one that you could not discharge. You may be using your precious money to pay a not-required-to-pay debt instead of one you must pay after bankruptcy. It would certainly make sense to get legal advice to prevent such a less-than-best use of your money.

 

Tax Filing and Payment Extended to July 15

March 23rd, 2020 at 7:00 am

The federal April 15, 2020 tax filing and payment deadlines have been postponed to July 15, 2020.  Also, no interest or penalties accrue. 

 

Federal Income Tax Return Deadline Postponed

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRS has postponed the deadline to file federal income tax returns by 3 months. This was announced (on Twitter, no less!) on Friday, March 20, and then explained in more detail on Saturday.

This tax return postponement applies to all individuals, but also more broadly. It includes every legal “person”:  “an individual, a trust, estate, partnership, association, company or corporation.” IRS Notice 2020-18. So it covers all individuals and businesses.  

Federal Income Tax Payment Due Date Postponed

Just as important, the date that tax payments are due is also postponed from April 15 to July 15, 2020. (The IRS actually announced this two days earlier, on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. IRS Notice 2020-17.)

This applies more broadly than just taxes due for the 2019 tax year. For those paying estimated income taxes quarterly, the payment that was due April 15 is now instead due on July 15, 2020.

There’s no limit to the amount of tax amount postponed. There was a prior maximum amount postponed (in IRS Notice 2020-17) but that maximum has been eliminated. IRS Notice 2020-18, Section III, paragraph 2.

No Interim Interest and Penalties

Since taxes previously due on April 15 are now due on July 15, 2020, no interest or penalties will accrue during those 3 months. As the official Notice states:

the period beginning on April 15, 2020, and ending on July 15, 2020, will be disregarded in the calculation of any interest, penalty, or addition to tax for failure to file the Federal income tax returns or to pay the Federal income taxes postponed by this notice. Interest, penalties, and additions to tax… will begin to accrue on July 16, 2020.

IRS Notice 2020-18, Section III, paragraph 5.

No Extension Needed

This postponement of tax returns and tax payments is automatic. You don’t need to file any extension forms.

If you’ll need more time past July 15, the IRS says:

Individual taxpayers who need additional time to file beyond the July 15 deadline can request a filing extension by filing Form 4868 through their tax professional, tax software or using the Free File link on IRS.gov. Businesses who need additional time must file Form 7004.

IR-2020-58.

Tax Refunds Not Affected?

You may well be expecting a tax refund and so want to file as soon as possible. The IRS is encouraging you to do so:

The IRS urges taxpayers who are due a refund to file as soon as possible. Most tax refunds are still being issued within 21 days.

IR-2020-58. If you need your refund, the pandemic makes it all the more important to file as soon as possible.

ONLY April 15, 2020 Deadlines Affected

Things are changing fast, but at the moment this postponement does not apply to any other deadlines. For example, there’s no current extension for the March 16, 2020 deadline for corporate tax returns for tax year 2019 or the May 15, 2020 deadline for tax-exempt organizations. Also, the regular filing/payment date of July 15, 2020 still applies for quarterly filers. Again, these may also change.

State Income Tax Deadlines

Many states with income taxes have already matched the IRS’s postponement of tax returns and payments. For example:

  • California had earlier postponed to June 15 but extended to July 15 to match the IRS.
  • New Jersey’s legislature unanimously passed a bill last week to the likely same effect.
  • Montana’s governor on Friday postponed state filing and payment deadlines to April 15.
  • Arizona’s governor and then its Dept. of Revenue postponed the April deadlines to July.

It’s reasonable to believe that all or most states will follow the IRS’ lead, and do so quickly. So, please check with your own state’s taxing authority for updates.

 

A Chapter 13 Plan to Pay Income Tax

December 30th, 2019 at 8:00 am

Here’s an example of a Chapter 13 payment plan to pay income tax, showing how you pay what you can afford and avoid some interest, penalties. 

 

Today we put the facts of last week’s blog post into a Chapter 13 plan, showing how it actually works. You’ll see how Chapter 13 saves you money and avoids stress as you pay off your priority income taxes.

The Example: The Tax, Interest, and Penalties

Assume you owe $10,000 to the IRS for income taxes from the 2016 tax year. That’s for the tax alone without the penalties and interest. Plus you owe interest of $1,200 (currently 5% annually), $2,000 for a failure-to-file penalty (which the IRS assesses  at 5% per month of being late), and $1,650 for a failure-to-pay penalty (calculated at 0.5% per month). So including the current interest of $1,200 and a total of $3,650 in penalties this $10,000 tax has turned into a total debt to the IRS of $14,850. And the interest and failure-to-pay penalty just keep on accruing.

As we showed two weeks ago, this relatively recent $10,000 income tax itself can’t be discharged (written off) in bankruptcy. You’d have to figure out a way to pay it after completing a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case. In a Chapter 13 case you pay that amount through your court-approved payment plan.

The Tax and Interest vs. the Penalties

In either a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 case the $1,200 in accrued interest has to be paid in full as well. The interest continues accruing nonstop during and after a Chapter 7 case. The difference is that interest effectively stops accruing under Chapter 13. You don’t have to pay any interest beyond the case filing date as long as you successfully complete your case.

The situation is usually the same with any penalties that accrue beyond the bankruptcy case filing date. Under Chapter 7 the penalties continue to accrue, during the case and after it’s completed. Penalties keep getting added on until the tax is paid in full. But under Chapter 13 the penalties generally stop accruing. This is true as long as the IRS did not record a lien on this specific tax before you filed the Chapter 13 case.  (Prior-recorded tax liens create a number of complications that we don’t get into here.)

So, in a Chapter 7 case (or outside of bankruptcy altogether) you’d have to pay the full $14,850 of tax/interest/penalties. Plus the interest and penalties would continue to accrue until you finished paying off the entire debt. If you’d pay it off slowly in an extended monthly payment plan, the additional interest and penalties would be substantial. Conceivably you could end up paying around $20,000 for the $10,000 tax.

In contrast, in a Chapter 13 case you may only pay the $10,000 tax plus prior-accrued $1,200 of interest. Assuming no tax lien and a successfully completed 0% Chapter 13 case, you’d be paying about $11,200 instead of as much as $20,000. (In a 0% case there’s no money for the general unsecured debts.)

The Chapter 13 Plan

To keep this explanation as straightforward as possible, assume you owe this IRS tax debt and only other simple debts. That is, all your other debts are “general unsecured” ones. They are not secured—such as a vehicle loan, home mortgage, and a debt with any other collateral. They are not special, priority debts like unpaid child support or other recent tax debts. Chapter 13 is actually often very good at handling multiple secured and priority debts. In fact it’s often the very best tool if your situation is complicated with such other tough debts. But for the sake of this example we focus on how Chapter 13 handles this single income tax debt.

So assume you have a lot of medical bills, credit cards, and/or other general unsecured debts—say $90,000 total. Your prior accrued income tax penalties of $3,650 are also general unsecured debts, so now the total is $93,650. This plus the 2016 tax-plus-interest amount of $11,200 means you have just under $105,000 in debt. Here’s how a Chapter 13 plan with these debts could look like.

You and your bankruptcy lawyer would put together your monthly budget. Let’s say that after subtracting you and family’s reasonable living expenses from your monthly income, you’d have $385 per month left in “disposable income.” That would not even come close to paying monthly payments on your $105,000 or so of debt.

The Great Result Here

But this $385 amount would be enough—just enough—to pay off your IRS debt in full in just 3 years. $385 for 36 months is enough to pay off the $10,000 base tax, plus the $1,200 in already accrued interest. It would also pay a relatively modest amount of Chapter 13 trustee’s fees (generally a set percentage of whatever you pay into your payment plan) and your own attorney’s fees (whatever you didn’t pay before filing your case). The law usually allows (indeed requires) these “administrative costs” to get paid before the general unsecured debts receive anything.

So in this example $385 per month for 36 months would pay off the $11,200 priority portion of your tax debt. ($10,000 + $1,200.) But beyond that there would not be any money for the general unsecured debts. This means there would be nothing for the $3,850 in prior accrued tax penalties.

As a result all of your “disposable income” during the 3 years of the plan would go just to pay the tax and prior interest. (Plus the mandatory “administrative costs.”)  Then after the 36th month of payments, your Chapter 13 plan would be finished. At that point all of your general unsecured debts would be legally discharged. This includes the $3,850 in prior tax penalties. In addition, the IRS would then wipe off its books any penalties and interest that would have accrued since the date of your Chapter 13 filing.

After only paying the $10,000 tax plus $1,200 in prior interest, you’d owe the IRS nothing. You’d also be free and clear of all the rest of your debts. After paying only as much as your budget allowed for 3 years, you’d have a completely fresh financial start.

 

Paying Income Taxes through Chapter 13

December 23rd, 2019 at 8:00 am

Chapter 13’s advantages in paying off your priority income taxes become clearer when you see what you don’t have to pay.

 

Last week we got into the advantages of paying priority income taxes through a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case. Those are the usually-recent income taxes which cannot be written off (“discharged”) in bankruptcy. Today we show more clearly how Chapter 13 can be tremendously helpful with income taxes.

The Example: The Tax Breakdown

This example expands on one we introduced last week. Assume that you owe $10,000 to the IRS for income taxes from the 2016 tax year.

In addition there’s a failure-to-file penalty of $2,000 for filing 4 months late without getting an extension. The IRS assesses that penalty  at 5% per month of being late. So here, 4 months at $500 per month = $2,000.

Plus there’s a failure-to-pay penalty of $1,650. That’s calculated at 0.05% each calendar month or partial month that the tax remains unpaid. So here, 33 months or partial months from the April 2017 payment due date to December 2019, at $50 per month = $1,650. (Note that this penalty is reduced to 0.025% per month if you’re in an IRS payment plan.)

You also owe interest on the unpaid tax. It’s more complicated to calculate because the rate changes. It’s been at 5% per year since April 1, 2018 and 4% for two years before that. Plus it compounds daily. To keep it simple, assume for this example that $1,200 of interest has accrued on the $10,000 tax owed.

So combining these, assume you owe $10,000 in 2016 income tax, plus $3,650 in penalties ($2,000 + $1,650), plus $1,200 in interest, a total of $14,850 owed to the IRS for this tax year.

The Tax and Interest vs. the Penalties

1. Accrued interest. If an income tax does not qualify for discharge (under the rules discussed last week), neither does the interest. So during a Chapter 13 case you’d have to pay the tax and the interest (accrued up to the date of bankruptcy) in full. In our example that’s the $10,000 in straight tax plus the $1,650 of interest, or $11,650.

2. Accrued penalties. But the accrued penalties are quite different. These are usually not treated as priority debt but rather as general unsecured debt. (This assumes there’s no recorded tax lien on the tax, which could make the debt partly or fully secured.) In a Chapter 13 case you pay general unsecured debt only to the extent you can afford to do so. This is AFTER paying all priority and appropriate secured debts. Often you don’t have to pay general unsecured debts, including tax penalties, much. It’s not uncommon that you pay nothing.

In our example the $3,650 in penalties is general unsecured debt. So during the course of your 3-to-5-year case you pay this portion only as much as you can afford. You may pay nothing.

3. Ongoing interest and penalties. Usually you don’t pay any ongoing interest or penalties on the tax during the Chapter 13 case. The IRS continues to track it. But as long as you finish the case successfully you will not have to pay any of it. This lack of ongoing interest for 3 to 5 years saves you a lot of money. It also often enables you to end your case more quickly.

Filing the Chapter 13 Case

Now assume you filed a bankruptcy case on December 10, 2019. You were in a hurry to file because the IRS was threatening to garnish your paycheck. The 2016 income tax is not discharged in bankruptcy because it’s  less than 3 years from the tax return filing deadline of April 15, 2017 and the December 10, 2019 filing date.

If you filed a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” that would have provided only limited help. It would have stopped the IRS’s garnishment threat for 3 or 4 months while the Chapter 7 case was active. Then if discharging your other debts would free up enough cash flow so that you could reliably get on an installment payment plan with the IRS to pay off the $14,850 reasonably quickly, then Chapter 7 might make sense.

But that’s a big “if” which doesn’t happen often in the real world.  And even if this scenario were possible, you’d likely pay much more than under Chapter 13. After a Chapter 7 case, you’d have to pay the $3,650 in accrued penalties in full (instead of only in part or not at all under Chapter 13). Interest, and the failure-to-pay penalty, would continue accruing non-stop, until paid off. This adds to the amount you eventually have to pay. Each time you’d make a payment, part would go to that month’s new interest and penalties. So you have to keep paying longer.

Chapter 13 Instead

We’ve explained why his situation should play out much better under Chapter 13. But we’ll show how it actually works over the course of a payment plan in our blog post next week.

 

Priority Income Tax Debts under Chapter 13

December 16th, 2019 at 8:00 am

Chapter 13 gives you huge advantages for paying off your priority income tax debts. You’re protected while you pay what you can afford.


Last week we discussed the advantages of paying priority debts through a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case. We referred to recent income taxes as one of the most important kinds of priority debt. Today we show how Chapter 13 can greatly help you take care of recent income tax debts.

Recent Income Taxes Can’t Be Discharged

The law treats some, usually more recent, income tax debts very differently than other, usually older, income tax debts. Generally, new income taxes are “priority” debts and can’t be discharged (written off) in bankruptcy.

There are two conditions determining whether a tax debt can be discharged. (There are a few other conditions but they are not very common so we don’t address them here.) Bankruptcy does NOT discharge an income tax debt:

1. if the tax return for that tax debt was legally due less than 3 years before you file your bankruptcy case (after adding the time for any tax return-filing extensions) U.S. Bankruptcy Code Section 507(a)(8)(A)(i).

OR

2. if you actually submitted the tax return to the IRS/state less than 2 years before you file the bankruptcy case. Bankruptcy Code Section 523(a)(1)(B)(ii).

Two Examples

Assume you filed a bankruptcy case on December 10, 2019. You owe income taxes for the 2017 tax year. The tax return for that tax was due on April 17, 2018 (because of a weekend and holiday). (This assumes no tax return filing extension.) That’s much less than 3 years before the December 1, 2019 bankruptcy filing date. So, no discharge of the 2017 tax debt, because of the first 3-year condition above.

As for the second condition above, assume again that you filed your bankruptcy case on December 10, 2019.  This time change the facts so that you submitted the tax return late for the 2015 taxes, on October 1, 2018. That’s less than two years before the December 10, 2019 bankruptcy filing date. So because of the second condition above, taxes due for 2015 would not get discharged in bankruptcy

Meeting either of the two conditions makes the tax debt not dischargeable. In the second example immediately above, more than 3 years had passed since the deadline to submit the tax return. (The 2015 tax return was due on or about April 15, 2016.) But less than two years had passed since the actual submission of the tax return. So, no discharge of the tax debt.

With no discharge, you would have to pay that income tax debt after finishing a Chapter 7 case. But there are advantages of paying this priority debt in a Chapter 13 case.

Advantages of Paying Priority Income Tax Debts in Chapter 13

Under Chapter 13:

  1. You are protected from aggressive collection by the IRS/state not for 3-4 months as in Chapter 7 but rather 3-5 years.
  2. This includes preventing any new recorded tax liens, and getting out of any installment payment plans.
  3. The amount you pay monthly to all your creditors, including the priority tax, is based on your actual budget. It’s not based on the often unreasonable requirements of the IRS/state.
  4. The amount your priority tax gets paid each month (if any) among your other debts is flexible. You do have to pay all of the priority tax debt(s) by the time you finish your Chapter 13 case. That’s up to a maximum 5 years. But other more urgent debts (such as catching up on a home mortgage) can often get paid ahead of the taxes.
  5. Usually you don’t pay any ongoing interest or penalties on the tax during the Chapter 13 case. That takes away the need to pay it quickly. Plus the lack of additional interest and penalties significantly reduces the amount needed to pay off the tax debt.
  6. If the IRS/state recorded a tax lien against your home or other assets before you filed bankruptcy, Chapter 13 provides a very efficient and favorable forum to value and pay off that secured portion of the priority debt.

 

Avoid Income Tax Liens with Chapter 13

September 16th, 2019 at 7:00 am

Chapter 13 can prevent income tax liens on dischargeable taxes. But the discharge takes years, and you may have to pay part of that tax.  

 

Two weeks ago we showed how the filing of a bankruptcy case stops the recording of an income tax lien.  A bankruptcy filing imposes the “automatic stay.” That law makes it illegal for the IRS or state tax agency to record a tax lien. (See Section 362(a)(4) and (5) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code forbidding the creating or enforcing of a lien.) That’s true whether your lawyer files a “straight bankruptcy” Chapter 7 case or an “adjustment of debts” Chapter 13 one.

Then last week we showed how this works specifically in a Chapter 7 case. IF the tax meets all of the conditions for discharge (legal write-off), then your Chapter 7 filing would prevent a tax lien, discharge the tax debt, and forever avoid a tax lien on that tax.

But how about in a Chapter 13 case? We know it would also stop an income tax lien recording, but then what would happen? Which would be better, Chapter 7 or 13?

Dischargeable Tax Debts under Chapter 13 

Assume again that the tax debt at issue meets the conditions for discharge. That tax would get discharged at the end of a Chapter 13 case, like in a Chapter 7 case. But there are two big differences.

Discharge of the Tax Debt Takes Much, Much Longer

First, that discharge of the tax debt would not happened within about 4 months as it would in most Chapter 7 cases. Instead it would happen usually 3 to 5 years later, the length of most Chapter 13 cases.  The automatic stay protection usually lasts throughout that time. So the IRS/state could take no tax collection actions in the meantime, including the recording of a tax lien.

But such a long period of time may allow problems to arise preventing the completion of your case. If you don’t successfully complete a Chapter 13 case the discharge doesn’t go into effect. So there is more risk that an otherwise dischargeable tax debt ends up not discharged. If the tax doesn’t get discharged, the IRS/state could record a tax lien as soon as you were no longer in your Chapter 13 case.

You May Have to Pay on that Tax

Second, under Chapter 13 you could pay part of the dischargeable income tax debt during your case. You generally pay some of your debts through a monthly payment plan. This may include some of your dischargeable tax debt. In a Chapter 7 case, in contrast, usually you pay nothing on a dischargeable tax debt.

Whether you would pay anything on such a tax under Chapter 13, and how much, depends on many factors. These factors focus on the nature and amount of your other debts, and on your income and living expenses. Often, you actually don’t pay anything more in a Chapter 13 case if you have a dischargeable tax debt than if you don’t owe that tax. That’s because you often pay a set amount towards all your debts based on what you can afford. Whatever you may pay towards a dischargeable tax would otherwise have just gone towards your other debts. However, in general under Chapter 13 there’s some risk that you’d pay something on a tax debt instead of nothing.  

The Bottom Line

It is worth emphasizing that if you successfully complete your Chapter 13 case, a dischargeable tax will get discharged. So you would no longer owe anything on it. So the IRS/state would not be able to record a tax lien on it, just like under Chapter 7.

How about a Tax that Can’t Be Discharged?

What if the income tax at issue does not meet the conditions for discharge? A Chapter 7 or 13 filing would stop the recording of a tax lien, at least temporarily. But what happens then? Is Chapter 7 or 13 better in this situation for permanently stopping a tax lien? We’ll cover this next week.

 

Avoid Income Tax Liens with Chapter 7

September 9th, 2019 at 7:00 am

Chapter 7 can prevent future income tax lien recordings against your home, if the tax is truly dischargeable and you have a no-asset case. 


Last week’s blog post was about filing bankruptcy to prevent the IRS/state from recording income tax liens on your home. The “automatic stay”—bankruptcy’s broad freeze of creditor collection actions—stops tax lien recordings immediately when you file your case. To repeat what we said last week:

Federal law is crystal clear that filing bankruptcy stops and prevents “any act to create, perfect, or enforce any lien” against your property. Section 362(a)(4 and 5) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. The IRS and the state tax agencies do not dispute this. They cannot record a tax lien against your home or anything you own once you file bankruptcy.

But how this works is quite different under Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” and under Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts.” Today we talk about filing Chapter 7 to stop tax liens, next week about Chapter 13.

The Chapter 7 Advantages

The primary benefit of Chapter 7 is speed. Assume you have a tax debt that meets the qualifications for discharge (legal write-off). (See our earlier blog post titled Bankruptcy Writes Off (Some) Income Taxes.)  Most Chapter 7 cases take 3-4 months from filing to completion. Most Chapter 13 cases take 3-5 years. If you have a tax debt that you are able to discharge, doing so quickly makes lots of sense. Chapter 7 is your likely answer.

Another big benefit: Chapter 7 is much more likely to discharge the tax debt without you having to pay any of it. Most Chapter 7 cases are “no asset” ones. This means that all of your assets are “exempt”—protected from liquidation by the Chapter 7 trustee. This usually means that your “general unsecured” debts would get discharged and be paid nothing. A dischargeable income tax debt is a general unsecured debt. So Chapter 7 would usually discharge the tax debt in full, without paying anything on it. (This assumes that you filed the Chapter 7 case before the IRS/state recorded a tax lien. That recording would turn the tax debt into a secured one, which you very much want to avoid.)

Under Chapter 13, in contrast, there is a significant risk that you would have to pay something on a dischargeable tax debt.  We’ll explain how this works in the next blog post. Avoiding that risk, and discharging the tax in just a few months: these both make Chapter 7 a very tempting option.

The Chapter 7 Disadvantage

The potential downside of Chapter 7 is that the automatic stay protection only lasts a short time. You are protected from the IRS’/state’s power to record a tax lien only during the length of the Chapter 7 case. Section 362(c)(2)(A) of the Bankruptcy Code says that the automatic stay ends when the case is closed. Again, that case closure usually happens only 3 or 4 months after your bankruptcy lawyer files your case.

However, IF the tax debt at issue definitely meets all the qualifying factors for discharge, this is NOT a problem. Once bankruptcy discharges any debt, the creditor may no longer take any collection action on it. Section 524(a)(2) of the Bankruptcy Code make any “act… to collect” a discharged debt illegal. This applies to the IRS and state tax agencies just like any other creditor. So, as long as the tax debt at issue will truly be discharged in your Chapter 7 case, you don’t need to worry about any future tax lien on that discharged debt. Clearly, it’s crucial that you have a competent and conscientious bankruptcy lawyer to determine whether your tax is truly dischargeable. If so, then you can rely on Chapter 7 to prevent the recording of a tax lien, discharge that tax debt, and give you freedom forever from a tax lien on that tax.

 

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