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Archive for the ‘income tax lien’ tag

The Surprising Benefits: Chapter 13 Handles an Income Tax Lien on a Tax that Can’t Be Discharged

August 28th, 2018 at 7:00 am

Chapter 13 can be the best way to deal with a nondischargeable tax debt with a recorded lien: it buys more time, protection, and flexibility.

Last week we discussed how Chapter 7 handles a recorded tax lien on a tax that bankruptcy CAN’T discharge. The tax debt already can’t be discharged (legally written off in bankruptcy). So you can’t get out of paying it. The prior recording of a tax lien just adds another reason you have to pay the tax. If you fail to pay the IRS/state can take your assets that are subject to the recorded tax lien.

Filing a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case can be a better way to handle such a tax debt than a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” one.

Buys Time  

Whether you file under Chapter 13 or Chapter 7 does not affect whether you must pay this tax. But filing a Chapter 13 case can often buy you more time.

After completing a Chapter 7 case you must pay the not-dischargeable tax as fast as the IRS/state demands. Otherwise all the powerful tax collection tools can be used against you. With a recorded tax lien already on your real and/or personal property, the IRS/state has even more leverage against you.

What if you can’t pay the tax as fast as demanded? Among other things the IRS/state could garnish your wages and/or bank accounts, and seize your property.

Chapter 13 could prevent all of that because you’d be given as much as 5 years to pay the tax. You and your bankruptcy lawyer would incorporate that tax debt into your Chapter 13 payment plan. You’d pay the IRS/state along with any other special debts that you must pay. Often, you’d pay only a small portion of your remaining debts. Sometimes you’d pay nothing on such debts. As a result you can focus your financial energies for 5 years on your tax debt.

Buys Protection

During that 5 years (which can be as short as 3 years), your paycheck, your checking/savings and other financial accounts, and your property are protected. Bankruptcy’s valuable “automatic stay” protection from collection lasts only 3-4 months in a Chapter 7 case. But this protection lasts the full 3-to-5 years of your Chapter 13 case. The peace of mind that comes from this extended protection is often invaluable.

Buys Flexibility

Sometimes what you need more than time is flexibility in how you pay a tax debt.

You may have some other even higher-priority debt that your financial future depends on. If you’re behind on a vehicle loan you may need to catch up so you’ll have transportation to your job. Or, if you’re late on child support catching up may be crucial to avoiding wage garnishment. Chapter 13 can let you pay some debts ahead of taxes, even nondischargeable taxes with a recorded tax lien.

Or if you can’t pay the taxes until some event in the future, Chapter 13 can buy you that flexibility. The event can even be a few years into the future. For example, if you plan on selling your house and moving away in two years, say, after a child graduates from high school, you may well be able to delay paying all or most of the tax debt until that house sale.

Conclusion

Chapter 13 can be a much better way to deal with a nondischargeable tax debt with a recorded lien. It often gives you more time to pay it, protects you many times longer than Chapter 7, and gives you flexibility that could be crucial in your unique circumstances.

 

The Surprising Benefits: Chapter 13 Stops the Recording of an Income Tax Lien

July 30th, 2018 at 7:00 am

Chapter 7 and 13 can both prevent the recording of a tax lien. But if the tax qualifies for discharge Chapter 7 is quicker and less risky. 

 

Last week we showed how detrimental the recording of an income tax lien can be for you. It can turn a tax that you could fully discharge (legally write off in bankruptcy) into one you’d have to fully pay. We showed how Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” could prevent recording of the tax lien and could discharge the tax.

How about a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case? Would filing one also stop an income tax lien recording?  If so, what would happen to that tax debt?

Chapter 13’s Automatic Stay

The filing of a Chapter 13 case stops the recording of a tax lien by the IRS or state just like a Chapter 7 would. Any voluntarily filed bankruptcy case by a person entitled to file that case imposes the “automatic stay” against almost all creditor collection activities against that person and his or her property. (See Sections 301 and 362(a)  of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.) Those “stayed” or stopped activities specifically include “any act to create, perfect, or enforce” a lien. (See Section 362(a)(4) and (5).)

So filing under Chapter 13 stops a tax lien recording just as fast and just as well a Chapter 7 would.

But Would Chapter 13 Be Better than Chapter 7?

That depends. It depends at the outset on whether the tax is one that qualifies for discharge. If it does qualify (mostly by being old enough) then a Chapter 7 is actually often better.

Under Chapter 7 the automatic stay protection lasts only the 3-4 months that the case is active.  But that’s long enough since the discharge of the tax debt would happen just before the case was closed. Once the tax debt is discharged the IRS/state could no longer do anything to collect that tax. It would certainly have no further ability to record a tax lien on that tax.

What would happen in this situation under Chapter 13, with a tax debt that qualifies for discharge? It would get discharged like under Chapter 7, but with two big differences.

First, the discharge would happened not 3-4 months after case filing but usually 3 to 5 years later.  The automatic stay protection usually lasts throughout that time, preventing tax collection, including the recording of a tax lien. But that long period of time under Chapter 13 does create more opportunities for things to go wrong. That’s all the more true because throughout that time you have various obligations, such as to make monthly Chapter 13 plan payments. If for any reason you don’t successfully complete your Chapter 13 case, the otherwise dischargeable tax debt still won’t get discharged.

Second, under Chapter 13 you may have to pay part of the tax debt before it is discharged. This is in contrast to usually paying nothing on it under Chapter 7. (This assumes that you’d have a “no-asset” Chapter 7 case—in which all of your assets would be “exempt”, protected.) Whether  you’d pay anything on a dischargeable tax debt in a Chapter 13 case, and if so how much, depends on many factors, mostly the nature and amount of your other debts and your income and expenses. But why risk paying something on a tax debt under Chapter 13 if you wouldn’t have to pay anything under Chapter 7?

So Chapter 7 Is Usually Better at Dealing with a Dischargeable Tax Debt?

The answer is likely “yes” if you focus only on this one part of your financial life.

But you may have other reasons to file a Chapter 13 case. For example, you may owe a more recent income tax debt that does not qualify for discharge, in addition to the one that does qualify. Chapter 13 provides a number of significant advantages in dealing with the nondischargeable tax. These could make Chapter 13 much better for you overall.

Or you may have considerations nothing to do with taxes, such as being behind on a home mortgage, a vehicle loan, or child support. Chapter 13 gives you huge advantages with each of these kinds of debts. Your bankruptcy lawyer and you will sort out all the advantages and disadvantages of each legal option to choose the best one.

 

A Dozen Surprising Benefits of Bankruptcy

March 19th, 2018 at 7:00 am

Bankruptcy can go beyond giving you immediate and long-term relief from your debts. It comes with many other surprising benefits. 

 

The next 12 blog posts will be about some of the most powerful and surprising benefits of bankruptcy.

You’re likely considering bankruptcy because you’re financially overwhelmed and need relief. You need immediate relief from debt collection pressures. You need long-term relief from having to pay debts you can’t handle. Bankruptcy provides that immediate and long-term relief.

But bankruptcy can often also give you some other rather amazing benefits, beyond the basic relief you expect. The next dozen weekly blog posts will give you details about the following benefits:

1. Get Back Money Recently Paid to a Creditor

Through “preference” law you could get back money you’ve recently paid to a creditor—paid either voluntarily or not.  

2. Undo Judgment Liens on Your Home

Through judgment lien “avoidance” you can often permanently remove a judgment lien, a tremendous practical benefit.   

3. Get Back Your Driver’s License after an Unpaid Judgment

Reinstate your license if you lost it by not paying a debt from an uninsured or underinsured motor vehicle accident.

4. Reinstate Your Driver’s License from Failing to Pay Tickets

Reinstate your license if it had been suspended for unpaid traffic infractions.

5. Get Back Your Just-Repossessed Vehicle

Filing bankruptcy not only prevents vehicle repossession; it may be able to get your vehicle back to you after it’s already been repossessed.

6. Get Out of an Unaffordable Payment Plan with the IRS/State

Bankruptcy comes with a surprising array of tools to use against your tax debts, allowing you to prevent or get you out of an onerous monthly payment plan.

7. Prevent Debt Collections from Re-Starting after Being “Stayed”

Bankruptcy doesn’t stop or only temporarily stops certain select debts from being collected—such as child/spousal support arrearage, recent income taxes, student loans, and debts incurred through fraud. But there are tools bankruptcy provides for resolving special debts like these permanently.

8. Prevent an Income Tax Lien Recording and Its Potentially Huge Damage

An income tax lien can turn a debt that could be discharged—permanently written off—into a debt that you must pay in full. A timely bankruptcy filing can prevent this financial hit.            

9. Bankruptcy Can Often Reduce Some or All of a Tax Lien’s Financial Impact

In some situations a tax lien can be made either wholly or partially ineffective. Besides saving you lots of money you get the peace of mind that your home is not at risk.

10. Avoid Paying Your Ex-Spouse Most of Your Property Settlement Debts

Chapter 13 allows you to discharge—write-off—some or all non-support obligations of your divorce.

11. “Cram down” and Change the Payment Terms of Your Vehicle Loan

If your vehicle loan is more than two and a half years old, you can usually reduce your monthly payments and the total amount you pay on the loan.

12. Get Out of Your Vehicle Lease through Bankruptcy

Leasing is often the cheapest way to have a vehicle short term, but is actually usually the most expensive long-term. Bankruptcy can be the best way to get out of this expensive obligation.

 

Chapter 13 with a 2nd Mortgage, Property Taxes, or Income Tax Lien

December 4th, 2017 at 8:00 am

Chapter 13 can work much better than Chapter 7 if you have a second mortgage, get behind on property taxes, or have a tax lien on your home.


The last two blog posts were about situations in which a homeowner is current on the mortgage but has other debts on the home.  We showed how Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” can work well enough in the 6 debt situations we covered.

But Chapter 7 is often not the best option when you have a lien on your home. Chapter 13 comes with better tools for dealing with such debts against your home. Even if you’re current on the mortgage itself, these tools may make Chapter 13 highly worthwhile for you.

We’ll show how Chapter 13 helps in the same 6 debt situations covered in the last two blog posts about Chapter 7. We’ll cover the first 3 today and the other 3 in a couple days.

Here are the first 3 debt situations:

  1. Second or third mortgage
  2. Property tax
  3. Income tax lien recorded on your home

1. Second or Third Mortgage

Chapter 13 helps in two major ways with a second or third mortgage that aren’t available under Chapter 7.

First, you may have the option to “strip” a junior mortgage from your home’s title. If so, that debt would no longer be secured by your home. You would not have to pay your monthly 2nd/3rd mortgage payment. You would only pay on the 2nd/3rd mortgage balance during your Chapter 13 payment plan to the extent you had available funds to pay it, if at all. Then at the end of your case the remaining balance would be “discharged”—legally, permanently written off.

Your home qualifies for a 2nd mortgage “strip” if it is worth less than your first mortgage debt balance. Then Chapter 13 allows you to have the bankruptcy judge declare that the second mortgage debt is unsecured. After all, then there’s no remaining equity for the second mortgage. (This also works with a third mortgage if the home is worth less than the combination of the first and second mortgage debt amounts.)

The second way that Chapter 13 works better on a second or third mortgage is if you’re way behind on the monthly payments. Chapter 7 is fine if the lender will give you enough time to catch up at a reasonable pace. But second and third mortgage lenders usually have more exposure than first mortgage lenders. They have less equity protecting them. They could lose their entire debt by being foreclosed out by the first mortgage lender. So second/third mortgage lenders tend to be more demanding and less flexible about catch-up payments.

Chapter 13 is a great way to force them to give you more time—up to 5 years if needed. Plus, your Chapter 13 catch-up payments can work around other important debts that you need to pay.

2. Property Tax

If you fall behind on your home’s property taxes, your mortgage lender will become quite unhappy very quickly. Even if you’re current on your mortgage, falling behind on property taxes is a separate basis for your lender’s foreclosure. It usually takes years of being behind before your property tax authority itself would do a tax foreclosure. But your mortgage lender gets very nervous because if that were to ever happen it would lose rights to the property as well. Plus, your lender sees falling behind on property taxes as a sign you’re not financially responsible or capable. For these reasons it’s a breach of your mortgage contract.

After falling behind on property taxes it’s difficult to catch up in the midst of your other financial pressures. Chapter 13 can help tremendously through a combination of two benefits. First, you get up to 5 years to catch up, making doing so more feasible. Second, you are protected from BOTH a tax foreclosure and your lender’s foreclosure. So using Chapter 13 to bring our property taxes current is often the best way to do so.

3. Income Tax Lien

Chapter 13 can be the best way to deal with an income tax lien on your home, in various scenarios.

First, consider if there’s no equity in the home covering that tax lien and the tax itself is dischargeable. (There’s no equity because the mortgage and any other prior liens total more than the home’s value. The tax itself is discharged usually because it’s old enough.) If so, then in Chapter 13 that tax is treated as a general unsecured debt. It’s lumped in with your other general unsecured debts, usually not increasing how much you pay into your plan.

Second, if equity in your home covers the full amount of the tax lien, Chapter 13 provides a flexible and safe way to pay the tax. The IRS/state loses most of its scary leverage over you. You simply arrange to pay the tax (and interest) over the 3-to-5-year life of your Chapter 13 payment plan. You protect your home while fitting that tax obligation into your budget and around any other urgent debts.

Third, if equity in your home covers a portion of the tax lien, you only pay that portion as a secured debt. And as just stated, you pay this through your plan safely and flexibly. This is much better than being leveraged into paying the full amount at the risk of losing your home.

 

Your Paid-Current Home Mortgage in Chapter 7 and 13

November 29th, 2017 at 8:00 am

There are scenarios when you are current on your home mortgage and are dealing with other home-related debts where Chapter 7 works well.

 

You’re current on your home mortgage payment, although you’ve been struggling mightily to keep it that way. You’re thinking very seriously about getting some financial help through bankruptcy. But you absolutely want to keep the home that you’ve fought so hard to keep current.

You’re trying to decide between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13, and are about to see a bankruptcy lawyer. So far you see some advantage in one or the other, or maybe in both. Maybe Chapter 7 is attractive because it seems easier and quicker. Or maybe Chapter 13 looks better because it handles certain of your special debts better. Either way you want to make sure you can keep paying your mortgage so you can keep your home.

How does this work in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13? Today we’ll start with Chapter 7, and get to Chapter 13 later.

Chapter 7

If you’re current on your home mortgage payments you can virtually always keep your home under Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy.”

A big set of considerations is whether you are also current on and/or have manageable ways to deal with other debts on your home.

Other Home-Related Debts

There are other debts related to your home that can cause significant problems even if you’re current on your mortgage. Some of these debts are better handled under Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts.” Some are tremendously better under Chapter 13. On the other hand some are handled just fine under Chapter 7. How these considerations apply to your situation can often affect which of these two options would be better for you.

These other home-related debts include the following:

  1. Second or third mortgages
  2. Property taxes
  3. Income tax owed with a lien recorded on your home
  4. Judgment with a lien attached to your home
  5. Homeowner association debt with a lien
  6. Child/spousal support unpaid with a lien

Current on or Make Arrangements to Pay Home-Related Debts

Chapter 7 likely makes sense in the following situations with the types of debts just listed above. Generally these are when you’re either current on these debts or can make reasonable arrangements to pay them. We’ll cover the first 3 of these types of debts today and the other three in our next blog post.

1. Second or third mortgages:

Chapter 7 makes more sense if your home is worth than your first mortgage debt balance. (Or the combination of your first and second mortgage balances if you have a third mortgage.) Plus you’re current on your second (and, if applicable, your third) mortgage. If you’re not current you’ll be able to catch up fast enough to satisfy that mortgage lender.

If, however, your home is worth less than your first mortgage, you may be able to “strip” your second mortgage from your home’s title. This is only available through Chapter 13. “Stripping” your second/third mortgage could save you a tremendous amount of money. That would often make Chapter 13 a potentially much better option. (Similarly if you have a third mortgage and your home is worth no more than the first two mortgage balances.)

Also, if you are significantly behind on your second and/or third mortgage but don’t qualify for “stripping” that mortgage, you may need the extra help that Chapter 13 can give in getting caught up.

2. Property taxes:

If you’re current on your property taxes of course you’ll need to stay current. Discharging all or most of your other debts in a Chapter 7 case should make this easier.

If you aren’t current you’ll need to do so quickly or else your mortgage lender will be very unhappy. Even if current on your mortgage, falling behind on your taxes is a separate basis for foreclosure by your lender. If you can’t catch up fast enough on your property taxes to satisfy your lender, you may need Chapter 13 to buy more time.

3. Income tax owed with a lien recorded on your home: 

Usually, under Chapter 7 you have to pay a tax that is backed up by a lien on your home. You also have to pay the ongoing interest and penalties. If the debt is relatively small, and you can make the monthly payments required by the IRS or state, Chapter 7 may be your best option.

However, is the underlying income tax old enough so that it could be discharged if there was no lien? Is there insufficient equity in the home to cover the entire tax lien? In these situations you may avoid paying such a tax, or paying only a portion, under Chapter 13.

(Again, we’ll cover the final three types of debts listed above in our next post in a couple days.)

 

Dealing with Recorded Tax Liens through Chapter 13

October 30th, 2017 at 7:00 am

A recorded tax lien gives the IRS/state a lot of leverage against you and your home. Chapter 13 can gain you back some of that leverage.  


Stopping Tax Liens by Filing Bankruptcy

In our last blog post we showed how Chapter 13 can buy you more time and flexibility than Chapter 7. We showed an example how that’s especially true if you owe more than one year of income taxes. Our example assumed that two tax years met the conditions to discharge (legally write off) that debt, while another tax year didn’t.

That example assumed that the IRS/state had not yet recorded a tax lien on your home for either tax year. A bankruptcy filing stops a tax lien’s recording. Then if the tax debt is discharged, the debt is gone so there’s no further basis for a tax lien. Or if the tax debt is paid in full (usually through a Chapter 13 payment plan) again there’s no further debt on which to impose a tax lien.

Dealing with Tax Liens under Chapter 13

But what if the IRS/state HAS already recorded a tax lien on your home?

That can cause all kinds of problems. Two weeks ago we wrote about how a tax lien can turn a completely dischargeable tax debt into one you have to pay in full. Beyond that, any tax lien is terrible on your credit report. It can make refinancing your home much harder. It may even add a problematic hurdle in the selling of your home. Even if you have little or no equity in your home, the tax lien can sit on your title until there’s enough equity to pay it in full.

So if you get a tax lien recorded against your home you need to consider your options. Assuming you want to keep your home, filing a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” is one option worth understanding.

Let’s take the same example we used in our last blog post, with a few more facts.

Our Example

Assume again that you owe income taxes of $24,000—$8,000 for the each of the 2012, 2013, and 2014 tax years. The 2012 and 2013 taxes meet all the conditions for discharge. The 2014 one doesn’t, mostly because it hasn’t yet been 3 years (as of when this is being written) since the date its tax return was due on April 15, 2015.

The IRS/state has just recorded tax liens on all three tax years against your home. Your home is worth $250,000, and has a $245,000 first mortgage owed on it. So, before the tax liens’ recordings you had $5,000 of equity in the home. Now you have NEGATIVE $19,000 of equity. And you are under the financial risks outlined above from the tax liens.

So on advice of your bankruptcy lawyer you file a Chapter 13 case. You do so because you:

  • can’t afford to pay nearly as much as the IRS/state are demanding each month in monthly installment payments
  • are afraid of the actions the IRS/state can take against you and your home on the tax liens
  • are afraid of the other collection actions they can take on the $24,000 in taxes
  • need a plan for taking care of these taxes in a way that you can reasonably manage

The Example’s Chapter 13 Plan

In this example the $16,000 of 2012 and 2013 tax debts would be treated as “general unsecured” debts. That is, they would but for the tax liens. Now those two tax debt are “secured” against your home because of their tax liens.

However, under Chapter 13 you have the power to establish that they are secured only to the extent of your home’s equity. So, the 2012 debt of $8,000 is secured by the $5,000 equity in the home. The remaining $3,000 is not secured. The 2013 debt of $8,000 has no remaining equity in the home for it to be secured by. So both that and the remaining $3,000 of the 2012 tax it is treated as a “general unsecured” debt.

This means that this $11,000 ($3,000 + $8,000) would be paid—if at all—to the same extent as your other ordinary debts with no collateral. In most Chapter 13 cases there’s only a set amount available to pay to the entire pool of “general unsecured” debts. This means that usually that $11,000 would just go into the pot with those other debts, and you’d pay no more than if there was no such $11,000 tax debt. That $11,000 tax debt just reduces how much other “general unsecured” debts get paid, without increasing how much you pay. In fact, in many bankruptcy courts you’re even allowed to pay nothing to the “general unsecured” debts. That happens if all your money during the life of the plan goes elsewhere.

The “Priority” Tax Debt

And how about the third tax year—2014—which doesn’t meet the conditions for discharge? What affect does its tax lien have on it?

It has no effect because all of the home’s equity has already been absorbed by the 2012 tax year.  This 2014 tax already has to be paid in full through the Chapter 13 payment plan. It’s a “priority” debt.  Had there been equity in the home to cover this lien then you’d also pay interest on this tax. Without any equity this 2014 tax is effectively unsecured. So it’s treated like any other “priority” debt. You have to pay it in full during your 3-to-5-year Chapter 13 payment plan.

So you have up to 5 years to pay the $5,000 secured portion of the 2012 tax and the $8,000 2014 tax. Throughout that payment period you’d be protected from the IRS/state by the “automatic stay.” This usually protects you throughout the years of the case (not for just 3-4 months like Chapter 7). That means no further IRS/state or other creditor actions against your or your house throughout your case.

Your payment plan may or may not include some money to pay towards your “general unsecured” debts. This includes the unsecured part of the 2012 tax and all of the 2013 tax. How much, if any, you’d pay on these would mostly depends on what you could afford to do so, after paying the other taxes. The secured part of the 2012 tax and the 2014 “priority” tax debts would usually get paid in full before the “general unsecured” debts would receive anything.

The End of the Chapter 13 Case

At the end of your successful Chapter 13 case the following would happen:  

  • Having by that point paid off the $5,000 secured part of the 2012 tax debt, the unpaid portion of the remaining $3,000 would be forever discharged.
  • The unpaid portion of the 2013 tax debt would also be discharged.
  • Having by that point paid off the $8,000 “priority” tax debt, any interest and penalties that would have accumulated on that tax would be forever waived.
  • With all your tax debts either paid or discharged, there’d be no further risk of a lien against your home from that tax.
  • You’d be tax-debt-free, and altogether debt-free (except for long-term debt like your home mortgage).

Buy Lots More Time to Deal with Multiple Years of Income Tax Debts

October 27th, 2017 at 7:00 am

If you have an income tax debt that qualifies for discharge and also some tax debt that doesn’t, Chapter 13 is often your best option. 

Stopping Tax Liens through Chapter 13 

In our last blog post we showed how Chapter 7 might prevent an income tax lien from hitting your home. It stops the recording of the tax lien through the power of the “automatic stay,” which stop virtually all creditor collection activities. And then you get a discharge (write-off) of the tax debt.  But then we added a twist: owing one or more additional tax years’ of debt which does not qualify for discharge. What if you have a tax that meets the conditions for discharge and one or more years’ that don’t? We showed how sometimes Chapter 7 can deal with this effectively, if the still-remaining tax debt is manageable.

But what if the taxes you still owe are not manageable? In a Chapter 7 case the protection of the “automatic stay” ends as soon as the case ends, usually just 3-4 months after it’s filed. So after that you could easily get a tax lien recorded against your home for the still-owed taxes.

Last time we ended by saying a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” could be a better option in these situations.

An Example

Let’s show how Chapter 13 could be a better option with an example.

Assume that you owe income taxes of $24,000—$8,000 for the each of the 2012, 2013, and 2014 tax years. The 2012 and 2013 taxes meet all the conditions for discharge. The 2014 one doesn’t, mostly because it hasn’t yet been 3 years (as of when this is being written) since the date its tax return was due on April 15, 2015.

On advice of your bankruptcy lawyer you file a Chapter 13 case. You do so because you:

  • couldn’t reliably pay into a monthly installment plan with the IRS/state for the remaining $8,000 tax owed for 2014. That’s because you have some other important debts that would also survive the Chapter 7 case. In particular you’re behind on your home mortgage and child support payments. Support enforcement is getting very aggressive, and you don’t want to lose your house. Chapter 7 would not help with these.
  • don’t qualify for Chapter 7 under the “means test.”  Your income under that test is too high, and your allowed expenses leave you with too much disposable income. You don’t have Chapter 7 as an option.
  • need to file a Chapter 13 case for its other benefits. You want to get lots of protected time to catch up on your first mortgage and your child support. Chapter 13 gives you strong tools for dealing with these special debts (and many others).

(Note that any one of these reasons may well be enough to make Chapter 13 worthwhile or appropriate. The particular combination of facts here would very likely make Chapter 13 the right choice.)

The Example’s Chapter 13 Plan

In this example the $16,000 of 2012 and 2013 tax debts would be treated as “general unsecured” debts. This means that they’d be paid—if at all—to the same extent as your other ordinary debts with no collateral. In most Chapter 13 cases there’s only a set amount available to pay to the entire pool of “general unsecured” debts. This means that usually that $16,000 would just go into the pot with those other debts, and you’d pay no more than if there was no $16,000 tax debt. That $16,000 tax debt just reduces how much other “general unsecured” debts get paid, without increasing how much you pay. In fact, in many bankruptcy courts you’re even allowed to pay nothing to the “general unsecured” debts. That happens if all your money during the life of the plan goes elsewhere.

Speaking of money going elsewhere, you’d pay the remaining $8,000 for the nondischargeable 2013 tax during the course of your 3-to-5-year Chapter 13 payment plan. It’s a “priority” debt, one that you have to pay off during your case. Throughout that 3-to-5-year period you’d be protected from the IRS/state by the “automatic stay.” That’s because it usually protects you throughout the years of the case (not for just 3-4 months like Chapter 7). That means no tax lien being recorded against your house throughout your case.

Your payment plan would also include money to catch up on your home mortgage and on your child support. These two debts could be paid ahead of or alongside the “priority” tax debt.

The End of the Chapter 13 Case

At the end of your successful Chapter 13 case the following would happen:  

  • Having by that point paid off the $8,000 “priority” tax debt, any interest and penalties that would have accumulated on that tax would be forever waived.
  • With that tax debt gone there’d be no further risk of a lien against your home from that tax.
  • To the extent that the $16,000 in older taxes would not be paid, they’d be permanently discharged. (This would usually be most, or sometimes even all, of the $16,000.)
  • Your home mortgage and child support would be caught up as well.
  • You’d be tax-debt-free, and altogether debt-free except for the on-time first mortgage.

 

Chapter 7 Permanently Prevents Tax Liens against Your Home

October 16th, 2017 at 7:00 am

Filing a Chapter 7 case prevents tax liens from hitting your home, and so avoids a dischargeable tax from turning into one you must pay. 

 

Our last blog post was about how filing a Chapter 7 case buys you time with debts on your home. It’s worth expanding on one of those Chapter 7 benefits, one that can go way beyond buying time. It could save you a lot of money, potentially many thousands of dollars.

The Dischargeable Income Tax Scenario

Filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy can discharge certain, usually older, income tax debts. (See our blog post of this last September 22 about the conditions for writing off income taxes in bankruptcy.) If you file a Chapter 7 case before a tax lien is recorded on a dischargeable tax debt, then that will prevent the IRS or state tax authority from recording that lien against your home. The tax will then be discharged (permanently written off) about 4 months of your bankruptcy filing. After that the IRS/state can never record a lien or take any other collection action on the tax. It’s gone forever, and the threat of a lien against your home is also gone forever.

The Very Bad Alternative

What happens instead if the IRS or state records a lien against your home before you file bankruptcy?

Assume you’d have some equity in your home but no more than the homestead exemption. (That’s the amount of equity that’s protected from most creditors in bankruptcy—the specific amount varies state to state.) If you’d owe a tax debt that would qualify for discharge and the IRS/state had recorded a lien on that debt against your home, that lien would continue on after you’d complete your bankruptcy case. Your homestead exemption would not help with a tax lien. That lien would continue to encumber the equity you have in your home. You’d have to pay the lien in full when you’d sell or refinance your home. The lien would effectively turn a debt that you could have discharged within a few months after filing bankruptcy into an anchor attached to your home.

Assume instead that you’d have no equity in your home. The IRS/state would probably still want to keep its lien against your home. The lien would at the time have no equity to encumber but the lien would still attach to your title. Later the IRS/state could likely renew the lien, leaving it on your home’s title for a very long time. Odds are you’d be forced to pay the tax at some point, maybe when your home’s value increased enough. Instead of you getting the benefit of that equity, it would go to pay a tax that you could have discharged long before, if you’d just filed a bankruptcy case before the tax lien hit your home.

An Example

Let’s say you owe $6,000 in income tax for the 2012 tax year and $3,000 for the 2013 tax year. And this is after you’d paid monthly instalment payments for years. Those amounts include a lot of interest and tax penalties. Assume that both of these tax debts qualify for bankruptcy discharge. (This would mostly be because enough time has passed since their tax returns were due and actually submitted.) Assume also that you own a home worth $250,000 with a $225,000 mortgage. That $25,000 of equity is fully covered by your state’s $30,000 homestead exemption.

The following would happen if you filed a Chapter 7 case with your bankruptcy lawyer before any tax lien was recorded:

  • The “automatic stay” from the bankruptcy filing would immediately prevent the IRS/state from recording a tax lien on your home (or on anything else you own). Your home and its equity would be immediately protected.
  • Both the $6,000 2012 tax debt and the $3,000 2013 one would be discharged about 4 months later.
  • The IRS/state could never file a tax lien on these taxes ever again. They could take no further collection action of any sort. The $9,000 debt would be gone. The IRS’s/state’s ability to attach that debt to your home would be gone as well.

Instead the following would happen if the IRS/state HAD recorded tax liens on both years before you filed a Chapter 7 case:

  • The tax lien recorded against your home would continue on after you filed bankruptcy.
  • The IRS/state would get paid on those liens whenever you sold or refinanced your home, potentially many years later.
  • You would very likely pay $9,000—plus likely lots more interest and penalties—to the IRS/state that otherwise you would not have needed to pay.

 

Special Debts that Can’t Be “Discharged” under Chapter 13

July 22nd, 2016 at 7:00 am

Bankruptcy can’t write off certain kinds of debts. Chapter 13 enables you to prevent liens hitting your home from those debts.

 

Our last blog post was about how Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” helps prevent liens on your home arising from special debts. These are debts that can’t be discharged—written off in bankruptcy. Examples of these special debts include recent income taxes and unpaid child or spousal support.

But Chapter 7 has serious practical limitations on how much it can prevent those liens on your home. Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” is often a much better tool for dealing with income taxes and support. Here’s how we introduced this earlier, focusing now on the Chapter 13 side of this.  

Preventing Liens on Your Home from Debts that Can’t Be Discharged

A Chapter 13 case protects your home from liens much better than Chapter 7. It doesn’t leave you on your own to deal with any remaining debts. Chapter 13 protects you and your home throughout the time that you are paying off those debts through a flexible 3-to-5-year payment plan.

You and your bankruptcy lawyer put together that payment plan based on how much you can afford to pay. The plan is then reviewed and approved by the bankruptcy judge assigned to your case. Creditors have some say about this, but are limited in the arguments they can raise.

Throughout the course of the payment plan, all of your creditors are prevented from putting liens on your home. That includes the especially aggressive creditors like the IRS, state tax entities, ex-spouses, and support enforcement agencies. Then by the time your Chapter 13 case is completed, those special debts have been paid in full or paid current. As a result they can’t threaten you or your home any more.

Here’s how this works in practice.

The Example

Assume that you own a home with some equity—for example a $250,000 home with a $225,000 mortgage. You have no liens on the home’s title so your home has about $25,000 in equity.

Now also assume that you are entitled to a homestead exemption of $25,000. So, all of the $25,000 in your home’s equity is protected by this homestead exemption. This means that all of this home equity is protected from your creditors and from a bankruptcy trustee.

You want to keep your home and preserve the equity you have in it. But you have serious financial problems. You have a whole bunch of credit cards and other debts amounting to $60,000 that are past due. Plus you’ve fallen behind on your $1,000 per month child support payments by 5 months, or $5,000. And you owe $12,000 in income taxes to the IRS for last year and the year before.

The credit cards and miscellaneous debts can be discharged in bankruptcy, but the recent tax and support debts can’t be. So if you file a Chapter 7 case you’re on your own dealing with the surviving tax and support debts.

The Chapter 13 Solution

You’re not on your own with these debts under a Chapter 13 case. You and your home are protected. Here’s how this option would work in this scenario.

  • As to the $12,000 income tax debt that you must pay, you have up to 5 years to do so. During that time the IRS or state can’t take any collection action against you, or your income or assets. That includes not recording any tax liens against your home.
  • In most situations no ongoing interest or penalties would accrue on that $12,000 tax debt during the case. That could save you a fair amount of money, enabling you to pay off the taxes that much faster.
  • You’d have huge flexibility in the payment terms. The payment amounts would be based on what you could afford. Certain other debts could be paid ahead of the taxes, such as the child support, or to catch up on a vehicle loan or home mortgage. Also, the timing of the tax payments could change if your circumstances changed during the course of the case.  
  • As to the $5,000 child support arrearage, you are required to catch up on this, and again you have up to 5 years to do so. Your ex-spouse and support enforcement agency cannot take any collection action against you during this time. That is, they can’t as long as you meet certain strict conditions. You must keep current on any ongoing support payments, and on your Chapter 13 plan payments. But if you just meet these conditions, you and your home are protected.
  • As to the $60,000 in credit cards and other miscellaneous debts, in most cases you would only need to pay those if and to the extent you had money left over to do so. That means that your available funds would first go to pay the tax and support debts. And that’s after you are allowed to spend a reasonable amount of money on living expenses.
  • At the completion of your Chapter 13 payment plan whatever part of that $60,000 in general debts that had not been paid would be discharged—written off forever. Those creditors would never be able to sue you and get a judgment lien on your home.
  • At the point when your Chapter 13 case is finished, you will have paid the taxes and support arrearage in full. So you’d not owe anything to those creditors. They’d have no debt upon which to record a lien on your home.
  • You would have successfully and permanently prevented the IRS/state and ex-spouse/support enforcement from placing a lien on your home.

 

How Chapter 7 Deals with Special Debts that Can’t Be “Discharged”

July 20th, 2016 at 7:00 am

Bankruptcy can’t write off certain kinds of debts. Chapter 7 may give you enough help to avoid liens on your home from those debts 

 

In our July 1 blog post we gave a list of 10 ways that a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” can help you keep your home. Today we get into the 6th of those 10 ways, starting with how Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” helps and doesn’t help. Here’s how we introduced this earlier, focusing first today on the Chapter 7 side of this.  

7. Debts Which Cannot Be Discharged Such as Income Taxes & Back Child/Spousal Support

Some special debts cannot be discharged (written off) in bankruptcy. So those creditors can start chasing you on those as soon as you finish a Chapter 7 case. And that’s usually only about three or four months after you start a case. Sometimes sooner. Those creditors generally include the IRS, the state taxing authority, your ex-spouse, and the state or local support enforcement agencies.

These particular creditors often have extraordinary collection powers, including against your home. They can put a tax lien or support lien on the home. Under some circumstances can even seize and sell your home to pay those liens.

The key question is whether Chapter 7 discharges enough debts for you so that you can afford to pay off the debt(s) that isn’t (aren’t) discharged. If so, Chapter 7 would likely be the better option.

Here’s how this works in practice.

The Example

Assume that you own a home with some equity. Say it’s a $200,000 home with an $180,000 mortgage, so on paper you have about $20,000 equity.

Also assume that you are entitled to homestead exemption of $25,000. This means that you can have that much in home equity and protect that equity from your creditors. As a result all of the $20,000 in home equity is protected by this homestead exemption.

You’re in a financial hurt, owing $38,000 in medical bills and $42,000 in credit cards, a total of $80,000. You’ve fallen behind on your $1,000 per month child support payments by 4 months, or $4,000. And you owe $13,000 in income taxes to the IRS for last year and the year before.

You want very much to keep your home. You’ve managed to stay current on the mortgage and the property taxes because it’s been your highest priority. There are no liens against your home’s title other than the mortgage debt itself.

You’ve heard that your ex-spouse is referring the child support debt to the local support enforcement agency. It can and likely will soon put a lien on your home as part of its collections efforts. Same with the IRS.

Those two liens—in the amounts of $4,000, or whatever you owe in child support at the time, and $13,000—would eat up much of your home equity. These liens might even result in the foreclosure or forced sale of your home.

Chapter 7’s Limited Help

Here’s what a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” would likely accomplish, and not accomplish, in this scenario:

  • The “general unsecured” medical bills and credit card debts of $80,000 would very likely be discharged. You would never have to pay them.
  • Older income taxes can be discharged if they meet certain conditions. But taxes from last year and the year before would not be old enough to qualify. So you would continue owing the entire $13,000 tax debt, plus interest and penalties. Those continue to accrue regardless of the Chapter 7 filing.
  • IRS collection efforts, including the recording of a tax lien, would be “stayed,” or temporarily stopped. This “automatic stay” would be effective as of the moment the Chapter 7 case is filed. But it only lasts as long as the case is active. That’s a period of only about 3 or 4 months from the time the case is filed.
  • That means that nothing would stop the IRS from recording a tax lien in the amount of $13,000 as soon as the Chapter 7 case was closed.
  • There’s even less protection as to the child support debt. In fact there’s none. The “automatic stay” does not apply to support obligations under Chapter 7. So your ex-spouse or the support enforcement agency could garnish your paychecks and bank accounts, and very likely take various other aggressive actions against you and your assets and income, at any time, regardless of your Chapter 7 filing. That generally includes recording a lien against your home.
  • Child support debts are not discharged in bankruptcy, under virtually any conditions.

When Chapter 7 Helps Enough

All this means that Chapter 7 would help only if the discharge of the $80,000 in medical and credit card debts would free up enough cash flow to:

  • Enter into a reasonable installment payment plan with the IRS to pay the $13,000, plus ongoing interest and penalties.
  • Negotiate with the ex-spouse or support enforcement agency for a payment plan to catch up on the $4,000 in support arrearage.
  • Do these preferably without the creditor recording a lien against your home.

How likely this is depends on all circumstances.

The IRS is usually quite willing to enter into a monthly installment plan. Its policies have gotten more and more flexible during the last decade or so. Currently the interest rate is relatively low—3% for at least the last several years. Entering into an installment agreement reduces the failure-to-pay penalty of 0.5% per month to 0.25% (or 0.0025) per month.

How cooperative ex-spouses and support enforcement agencies will be of course varies greatly. But as to the latter anyway, they generally prefer voluntary payments to forced ones. And you’d likely save fees and a tremendous amount of frustration if you can avoid the nasty surprises these agencies can spring on you.

But your bankruptcy lawyer may look over your situation and determine that you wouldn’t have the means to keep your post-Chapter 7 creditor(s) happy. If not, Chapter 13 can often be a much better alternative. It is much better at preventing these kinds of creditors from recording liens on your home. We’ll show you how in our next blog post in a couple days

 

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