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If You Owe Both 2018 AND Earlier Income Taxes

January 28th, 2019 at 8:00 am

Do you owe income taxes for the 2018 tax year AND already owe for one or more tax years? Chapter 13 may be an especially good tool for you. 


Last week we got into a big advantage of filing a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case in early 2019. It enables you to include 2018 income taxes into your Chapter 13 payment plan. That would:

  1. Save you money on payment of your 2018 tax
  2. Give you invaluable financial flexibility
  3. Stop any present and future tax collections and the recording and enforcement of a tax lien on the 2018 tax

So Chapter 13 is a helpful tool for dealing with taxes you owe for the 2018 tax year. Sometimes it’s even absolutely indispensable—it solves a debt dilemma that appeared otherwise insolvable.

When You Also Owe Income Taxes for Earlier Years

However, Chapter 13 is a particularly powerful tool if you owe not just for 2018 but for other tax years (or year) as well. This is true wherever you stand with the earlier tax debt, whether:

  1. the IRS/state is now aggressively collecting the taxes
  2. you are currently paying them through an agreed monthly payment plan
  3. you haven’t yet filed the tax returns for the prior years 

1. Dealing with Aggressive Collection of Earlier Tax Debt

Is the IRS/state is currently collecting the earlier taxes through garnishment or some other collection procedures?  Then Chapter 13 would very likely greatly help you with both those earlier taxes and the new 2018 one.

The minute your bankruptcy lawyer files the Chapter 13 case for you all the aggressive tax collection actions will stop. That is the power of bankruptcy’s “automatic stay.” You will have 3 to 5 years to deal with ALL of your debts through a payment plan. This includes all your income taxes. The Chapter 13 payment plan will be based on what you can genuinely afford to pay. You may well not need to pay some of your earlier taxes. You will likely not need to pay any more accruing interest and penalties on ANY of the income taxes. You will not need to worry about tax collections throughout the time you’re in the case—including the recording of tax liens. At the completion of your case you will owe no income taxes. Indeed, you will be debt-free altogether, except for voluntary debt such as a home mortgage.

2. In a Monthly Payment Plan

Are you already in a payment plan with the IRS/state for the prior tax debt? If so, finding out that you owe even more for 2018 can be really frightening.

Those monthly installment payments likely contributed to the fact that you owe for 2018. You know that you have to keep up those monthly payments perfectly to avoid the IRS/state from starting or restarting collection actions against you. So you do everything you can to pay them, including not having enough withheld from your paycheck or not paying enough in quarterly estimated payments for the next year’s taxes. As a result you now owe another bunch of taxes for 2018.

Furthermore, you know that you’ll violate your installment agreement if you don’t stay current in future income taxes. As stated in IRS Form 9465, the Installment Agreement Request form, “you agree to meet all your future tax obligations.” So you know you’ll be in trouble when the IRS/state finds out that you owe for 2018.

Chapter 13 avoids this trouble. As mentioned above, the “automatic stay” immediately protects you from the IRS/state. Your monthly installment plan is cancelled right away. You make no further payments on it once you file you file your Chapter 13 case. All your prior income taxes AND your 2018 one(s) are handled through your Chapter 13 payment plan. You get the financial advantages and the peace-of-mind referenced in the above section. When you successfully complete your Chapter 13 case you’ll be totally free of any tax debt.

3. Not Filing Tax Returns

You may be in the scary situation that you can’t pay your taxes so you don’t file your tax returns.

Sometimes this happens because the tax authorities are already actively trying to collect on earlier tax debt. You can’t pay the earlier debt so you figure what’s the use of adding to the amount you already can’t pay.

Or you may be in an installment payment plan and you don’t want to violate it by admitting you owe more for 2018. You know you’ll be in violation of it upon filing the 2018 tax return, so you simply don’t do so.

Or finally, you haven’t filed a tax return for several years, and you know or guess you owe a lot. Now it’s time to file for 2018 and you figure you’ll owe again. You think, why file for 2018 and bring the wrath of the tax authorities onto yourself?

But you know that not filing your 2018 tax return (and any prior unfiled ones) only delays the inevitable. Because of the advantages listed in our last blog post and in the above two sections, Chapter 13 may well be the tool you need.

You’re in a vicious cycle in which you may well be falling further behind instead of getting ahead.

Chapter 13 can likely enable you to break out of that cycle. Not only do you deal with all of your taxes and other debts in a single package. Not only to you often not have to pay all of your taxes. The vicious cycle is broken because your Chapter 13 budget will also address your 2019 and future income tax situation. It does so because your new budget will include enough withholding or quarterly estimated payments so you can stay current for 2019 and thereafter. Again, you should end the Chapter 13 plan being completely tax-debt free.

 

The Surprising Benefits: Chapter 7 Stops the Recording of an Income Tax Lien

July 23rd, 2018 at 7:00 am

The recording of a tax lien often immediately turns an unsecured debt into a secured one, forcing you to pay what you could have written off.

 

If you owe income taxes, stopping the IRS or state record a tax lien can be a huge benefit of filing bankruptcy. How much of a benefit turns on details about the taxes you owe and the type of bankruptcy you file. Today and in our next blog post we’ll look at income taxes that would be discharged (forever written off in full). Today we focus  on the benefits of filing Chapter 7; next week we’ll do the same for Chapter 13.

Secured and Unsecured Debts in Bankruptcy

The leverage that any creditor has over you depends a lot on whether its debt is secured by your property. For example, if a debt is secured by your home, the home is collateral on that debt. In most situations even after filing bankruptcy you have to either pay the debt or you could lose the home.

The Effect of a Tax Lien

If you can’t pay an income tax, that tax debt is an unsecured one. It’s not secured by anything you own. The IRS and state taxing authorities have some powerful collection techniques they can use to collect the tax. But they can’t simply take anything of yours to pay off the tax debt. That’s because that tax debt is not secured by anything you own.

This completely changes when the IRS/state records a tax lien against your tax debt. The recording legally converts the unsecured tax debt into a debt secured by your property. Which property becomes security against that particular tax debt depends on the details of 1) the tax lien itself and 2) your state’s property laws.

But regardless of these details, IRS/state tax liens can potentially turn pretty much everything you own into security on that tax debt. That means that if you don’t pay the tax, the IRS/state can often take whatever you own in payment of that tax debt. Usually the practical result is not that they take everything, or even anything. Rather, you end up paying the tax debt, sooner or later.

Unsecured Older Income Tax Debts in Bankruptcy

Contrast that from what would happen to that tax if there was no recorded tax lien.

Most ordinary unsecured debts can be legally forever written off in bankruptcy. This is true of some income tax debts as well, if they meet certain conditions. Basically, bankruptcy discharges (writes off) income taxes for which the tax return:

  • was due more than 3 years before your bankruptcy case is filed, AND
  • was in fact filed more than 2 years before bankruptcy.

An Older Income Tax Debt WITHOUT a Tax Lien Under Chapter 7

If you meet the above 2 conditions (and a couple other seldom applicable ones), filing Chapter 7 will simply forever discharge that tax debt. Within about 3-4 months after you file the case, it will be legally gone. You will not have to pay it.

You filed bankruptcy in time to stop the IRS/state from recording a tax lien. And after discharge they’ll never be able to record a lien, or collect in any other wayr.

An Older Income Tax Debt WITH a Tax Lien Under Chapter 7

But it’s completely different if you did not file bankruptcy until after the tax lien recording.

If the tax debt meets the timing conditions, your Chapter 7 filing would technically discharge the tax debt itself. However, the IRS/state would still have a lien on your property after the bankruptcy case was completed.

Because of this surviving tax lien, the IRS/state would at that point be able to exert its rights under the lien. That means it could take and sell whatever property the lien attached to. That would usually be all your personal property or your real estate, or possibly both.

To prevent this from happening, you’d want to contact the IRS/state to make payment arrangements. As mentioned above, the result is usually that you have to pay the tax in full, along with its continually accruing tax penalties and interest.

The Lesson

The lesson is very clear. If you owe income taxes, file bankruptcy before the tax authorities record a tax lien. If the tax you owe meets the timing conditions, you’ll be able discharge the entire tax and pay nothing on it.

 

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.)

 

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.

 

A Sample Completed Chapter 7 Case

September 15th, 2017 at 7:00 am

What does the completion of a successful Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case look like? What happens to your debts?

 

A Sample Chapter 7 Case

In our last blog post we wrote about completing a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case. Today we’re doing the same thing with a Chapter 7 case.

And like last time we’ll show what a finished Chapter 7 case looks like through tangible facts.

So imagine Jennifer filing a Chapter 7 case through the help of her bankruptcy lawyer to stop a lawsuit by a collection company, write off some old income taxes she’d been struggling to make monthly payments on, hang onto a vehicle whose loan she’d started falling behind on, and write off a bunch of medical, credit card and other personal debts.

The Facts

Jennifer had fallen behind on virtually all of her debts 18 months ago. She’d lost her job and it took her 3 months to find a new one.

She couldn’t pay a $1,200 medical bill, so a few months later it was sent to collections. For 12 months Jennifer disregarded collection letter and phone calls because she had absolutely no money to pay this debt. Then the collector sued her. She was justifiably very concerned about getting her paycheck garnished. She’s a bookkeeper. Her employer made clear that employees in her position better not have their wages garnished. Stopping that lawsuit from turning into a judgment pushed her into filing a Chapter 7 case.

In 2012 she’d started a side business to try to get ahead in life. It made some money for a while but then the income fell off and she had to close it down. She couldn’t afford to pay federal income taxes on that income, so she owed $8,000. In 2015 she’d arranged with the IRS to make $150 monthly payments, and struggled to pay those. She was really afraid what would happen if she stopped paying. She still owed $5,000 in income taxes, interest and penalties.

In the midst of all these financial pressures she struggled to pay her $390 vehicle loan payments. She was often late on the payments, racking up late charges. The last month or two before filing bankruptcy she’d gotten right to the brink of getting her car repossessed. She had absolutely no way to get to work or doctor appointments without her car. So being able to pay for her car was another big reason for filing bankruptcy.

The Filing of Her Case

When Jennifer’s case was filed that immediately stopped the collection lawsuit. She could also stop paying the $150 monthly installments on her income tax debt. That’s because the tax was old enough and otherwise qualified for discharge—legal write-off. She no longer had to pay on any of the $75,000 in other unsecured debts—other medical bills, credit cards, and various other obligations. So she was able to quickly catch up on her car loan and be able to pay it without distress.

The End of the Chapter 7 Case

Jennifer filed her case 100 days ago. That’s about how long most consumer Chapter 7 cases take to finish. Completing her case successfully is crucial because otherwise she’d lose the benefits of her case.

Regarding her vehicle loan, a few weeks earlier she had entered into a reaffirmation agreement with her lender. That agreement formally excluded the loan from the discharge of the rest of her debts. She agreed to remain liable on that loan in return for being able to keep her car. She was happy to continue owing on this debt, now that she had no trouble making the payments. Reaffirming the debt also allowed her to quickly start re-establishing her credit.

So now Jennifer receives a copy of a Discharge Order from the bankruptcy court. Her creditors all also receive copies. This court order prevents any of her creditors—other than the vehicle lender—from pursuing her or her assets. From the time her Chapter 7 case was filed until now the debts were on hold. The “automatic stay” prevented any of her creditors from taking any collection action against her. But Jennifer still owed the debts. Now the Discharge Order makes her debts permanently uncollectible.

All of her creditors—again with the exception of the vehicle lender lender—now each write off her debt from their books. This includes the IRS. It becomes illegal for any of these creditors to do anything to collect its debt. They must report to credit reporting agencies that the debt has been written off and is no longer owed.

Conclusion

So Jennifer can get on with her life in financial peace. She doesn’t worry about lawsuits and garnishments. She doesn’t fear what the IRS will do to her if she misses an installment payment. And she can comfortably pay her vehicle loan payment and looks forward to paying it off. Other than that manageable single payment she is debt-free, and appreciating her fresh financial start.

 

Getting Ready to Finish a Chapter 13 Case

September 11th, 2017 at 7:00 am

Finishing a Chapter 13 case successfully is a big deal. It’s rewarding financially and emotionally. Here’s how it happens.  


The End-of-Chapter 13 Benefits

Just because of the way Chapter 13 works, a lot of its benefit comes near or at its very end. For example:

  • “General unsecured debts”: In most cases most of the debts are neither secured nor “priority,” meaning they are “general unsecured” ones. Also, in most cases a major portion of those debts are not paid through your Chapter 13 plan but rather discharged—legally written off forever. But that doesn’t happen until you successfully finish the case.
  •  “Priority” income tax debts: You have to pay these taxes (usually because they too new to discharge) through your Chapter 13 plan. But you usually don’t have to pay interest or any ongoing penalties on these taxes. However, if you don’t successfully finish your case that interest and those penalties would be imposed again. Once you finish the case, that interest and those penalties disappear.
  • “Stripped” second/third mortgage:  Chapter 13 may give you the power to turn a second or third mortgage into an unsecured debt. This “stripping” of the mortgage from your home gives you tremendous immediate and long-term financial savings.  But this “stripping” requires you to successfully finish the case.
  • Curing first mortgage arrearage: If you are using Chapter 13 to stretch out your payments for catching up on your mortgage, you may well not catch up until close to the end of your payment plan. Under Chapter 13 your mortgage lender is prevented from foreclosing while you are under bankruptcy protection. But if your case gets dismissed before you completely catch up on the mortgage, your lender could start/resume foreclosure. You need to finish your case to ensure that you get current on your mortgage.

How Do You Know How Much Longer Your Case Needs to Go?

In some Chapter 13 cases you know exactly how many months it is supposed to take. Other cases are less clear. That’s because cases can be affected by events that unfold during the years that a case is active.

For example, your Chapter 13 plan may require you to catch up on your “priority” taxes or unpaid child support. You may not know precisely how much you owe in taxes or support at the time your bankruptcy lawyer calculates the length of your plan. Once the exact amount becomes known that may extend or shorten your case. That may be true of certain other kinds of debts, like the arrearage on a home mortgage that you’re curing.

Also, changes in your income and/or expenses can result in a plan “modification,” again potentially extending or shortening it.

So how do you know how long your case has to go while you are in the midst of it?

Your lawyer likely has the information to either very closely estimate or tell you exactly how long you have. He and she could also ask the Chapter 13 trustee to run this calculation. The trustee is likely set up to do that efficiently. (See our most recent blog post about the roles of this trustee.)

Case Completion Events

Once you’ve finished paying all you are required to pay into your Chapter 13 plan, the trustee tells you and your lawyer that you have done so. Your lawyer gets the opportunity for a final review of your case, to verify that everything went as it should.

Once the trustee is satisfied that you’re done, he or she informs the bankruptcy court. Then the court enters a discharge order. That discharges all (or virtually) all the debts that you have not paid through your payment plan. If your plan says you were to pay 20% of your “general unsecured debts,” the remaining 80% would be discharged. Unpaid income tax interest and penalties would be discharged. These creditors could never chase you for these debts. All of the other benefits of Chapter 13 would get finalized.

Simultaneous with the discharge order, the court would order the closure of your case.

You’d be done. It would make perfect sense for you to have a quiet little party to reward yourself for having successfully completed your case!

 

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