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Archive for the ‘priority tax debts’ tag

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.

 

Priority Debts in an Asset Chapter 7 Case

December 2nd, 2019 at 8:00 am

Your Chapter 7 trustee may pay your priority debts—in full or in part—through the proceeds of the sale of your unprotected, not exempt assets.  


Our last blog post was about what happens to priority debts in a no-asset Chapter 7 case. Most consumer “straight bankruptcy” Chapter 7 cases are no-asset ones. This means that the bankruptcy trustee does not take anything from the debtor because everything is protected, “exempt.” The trustee does not take and liquidate any assets, and has nothing—no assets—to distribute to the debtor’s creditors. That’s a no-asset Chapter 7 case.

No-Asset Case Even If Some Assets May Not Be Exempt

To understand how this actually works, sometimes a Chapter 7 case is a no-asset one even when not all assets are exempt. That’s because the bankruptcy trustee has some discretion about whether to collect and liquidate an otherwise unprotected asset. Here are three reasons why he or she may not pursue an asset:

  • The value of the asset, or the amount beyond the exemption, is too small to justify the trustee’s collection efforts. Example: A vehicle worth only a couple hundred dollars more than the vehicle exemption.
  • Finding and/or selling the asset may be too expensive compared to its anticipated value. Example: A debt owed to the debtor by somebody who can’t be located and likely has no reliable income.
  • The asset could be more of a detriment than a benefit to the trustee. Example: real estate with hazardous waste contamination.

Usually your bankruptcy lawyer will be able to reliably predict whether your Chapter 7 case will be an asset or no-asset case. But not always. The trustees have wide discretion about this. Plus before filing your lawyer doesn’t know which trustee will be assigned to your case. So you can’t always know whether a trustee will pursue an asset or not.

Paying Priority Debt through a Chapter 7 Asset Case

If you know that you will have an asset case, you can pay a priory debt through your case.

In our last blog post our main point was that in a no-asset Chapter 7 case you have to pay any priority debts yourself directly to your creditors after completing the case. But in an asset case, the trustee would pay any of your priority debts before any other debts. The trustee collects and liquidates your assets (any not protected by exemptions). From the proceeds he or she then pays your debts, only to the extent there’s money available.

So in the right case you can pay all or part of your priority debt(s) in this way. Often, there only enough money to pay towards the priority debt(s), along with the trustee’s fee. If so, then there’s no money to pay anything to your other, general unsecured debts. This way, the trustee would pay those (priority) debts that you’d have to pay anyway, and nothing to those (general unsecured debts) that bankruptcy would discharge and you’d not have to pay.

For Example

Assume you owe $4,000 to the IRS for last year’s income tax. You also owe $75,000 in medical bills and unsecured credit cards. If you filed a Chapter 7 case in which everything you owned was protected, that would be a no-asset case. The IRS debt is a priority debt that you can’t discharge (legally write off). So you would have to make arrangements to pay it after your Chapter 7 case was over. Most likely the case would discharge the $75,000 in other debts.

But now assume that you have a boat that you no longer want because it costs too much to maintain.  There’s usually no exemption for a boat. So the Chapter 7 trustee takes and sells your boat. Let’s say the boat sells for $5,000. The proceeds of that sale would go to pay your tax debt before your other creditors would receive anything.

Usually a Chapter 7 trustee receives a fee of 25% on the first $5,000 of assets liquidated and distributed. U.S. Bankruptcy Code Section 326(a). That’s $1,250 on the $5,000 boat sale proceeds, leaving $3,750 left over. All of that would go towards the $4,000 IRS debt, leaving a $250 balance owed. The trustee would have no money left over to pay towards your $75,000 in other debts. You would not have to pay any of that yourself because your Chapter 7 case would very likely discharge it. You would only have to pay the not-discharged remaining balance of $250 on the tax debt.

Conclusion

In some circumstances paying a priority debt in a Chapter 7 case is not a bad deal. This is especially true if you have an asset not protected by an exemption that you don’t mind surrendering. Usually you would be personally on the hook to pay a priority debt after your Chapter 7 is finished. So if you surrender a non-exempt asset to the trustee and most of its proceeds go to pay towards your priority debt, that’s a good result.

These situations don’t necessarily fall together as neatly as in the above example. But this option is worth looking at with your bankruptcy lawyer whenever you have a the combination of a non-exempt asset and priority debt(s).

 

Stop IRS Garnishment to Start Installment Payment Plan

January 29th, 2018 at 8:00 am

Filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy stops an IRS/state garnishment and other collection activities, even if it’s for a tax you still have to pay. 

 

We ended the last blog post saying that sometimes a Chapter 7 bankruptcy will stop a wage garnishment only temporarily. One such situation is if the IRS (or state tax agency) is chasing you on a debt you can’t discharge.

An Income Tax Debt You Can’t Discharge

You can’t discharge (legally write off) the tax debt usually because it’s not old enough. If you owe such a tax debt, and your paycheck (or bank account) is being garnished, filing a Chapter 7 case will only stop the garnishment for the length of time your case is active—usually about 3-4 months. The protection from collection called the “automatic stay” ends when you receive a discharge of your debts. (See Section 362(c)(2)(C) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.)

The 3-4 Month Break in Collections Can Be Enough

For practical reasons the temporary nature of the protection is often not a problem. You could get much longer and better protection against the IRS and state on a debt you can’t discharge than you would under Chapter 7.  You could do this by filing a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” instead. That would give you 3 to 5 years to pay a tax debt that you can’t discharge. Plus Chapter 13 gives you other benefits, such as usually income tax debts stop accruing further interest and penalties. But Chapter 13 also has disadvantages, including that it takes so much longer to complete.

So you would deal with a nondischargeable tax debt through Chapter 7 instead of Chapter 13 for a simple reason. You’ve decided that you could afford to pay that tax debt through monthly payments once you discharged all or most of your other debts. You’ve carefully reviewed your itemized budget with your bankruptcy lawyer. You know which, if any, other debts you will continue to owe. You know which debts will be discharged. From this you’d determine how much you could start paying the IRS/state every month. Your lawyer should be able to tell you whether that would be enough to keep your tax creditor happy.

Mission Accomplished

Assuming you could afford the required monthly payment, you file a Chapter 7 case instead of a Chapter 13 one. Then, within a few weeks after filing you or your lawyer contacts the IRS/state to make monthly payment arrangements. Those monthly installment payments could start either before the completion of your Chapter 7 case or immediately thereafter. As part of the arrangements the IRS/state would agree not to garnish your paychecks (or take most other collection actions) as long as you make the agreed payments until you paid the tax (plus interest and penalties) in full.

Conclusion

The fact that Chapter 7 stops collection of non-dischargeable taxes only temporarily is not a problem as long as you are confident that you qualify for and can afford to pay the monthly payments the IRS/state will require.

 

“General Unsecured Debts” in Chapter 13

December 13th, 2017 at 8:00 am

You pay your general unsecured debts only as much as you can afford during a Chapter 13 plan, with the rest then legally written off forever.  

 

Our last blog post was about how Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” deals with “general unsecured debts.” Mostly, they are discharged—legally, permanently written off. There are some exceptions. At the end of the last blog post we said we’d talk next about those exceptions. But before we do, today we want to give the Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” side. What happens to “general unsecured debts” in a Chapter 13 case?

“Priority” and “General Unsecured” Debts

First, let’s remind you about the difference between these two kinds of unsecured debts. The difference is crucial because of how they completely differently they are treated in a Chapter 13 case.

Remember that priority debts are specific categories of debts that the law says must be treated very specially. They are all on a list at Section 507 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. The main “priority” debts in consumer Chapter 13 cases are past-due child and spousal support and certain recent income tax debts.

If an unsecured debt is not on the list of priority debts then it’s a general unsecured debt. They are by far the most common kind of debt.

The Difference in Treatment under Chapter 13

You must pay priority debts in full during the course of the 3-to-5-year Chapter 13 payment plan. You usually only have to pay general unsecured debts to the extent you have money available to pay them.

So, priority debts have to be paid 100%. General unsecured debts are often paid only a small percent, often only 5-10%, sometimes maybe even 0%.

In most situations the result is that during your Chapter 13 payment period you must pay your priority debts in full before paying your general unsecured debts anything.

General Unsecured Debts during a Chapter 13 Case

So during a Chapter 13 case you pay your general unsecured debts as much as you can pay them. But that’s after paying your living expenses, and your secured and priority debts. You usually even get to pay the costs of your case (your bankruptcy lawyer’s fees) and trustee fees ahead of your general unsecured debts.  

In fact, if your income goes down or expenses go up during your case, you may even be able to amend your payment plan to reduce what the general unsecured debts get paid because you can no longer afford to pay them as much as you originally expected.

General Unsecured Debts at the End of a Chapter 13 Case

After all this, what happens to your general unsecured debts at your successful completion of a Chapter 13 case? After paying these debts as much as you can afford to pay them (as specified in your court-approved payment plan), the remaining balance, no matter how much, is discharged—legally written off.

At that point you’ve paid your priority debts in full. To the extent you are taking care of secured debts (home mortgage, vehicle loan, furniture debt, etc.), you’ve paid all you need to pay them, leaving them current or paid off. You’ve paid the general unsecured debts whatever percentage (if any) your plan provides, with the rest discharged. You are now current on one or two long-term secured debts you’ve chosen to keep (if you had any), and otherwise you’re completely debt-free.

 

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