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Archive for the ‘tax garnishment’ tag

Bankruptcy Writes Off (Some) Income Taxes

March 4th, 2019 at 8:00 am

Bankruptcy permanently writes off income taxes, as long as the tax meets certain conditions. For some taxes the conditions are easy to meet. 

 

Bankruptcy DOES Write Off Income Taxes

There are certain very special debts that bankruptcy never writes off. Child and spousal support is a good example. See Sections 523(a)(5) and 101(14A) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

Income taxes are different. Income taxes CAN be written off, as long as you meet a few conditions. These conditions mostly tie in to timing—when the tax was due and when (and whether) you filed its tax return.

The Two Timing Conditions

In most people meeting these conditions is straightforward. You essentially have to file your tax returns and wait long enough to comply with for the following two conditions:

  1. You submitted the pertinent tax return to the IRS/state and did so more than 2 years before filing your bankruptcy case. Section 523(a)(1)(B)(ii) of the Bankruptcy Code.
  2. The legal due date for that tax return was more than 3 years before filing your bankruptcy case. Section 507(a)(8) of the Bankruptcy Code.

For example, assume you owe the IRS $5,000 for the 2014 tax year, and you submitted its tax return a full year late—in April 2016. It’s been more than 2 years since that so you meet the first condition. The legal due date for that tax return was in April 2015, which is more than 3 years ago. So you also meet the second condition. So in most situations bankruptcy would write off that 2014 income tax debt of $5,000.

A Few Important Twists about the Timing

Keep three practical considerations in mind about these two time periods:

  1. The 3-year period only starts to run when the tax return was “last due, including extensions.” Section 523(a)(1)(B)(ii). The 3 years only begins at the extended due date. It’s absolutely crucial that your bankruptcy lawyer gets the correct information from you about whether you got an extension that year.
  2. If you’re cutting it close (because you’re in a big hurry to file), the precise tax return due date can be crucial. Remember that taxes are not always due on April 15 and October 15 (for extensions). Weekends and holidays can push the due date out even several days. That means you may have to wait some extra days to file your bankruptcy case to be able to write off that tax debt.
  3. Careful about making a mistake about whether and when you actually submitted your tax return. It may be worth finding out directly from the IRS/state to avoid getting a rude surprise after filing your bankruptcy case.

Other Uncommon Conditions

There are two other conditions that might possibly apply, in more complicated situations.

  1. More than 240 days must pass from when the IRS/state assessed the income tax to when filing your bankruptcy case. Assessment usually happens within a few weeks after you get your tax returns in to the IRS/state. So usually this condition is easily met. It only tends to apply if assessment gets delayed with a tax audit, litigation in Tax Court, a tax appeal, offer in compromise, and other complications.
  2. Regardless of all these timing rules, you can never write off an income tax based on a fraudulent tax return or if you intentionally evade a tax. This is uncommon. It tends to only come up if you were significantly dishonest with the tax authorities.

Conclusion

In most situations you can write off the tax if you filed your pertinent tax return and both the 2-year and 3-year periods have passed. But the intersection between bankruptcy and income taxes is definitely complicated. Be sure to see a competent bankruptcy lawyer if you owe taxes so that you get the full benefit of the law.

 

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

August 13th, 2018 at 7:00 am

Chapter 13 protects you from a recorded tax lien in crucial ways, and can reduce how much you pay on the underlying dischargeable tax debt. 

 

Last week’s blog post was about dealing with a recorded tax lien by filing a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case.  Usually the IRS’ or state’s recording of a tax lien against you effectively requires you to pay the underlying tax. That’s true even if that tax otherwise qualifies for total discharge—legal write-off in bankruptcy. That’s because a recorded tax lien converts that tax debt from being unsecured to being fully secured by your property and possessions. You pay the tax—sooner or later—to avoid losing what you own.

When Chapter 7 Might Help

Last week we outlined some circumstances in which Chapter 7 might satisfactorily deal with a recorded tax lien. Those circumstances were when the tax lien either failed to apply to any assets you own or the assets were worth much less than the tax debt at issue. For example, the IRS/state may record a lien on your home which in the process of getting foreclosed. If you’re letting the house go then that tax lien has no leverage over you. Your Chapter 7 case would discharge the income tax debt and the subsequent home foreclosure would undo the tax lien.

But these situations are quite rare. Usually a recorded tax lien (or more than one) covers everything you own. Usually the value of your assets encumbered by the lien(s) well exceeds the amount of the tax at issue. Or even if your assets’ value is less than the tax(es) owed, you don’t want to lose those assets. So you have no choice but to pay the tax owed. That’s true even if that tax otherwise qualified to be fully discharged.

However, if filing a Chapter 7 case takes care of all your other debts, maybe that’s okay. It would have been better to file before the tax lien’s recording so you could have just discharged the tax. But if it’s too late for that, clearing the deck of all or most of your other debts so you can concentrate on the tax debt afterwards may be your best option.

When Chapter 13 Could Be Much Better

The last paragraph assumes you could afford to pay the tax covered by the tax lien. But what if after finishing your Chapter 7 case you still didn’t have enough money each month? The protection from creditor collections (the “automatic stay”) you get from filing bankruptcy disappears when the case is over. That’s only about 3-4 months after your bankruptcy lawyer files your Chapter 7 case. With the tax lien putting your assets at risk you’d have tremendous pressure on you to pay the tax. So if you couldn’t afford to pay as fast as the IRS/state would demand you’d have a serious problem.

Filing a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case could significantly help.

First, the automatic stay protection against the IRS/state usually lasts the 3 to 5 years that a Chapter 13 case takes to complete. That alone greatly reduces the constant tension of being at the mercy of the tax authorities. During the Chapter 13 case your assets that are encumbered by the lien are protected from seizure. And your income and other assets are protected from any other tax collection efforts.

Second, you usually have much more flexibility in your payoff of the underlying tax. You have much more control over the amount and timing of payments on the tax debt. Your monthly Chapter 13 plan payments are based on your realistic budget. In earmarking where the money from those payments goes you can often pay other even more urgent debts (such as catching up on a home mortgage or child suport) ahead of the tax debt. You can sometimes delay paying the tax until some future event, like the sale of your home or other asset.

When Chapter 13 Is Even Better

When the assets covered by the tax lien have no present value, Chapter 13 is particularly powerful.

Consider a tax lien on a home with no present equity beyond the prior liens. After a Chapter 7 case the IRS/state could just sit on that recorded tax lien until you built up equity in the home. You’d pay down the obligations and the property would rise in value until there was equity to cover the tax lien. The IRS/state would have huge leverage over you. But under Chapter 13 the bankruptcy judge would declare that there’s no present equity secured by the tax lien. The tax would effectively be unsecured—as if there was no tax lien. You’d lump that tax debt in with your general unsecured creditors. You would likely pay only a small portion of that tax debt. Often you would actually pay no more into your Chapter 13 payment plan as a result of that tax.

For example, assume you owed $10,000 in dischargeable income tax.  The IRS recently recorded a tax lien on your home for that tax. Your home is worth $250,000, has $5,000 in property taxes, $210,000 on a first mortgage and $40,000 on a second mortgage. Owing $255,000 you have no equity in the home. But as you pay down the property taxes and the mortgage, and assuming the property value increases, there’d soon be equity securing the tax lien. But Chapter 13 allows you to freeze the present equity situation. The tax lien presently does not cover any equity in your home, the tax debt is thus unsecured, and would be treated just like the rest of your unsecured debt. Adding the tax debt to your other unsecured debt would usually result in you paying no more than you would have otherwise.

 

What the IRS/State Can and Can’t Do After You File Bankruptcy

February 16th, 2018 at 8:00 am

Filing bankruptcy stops tax collection just like it stops other debt collection by more conventional creditors. But there are exceptions.  

 

The last several weeks of blog posts have been about bankruptcy’s “automatic stay” protection from creditor collections.  We’ve also gotten into many of the exceptions to that protection—when certain creditors CAN take certain actions.

Today we focus on some very limited exceptions to the automatic stay protection, those which apply specifically to income taxes. In bankruptcy you don’t want surprises, especially from a tax collector. These limited exceptions are reasonable. But it’ll still help you to understand them in order to not be surprised by them.

Tax Determination is Allowed, Tax Collection is Not

Simply put, the exceptions to the automatic stay protections are about determining the amount of tax owed. The IRS and the state tax authorities can take steps during bankruptcy to figure out how much you owe. They can make you do what the law requires along these lines. For example, they can require you to file your tax returns, regardless that you’ve filed bankruptcy. But then they can’t take any action beyond that to collect any taxes owed.

The IRS/State CAN’T. . .

The automatic stay immediately stops virtually all debt collection activity against you when you file bankruptcy. This protects you, your income, and your assets. Everything is put on hold so that the bankruptcy laws can be applied to your entire financial situation.

Debts that the law discharges—legally writes off—disappear. Other possible debts that the law does not discharge you continue to owe. With income taxes, if they’re old enough and meet other conditions, they’re discharged. Otherwise you’ll either owe them after completing the Chapter 7 case or you’ll pay them through the Chapter 13 case. But in the meantime the IRS and state are forbidden from collecting the debt. They are also forbidden to take any action directly related to collection, like recording a tax lien against your home or vehicle.

So to be clear, the automatic stay exceptions we’re discussing here do NOT allow the tax authorities to take any action to get your money or assets. The IRS and state tax authority can’t start or continue garnishing your paychecks or bank accounts. They can’t levy on (take away) anything else you own. They can’t call you to pay the tax, and can’t send you tax bills.

The IRS/State CAN. . .

As we said above, the taxing authorities can take certain specific steps to determine how much tax you owe. Some of these steps you wouldn’t expect your bankruptcy filing to affect—they’re probably not surprising. You filing bankruptcy does not prevent the IRS/state from doing the following:

  • Start or finish a tax audit “to determine tax liability.” (See Section 362(b)(9)(A) of the Bankruptcy Code.) But there can be no attempt to collect whatever that tax liability ends up being.
  • Send you a notice about the amount of tax that you owe—a “notice of tax deficiency.” (Section 362(b)(9)(B).) That notice is NOT a demand to pay the tax.
  • Demand that you file your tax returns. (Section 362(b)(9)(C).) In fact this step is often essential for the processing of your bankruptcy case.
  • Make an “assessment” of your taxes and issue a “notice and demand for payment.” (Section 362(b)(9)(D).) “Assessment” is a formal determination of the tax amount. The “demand” here is a term of art meaning that you are put on notice that you are obligated to pay the debt. But whether and when you really owe it usually depends on bankruptcy law.

Conclusion

The interplay between bankruptcy law and tax law can be quite complex. The rule of thumb is that bankruptcy stops tax collection but not tax determination. But your situation may have nuances that could make that rule of thumb misleading. If you are in the midst of, or fear, tax collections, be sure to see an experienced bankruptcy lawyer to find out what would happen in your unique situation. And it really does make sense to do so as early as possible. Tax debts are very much an area where early and wise planning could save you a lot of money.

 

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.

 

The Tax Exceptions to the Automatic Stay

October 24th, 2016 at 7:00 am

In spite of you filing bankruptcy, the taxing authorities can still take certain very specific actions as exceptions to the automatic stay. 

 

The last few blog posts have been about bankruptcy’s automatic stay protection from the collection actions of creditors. The last couple of them have been about exceptions to that protection—when certain creditors can take certain actions.

Today we focus on a set of very limited exceptions to the automatic stay which applies specifically to taxes.

What Taxing Authorities CAN’T Do

The automatic stay protections are designed to immediately stop virtually all debt collection activity against you and your assets. The point is to have all creditors stop going after you so that everybody can shift to applying the bankruptcy laws to your financial situation.

Those bankruptcy laws may result in the discharge of a particular tax debt if that tax meets certain conditions. (A “discharge” is a legal, permanent erasing of a debt in bankruptcy.) And if those conditions aren’t met, the tax is not discharged in bankruptcy.

But regardless whether or not a tax is going to be discharged, the automatic stay prevents the taxing authorities from taking the usual actions to collect that tax. The automatic stay tax exceptions do NOT allow them to take any action to get your money or assets. The IRS and state taxing authorities can’t start or continue garnishing (“levying on”) your paychecks. They can’t levy on (take away) anything else you own. They can’t call you to pay the tax. They can’t mail you notices that you must pay the tax (except as stated below).

The Tax Exceptions to the Automatic Stay

What the taxing authorities CAN DO is take certain administrative actions related to DETERMINING the amount of tax you owe, NOT to COLLECTING the tax. So, in spite of you filing bankruptcy, they can do the following:

  • Start or finish a tax audit “to determine tax liability.” (See Section 362(b)(9)(A) of the Bankruptcy Code.)
  • Send you a notice about the amount of tax that you owe—a “notice of tax deficiency.” (Section 362(b)(9)(B).)
  • Demand that you file your tax returns, a legal requirement understandably not affected by your bankruptcy filing, and which indeed is often necessary to be able to administer your bankruptcy case. (Section 362(b)(9)(C).)
  • Make an “assessment” of your taxes and issue a “notice and demand for payment.” (Section 362(b)(9)(D).)
  • Under certain limited circumstances the assessment a tax lien can attach to your personal property and real estate. (Section 362(b)(9)(D).)

Again, other than these limited actions, it’s a violation of the automatic stay and so is illegal for the taxing authorities to take any other collection action against you once you file bankruptcy.

 

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