Help! The IRS is Garnishing My Wages: Bankruptcy and Tax Debt Skip to main content
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Help! The IRS is Garnishing My Wages: Bankruptcy and Tax Debt

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Most people understand that wage garnishment is basically what happens when a court order requires your employer to withdraw a portion of your paycheck for the repayment of a debt. If you are already up to your ears in debt and barely able to make ends meet each month, one wage garnishment, be it by the IRS or another entity, can be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

Although any kind of debt can eventually result in garnishment of wages, the most common types include back child support, unpaid court fines or judgments, defaulted student loans, and the biggie: delinquent taxes owed to the IRS or any state government.

The good news, which may come as a surprise to some, is that tax debts are dischargeable in bankruptcy (within certain parameters).

Just so you know, if a debt is "dischargeable", that means you can get rid of it permanently by filing bankruptcy; and that means you never have to pay it back.

Six Rules to Discharge Income Tax Debts

If the income tax debt meets all six of these rules, then the income tax debt is dischargeable in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases.

Note: Each of these rules must be applied separately to each year's tax debt.

1. First, the tax debt must be "income" tax debt. That is, the debt for which you are required to file an IRS 1040 form. Other types of tax debts, for example employer tax withholding and sales taxes, are never dischargeable.

2. The "due date" for filing your income tax return (for the particular tax involved) had to have been at least three years prior to the bankruptcy.

3. The tax return had to be actually filed at least two years prior to the bankruptcy.

4. The tax assessment must have occurred at least 240 days prior to the bankruptcy. "Assessment" basically means the date when the IRS billed you for the tax.

5. The tax return was not fraudulent.

6. You are not guilty of tax evasion.

The bottom line is that tons of income tax debt gets relieved as a result of filing bankruptcy.

Caveat: In some situations, you may have to pay back a part of even a discharged debt. For example, where the IRS has filed a "tax lien" for the debt in question, in which case some of your property ends up serving as collateral for the payment of the debt. As a practical matter, however, even though there may be a tax lien on file, that does not mean the IRS will. Certain types of property, like household goods for example, are protected. Certain types of property are not worth enough for the IRS to bother with. And certain types of property are untouchabable by the IRS, as a practical matter, for more or less political reasons. However, if there is a tax lien filed against you, you have to be careful. We suggest you check with a good bankruptcy attorney to find out what, if any, of your property is at risk.

Got a lot of older income tax debt? Got the IRS bugging you and trying to grab your income, your bank account or other stuff? You may be able to do something about it.

The one thing that trumps the IRS is the bankruptcy laws. You may want to check with a good bankruptcy attorney.

In North Carolina, you have one. The Law Offices of John T. Orcutt, with offices conveniently located in Raleigh, Durham, Fayetteville and Wilson. For a totally FREE, initial consultation, call toll free to: 1-888-234-4181.

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