How can bankruptcy help me with tax debt?

Submitted by Jen Jones on Mon, 01/25/2010 - 8:33pm

How can bankruptcy help me with tax debt?

It's tax season. Which means that for most people, it's time to realize just how much we give to Uncle Sam every year. For some, the prospect of a refund provides a glimmer of hope that some new money is coming in soon to pay off debts.

Just a quick little note on your tax dollars before we get into the meat of this post: it is actually better to owe just a little bit of money after filing because that means that you have used more of our your own money throughout the year instead of giving it all to the government. Sure, a nice windfall come April is a nice thing. But keep in mind that it's your money---you're just getting it later. And, when it comes to investing, "money now" is always better than "money later."

Because it's tax season, we thought it important to discuss how taxes and personal bankruptcy can relate to one another. It is possible to use bankruptcy as a way to get rid of large, outstanding tax obligations but it's not as easy as discharging a few grand in credit card debt.

Chapter 13 bankruptcy in most cases requires you to pay back what's owed within your monthly payment plan and Chapter 7 rarely allows for the complete expulsion of your tax debts. (If you're not sure of the differences between Chapters 13 and 7, simply do a search on our blog for each.)

There are, however, some precedents set for removing tax obligations as part of a bankruptcy. Although we encourage you to understand that it is a complicated process and the results are not always what you may be hoping for.

(Understand this post is only scratching the surface. Only in person can we provide a full breakdown of taxes and bankruptcy.)

One reason tax debt and bankruptcy tend to get tangled is that past due taxes can fall into all three categories of debt type: Dischargeable, Nondischargebale priority debts, and Nondischargeable priority debts.

Provided you filed your taxes on time, legally and provide no evidence of tax evasion other than legitimately being unable to pay, you can discharge tax debt in Chapter 7 and 13. Still, what's owed must be more than three years late and assessed more than 240 days before you file. That means that you were officially declared late and in debt that many days before you filed. This ensures the IRS that you are not declaring just to get rid of a recent tax debt.

BUT (you knew there was one), that 240 day window starts only after the last extension expires, not when the original debt was assessed. Other impediments to that three year time-frame include a 90-day addition if a previous bankruptcy case of yours was still open while you were assessed the tax debt; the addition of any time the IRS was prevented from collecting as a result of a court ordered due process hearing plus an additional 90 days; and any time that a debt assistance professional formally asked the IRS to temporarily halt collection efforts.

Basically, any effort you make to delay the collection of tax debt, even if perfectly legal, counts against your ability to discharge tax debt in a bankruptcy.

The key to bankruptcy and taxes, like all things in life really, is to be completely honest and upfront. Any attempt to hide or even coyly plead ignorance will be considered an attempt to obscure or defraud the court and even worse, the IRS. Not being able to pay your taxes, especially after a mid-year job loss, is a common thing. Don't make it worse.

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