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Bankruptcy and Tax Debts: What You Need to Know

When facing overwhelming financial challenges, the decision to file for bankruptcy can provide much-needed relief and a fresh start.

However, one area that often raises questions and confusion is the treatment of tax debts within the bankruptcy process. While bankruptcy offers the opportunity to discharge certain types of debt, the rules surrounding tax obligations are complex and nuanced.

Understanding Tax Debt in Bankruptcy

Tax debts, whether owed to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or state and local tax authorities, are treated differently than other types of unsecured debt in bankruptcy proceedings.

The ability to discharge tax debt depends on a variety of factors, including the type of tax, the age of the debt, and whether the taxpayer filed the required returns on time.

The Bankruptcy Code establishes specific guidelines for determining which tax debts are eligible for discharge and which must be repaid, either in full or through a repayment plan. It’s essential for individuals considering bankruptcy to understand these rules to make informed decisions and avoid potential pitfalls.

Discharging Tax Debts in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

When filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, also known as a “straight bankruptcy,” certain tax debts may be eligible for discharge, allowing the taxpayer to eliminate their liability. However, there are strict criteria that must be met:

  1. The tax debt must be income tax debt, meaning debts like payroll taxes, trust fund taxes, or penalties related to tax fraud are not dischargeable.
  2. The debt must be at least three years old, calculated from the due date of the tax return, including any extensions.
  3. The tax return for the debt must have been filed at least two years before the bankruptcy filing date.
  4. The tax assessment must have been made at least 240 days before the bankruptcy filing date.
  5. The taxpayer must not have committed any fraudulent or willful evasion related to the tax debt.

If all of these conditions are met, the income tax debt may be dischargeable in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. However, it’s important to note that any tax liens attached to the taxpayer’s property will remain in place, even after the debt is discharged.

Repaying Tax Debts in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

Filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy, also known as a “wage earner’s plan,” provides an alternative path for addressing tax debts. In this type of bankruptcy, the taxpayer proposes a repayment plan to reorganize their debts, including tax obligations, and make manageable monthly payments over a period of three to five years.

Unlike Chapter 7, there is no specific age or filing requirement for tax debts to be addressed in a Chapter 13 repayment plan.

However, certain types of tax debt, such as trust fund taxes or penalties related to tax fraud, may be considered non-dischargeable and must be paid in full through the plan.

During the repayment period, the taxpayer must prioritize the repayment of certain debts, including recent tax obligations and any outstanding tax liens.

Any remaining tax debt that meets the criteria for discharge may be eliminated after the successful completion of the repayment plan.


Dealing with tax debts

Dealing with Tax Liens

Tax liens are a powerful tool used by tax authorities to secure their interest in collecting unpaid taxes. When a tax lien is filed, it attaches to the taxpayer’s property, including real estate, personal property, and financial assets.

In bankruptcy, tax liens are treated differently than the underlying tax debt. Even if the tax debt is discharged, any existing tax liens will remain in place, and the taxpayer will be responsible for addressing them.

Taxpayers have several options for dealing with tax liens in bankruptcy:

  1. Avoid the lien: In certain circumstances, the taxpayer may be able to avoid the tax lien entirely if specific criteria are met, such as the lien being improperly filed or the property being exempt from the lien.
  2. Redeem the lien: The taxpayer can pay the tax debt in full, effectively removing the lien from their property.
  3. Reaffirm the debt: The taxpayer can choose to reaffirm the tax debt, agreeing to repay it despite the bankruptcy, to avoid the lien.
  4. Repay the lien through a repayment plan: In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the taxpayer can include the tax lien in their repayment plan, paying it off over the course of the plan.

It’s crucial for taxpayers to understand the implications of tax liens and work closely with a knowledgeable bankruptcy attorney to develop a strategy for addressing them effectively.

Seeking Professional Guidance

Navigating the complexities of tax debts in bankruptcy can be a daunting task. Tax laws are intricate, and the consequences of mishandling tax obligations can be severe.

It’s highly recommended that individuals considering bankruptcy seek the guidance of an experienced bankruptcy attorney, including:

A qualified bankruptcy attorney can evaluate the specifics of your tax debts, advise on the best course of action, and ensure that all necessary steps are taken to comply with bankruptcy regulations and tax laws.

Likewise, a licensed tax professional, such as a certified public accountant (CPA) or enrolled agent, can provide valuable insights into your tax situation, identify potential issues, and assist with resolving any outstanding tax matters.

By working with experienced professionals, taxpayers can navigate the bankruptcy process with confidence, minimize potential risks, and maximize their chances of achieving a truly fresh start, free from the burden of overwhelming tax debts.


Where Can I Find Help?

Dealing with bankruptcy doesn’t have to be a single-person job. The bankruptcy lawyers at Parker & DuFresne will help you determine the best course of action to help you get out from under your debt and move forward to a debt-free financial future.

Call today at 904-733-7766 for a free consultation, or click the button at the top of the page to schedule online.


Florida Bankruptcy Lawyers

Parker and DuFresne

Parker and DuFresne