Chapter 13 can prevent income tax liens on dischargeable taxes. But the discharge takes years, and you may have to pay part of that tax.
Two weeks ago we showed how the filing of a bankruptcy case stops the recording of an income tax lien. A bankruptcy filing imposes the “automatic stay.” That law makes it illegal for the IRS or state tax agency to record a tax lien. (See Section 362(a)(4) and (5) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code forbidding the creating or enforcing of a lien.) That’s true whether your lawyer files a “straight bankruptcy” Chapter 7 case or an “adjustment of debts” Chapter 13 one.
Then last week we showed how this works specifically in a Chapter 7 case. IF the tax meets all of the conditions for discharge (legal write-off), then your Chapter 7 filing would prevent a tax lien, discharge the tax debt, and forever avoid a tax lien on that tax.
But how about in a Chapter 13 case? We know it would also stop an income tax lien recording, but then what would happen? Which would be better, Chapter 7 or 13?
Dischargeable Tax Debts under Chapter 13
Assume again that the tax debt at issue meets the conditions for discharge. That tax would get discharged at the end of a Chapter 13 case, like in a Chapter 7 case. But there are two big differences.
Discharge of the Tax Debt Takes Much, Much Longer
First, that discharge of the tax debt would not happened within about 4 months as it would in most Chapter 7 cases. Instead it would happen usually 3 to 5 years later, the length of most Chapter 13 cases. The automatic stay protection usually lasts throughout that time. So the IRS/state could take no tax collection actions in the meantime, including the recording of a tax lien.
But such a long period of time may allow problems to arise preventing the completion of your case. If you don’t successfully complete a Chapter 13 case the discharge doesn’t go into effect. So there is more risk that an otherwise dischargeable tax debt ends up not discharged. If the tax doesn’t get discharged, the IRS/state could record a tax lien as soon as you were no longer in your Chapter 13 case.
You May Have to Pay on that Tax
Second, under Chapter 13 you could pay part of the dischargeable income tax debt during your case. You generally pay some of your debts through a monthly payment plan. This may include some of your dischargeable tax debt. In a Chapter 7 case, in contrast, usually you pay nothing on a dischargeable tax debt.
Whether you would pay anything on such a tax under Chapter 13, and how much, depends on many factors. These factors focus on the nature and amount of your other debts, and on your income and living expenses. Often, you actually don’t pay anything more in a Chapter 13 case if you have a dischargeable tax debt than if you don’t owe that tax. That’s because you often pay a set amount towards all your debts based on what you can afford. Whatever you may pay towards a dischargeable tax would otherwise have just gone towards your other debts. However, in general under Chapter 13 there’s some risk that you’d pay something on a tax debt instead of nothing.
The Bottom Line
It is worth emphasizing that if you successfully complete your Chapter 13 case, a dischargeable tax will get discharged. So you would no longer owe anything on it. So the IRS/state would not be able to record a tax lien on it, just like under Chapter 7.
How about a Tax that Can’t Be Discharged?
What if the income tax at issue does not meet the conditions for discharge? A Chapter 7 or 13 filing would stop the recording of a tax lien, at least temporarily. But what happens then? Is Chapter 7 or 13 better in this situation for permanently stopping a tax lien? We’ll cover this next week.