You don’t always need to file a Chapter 13 case—with its 3-to-5-year payment plan–to deal with income tax debts. Thinking that you do is a myth, alongside the broader myth that “you can’t write off taxes in a bankruptcy.” Both have a kernel of truth, which is why they persist. It’s true: some taxes cannot be discharged (legally written off) in bankruptcy. But some can. And it’s true: Chapter 13 is often an excellent way to solve tax problems. But that does not necessarily mean it is the best for you. Instead Chapter 7 might be.
Chapter 13 tends to be the better tool if you owe a string of income tax debts including relatively recent ones. Why? Because in this situation Chapter 13 gives you the best of both worlds. First, if you owe recent income taxes which cannot be discharged, you get lots of advantages under Chapter 13, including paying less by avoiding most penalties and interest. That can be a huge savings, especially if you can afford only relatively small payments. Second, if you have older back taxes, these are also wrapped into the Chapter 13 plan, often without you paying any more into your plan, then they are discharged at the end of your case.
But you DON’T NEED the best of both worlds if all or most of your income tax debts are dischargeable. Then Chapter 7, the straightforward “straight” bankruptcy is enough.
So, WHAT ARE the conditions for a specific income tax debt to be discharged in Chapter 7? How are you going to know if Chapter 7 will discharge all or most of your taxes so that it is the right option for you?
Some of the conditions for discharge of taxes are quite straightforward. Some are more complicated. And as you’ll see, some are even purposely vague. So unfortunately it’s not as simple as plugging a particular tax debt into a clear formula to see if it is dischargeable. Determining whether a particular tax debt will be discharged requires the careful judgment of an experienced attorney.
I’ll just list these conditions for discharging income taxes here, and then explain them in my next blog. Don’t be surprised if they sound confusing in this list. It’s true: anything having to do with taxes tends to be complicated!
To discharge an income tax debt in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, it must meet these conditions:
1) Three years since tax return due: The applicable tax return must have been due more than three years before you file your Chapter 7 case. And if you requested any extensions for filing the applicable tax returns, you have to add that extra time to this three-year period.
2) Two years since tax return actually filed: Regardless when the tax return was due, you must have filed at least two years before your bankruptcy is filed in court.
3) 240 days since assessment: The taxing authority must have assessed the tax more than 240 days before the bankruptcy filing.
4) Fraudulent tax returns and tax evasion: You cannot have filed a “fraudulent return” or “willfully attempted in any manner to evade or defeat such tax.”
You can see that these are begging for some clarification. For that please come back to read my next blog. Or else call to set up a consultation with me. If you have substantial tax debts, you should definitely get some thorough personal advice. Know your options so you can make an informed choice, about bankruptcy and otherwise.