Avoid Income Tax Liens with Chapter 7
Sept. 9, 2019
Chapter 7 can prevent future income tax lien recordings against your home, if the tax is truly dischargeable and you have a no-asset case.
Last week’s blog post was about filing bankruptcy to prevent the IRS/state from recording income tax liens on your home. The “automatic stay”—bankruptcy’s broad freeze of creditor collection actions—stops tax lien recordings immediately when you file your case. To repeat what we said last week:
Federal law is crystal clear that filing bankruptcy stops and prevents “any act to create, perfect, or enforce any lien” against your property. Section 362(a)(4 and 5) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. The IRS and the state tax agencies do not dispute this. They cannot record a tax lien against your home or anything you own once you file bankruptcy.
But how this works is quite different under Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” and under Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts.” Today we talk about filing Chapter 7 to stop tax liens, next week about Chapter 13.
The Chapter 7 Advantages
The primary benefit of Chapter 7 is speed. Assume you have a tax debt that meets the qualifications for discharge (legal write-off). (See our earlier blog post titled Bankruptcy Writes Off (Some) Income Taxes.) Most Chapter 7 cases take 3-4 months from filing to completion. Most Chapter 13 cases take 3-5 years. If you have a tax debt that you are able to discharge, doing so quickly makes lots of sense. Chapter 7 is your likely answer.
Another big benefit: Chapter 7 is much more likely to discharge the tax debt without you having to pay any of it. Most Chapter 7 cases are “no asset” ones. This means that all of your assets are “exempt”—protected from liquidation by the Chapter 7 trustee. This usually means that your “general unsecured” debts would get discharged and be paid nothing. A dischargeable income tax debt is a general unsecured debt. So Chapter 7 would usually discharge the tax debt in full, without paying anything on it. (This assumes that you filed the Chapter 7 case before the IRS/state recorded a tax lien. That recording would turn the tax debt into a secured one, which you very much want to avoid.)
Under Chapter 13, in contrast, there is a significant risk that you would have to pay something on a dischargeable tax debt. We’ll explain how this works in the next blog post. Avoiding that risk, and discharging the tax in just a few months: these both make Chapter 7 a very tempting option.
The Chapter 7 Disadvantage
The potential downside of Chapter 7 is that the automatic stay protection only lasts a short time. You are protected from the IRS’/state’s power to record a tax lien only during the length of the Chapter 7 case. Section 362(c)(2)(A) of the Bankruptcy Code says that the automatic stay ends when the case is closed. Again, that case closure usually happens only 3 or 4 months after your bankruptcy lawyer files your case.
However, IF the tax debt at issue definitely meets all the qualifying factors for discharge, this is NOT a problem. Once bankruptcy discharges any debt, the creditor may no longer take any collection action on it. Section 524(a)(2) of the Bankruptcy Code make any “act… to collect” a discharged debt illegal. This applies to the IRS and state tax agencies just like any other creditor. So, as long as the tax debt at issue will truly be discharged in your Chapter 7 case, you don’t need to worry about any future tax lien on that discharged debt. Clearly, it’s crucial that you have a competent and conscientious bankruptcy lawyer to determine whether your tax is truly dischargeable. If so, then you can rely on Chapter 7 to prevent the recording of a tax lien, discharge that tax debt, and give you freedom forever from a tax lien on that tax.