You Can Write Off Some Income Taxes with A “Straight Bankruptcy”

Chapter 13 can be a great way to deal with tax debts. But you don’t always need it, or its 3-to-5-year payment plan.

Chapter 7 vs. 13 for Income Taxes

Thinking that the only way to handle your income tax debts in bankruptcy is through Chapter 13 is a misunderstanding of the law. It’s an angle on the broader error thinking that you can’t write off taxes in a bankruptcy.

Both are understandable mistakes.

It is true that some taxes cannot be discharged (legally written off) in bankruptcy. But some can be.

And it is true that Chapter 13 can be the best way to solve many income tax problems. But that does not necessarily mean it is the best for you. Chapter 7 might be instead.

When Chapter 13 Is Better

Chapter 13 tends to be the better option if you owe a string of income tax debts, and especially if some are relatively recent ones. That’s because in these situations Chapter 13 solves two huge problems in one package.

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. Indeed the amount you pay each month is based on what you can afford to pay. You can often even hold off on paying anything towards the back taxes while you first pay even more important debts—such as back child support, or home mortgage arrearage.

Second, if you have older back taxes, under Chapter 13 you pay these only to the extent that you can afford to do so after first paying your more recent taxes. Then whatever of these older taxes are not paid during your case are discharged at the end of it.

When Chapter 7 is Better

But you don’t need the Chapter 13 package if all or most of your income tax debts are dischargeable. In that situation, the generally much simpler Chapter 7 could be enough.

So, what makes an income tax debt dischargeable under Chapter 7?

The Conditions for Discharging Income Taxes

Some of the conditions for determining which taxes can be discharged are quite straightforward, but some are more complicated. It’s not as simple as applying a simple formula to any particular tax debt to see if it is dischargeable. Figuring out whether a particular tax debt will be discharged requires the careful judgment of an experienced attorney.

The conditions for discharging income taxes are listed here, and then will be explained in the next blog. As listed, they may well not make perfect sense, so make sure you see the next blog post.

To discharge an income tax debt in a Chapter 7 case, it must meet these conditions:

  1. 3 years since tax return due: The tax return for the pertinent tax must have been due more than three years before you file your Chapter 7 case. Also, if you requested any extensions for filing the applicable tax returns, add that extra time to this three-year period.
  2. 2 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 file a “fraudulent return” or “willfully attempt in any manner to evade or defeat such tax.”

These four conditions need clarification, which will be provided in the next blog post.


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