Tax Debt and Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy is a possible option for taxpayers who want to resolve their tax debt, but are financially incapable of paying their debt. Before filing for bankruptcy, taxpayers should explore their eligibility for IRS tax debt reduction plans such as Offer in Compromise. If the taxpayer has some ability to pay the tax debt, an Offer in Compromise or a Partial Payment Installment Agreement may be considered to achieve a resolution. If the taxpayer has absolutely no ability to pay the tax debt due to financial hardship in their present circumstances, IRS status Currently Not Collectible may be an option.

Types of Debts

There are two types of debts: dischargeable and non-dischargeable. Before filing for bankruptcy, you must check which types of debts are dischargeable and which are not. Only dischargeable debts can be released through bankruptcy. Each tax debt case is unique and it is the specific details of the tax debt case that determine the status of a debt.

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

Individuals can file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7, Chapter 11 and Chapter 13 of the bankruptcy code. Self-employed workers, sole proprietors and wage earners should file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Partnerships and corporations can file for a Chapter 7 or Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Those filing a Chapter 13 must meet all the eligibility requirements, including:

  • The taxpayer must have filed all required tax returns within four years of filing for bankruptcy
  • The taxpayer must have a regular income

Taxpayers must continue to file taxes during bankruptcy. If they cannot file on time, they may get an extension of time to file. The IRS does issue tax refunds during bankruptcy, but taxpayers may experience delays in receiving their tax refunds because of the special refund processing for those in bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy and Collection Actions

Filing for bankruptcy under any chapter automatically stops all collection actions. To initiate bankruptcy proceedings, taxpayers need to file a petition in bankruptcy court. Filing for bankruptcy does not stop the IRS from sending certain notices, such as notices regarding unfiled tax returns. The notices the IRS sends after a taxpayer files for bankruptcy are sent to the address on the most recently filed tax return. If a change of address is reported to the United States Postal Service by filing Form 8822, Change of Address, the IRS will use that address.

If a taxpayer during bankruptcy does not file returns and/or pay current taxes, the IRS may dismiss their case.

Discharge of Bankruptcy

If all the conditions during bankruptcy are met, the IRS will discharge the tax debt. The issuance of a discharge frees the debtor from all personal liability for the tax debt that is dischargeable.

Tax debts that are too old cannot be resolved through bankruptcy even if they meet other qualifying criteria. The laws specific to bankruptcy state specific eligibility factors regarding the age of the tax debt.

A tax debt is dischargeable in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 only if it meets these criteria:

  1. The tax liability is at least 3 years old.
  2. The tax return was filed at least two years prior to the bankruptcy petition.
  3. The IRS assessed the debt at least 240 days prior to the bankruptcy petition.
  4. The liability is from income taxes.

In addition, the tax returns filed must not be fraudulent, and the taxpayers must not be guilty of evading taxes.

Consulting a tax attorney before filing for bankruptcy will help taxpayers to understand their rights and to choose the best possible options available. In many cases of tax debt, filing for bankruptcy might not be the best possible resolution. To resolve a case of tax debt that involves filing for bankruptcy it is important to get accurate information from reputed sources, including the IRS website and/or a tax specialist.

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