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Save Your Sole Proprietorship Business through Chapter 13

Posted by Kevin on February 17, 2019 under Bankruptcy Blog | Comments are off for this article

“Adjustment of Debts of an Individual with Regular Income”

That is the formal name given to Chapter 13 of Title 11—the U. S. Bankruptcy Code.

As the word “Individual” indicates, you must be a person to file a Chapter 13 case—a corporation cannot file one. This also applies to a limited liability company (LLC) and other similar types of legal business entities.

But if you have a business which you operate as a sole proprietorship, you and your business can file a Chapter 13 case together.

The assets of your sole proprietor business are simply considered your personal assets. The debts of your business are simply your debts.

This is true even if your business is operated under an assumed business name or d/b/a.

Chapter 13 Helps Your Sole Proprietorship Business in 6 Major Ways

1) Chapter 13 addresses both your business and personal financial problems in one legal and practical package.  You are personally liable on all debts of your sole proprietorship business, as well as, of course, your individual debts. So as long as you qualify for Chapter 13 otherwise, you can simultaneously resolve both your business and personal debts.

2) Chapter 13 stops both business and personal creditors from suing you, placing liens on your assets, and shutting down your business. The “automatic stay” imposed by the filing of your Chapter 13 case stops ALL your creditors from pursuing you, including both business and personal ones. Your personal creditors are prevented from hurting your business, and your business creditors are prevented from taking your personal assets.

3) Chapter 13 enables you to keep whatever business assets you need to keep operating. If you do not file a bankruptcy, and one of either your business or personal creditors gets a judgment against you, it could try to seize your business assets.  Also, if you filed a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy,” under most circumstances you could not continue operating your business. However, Chapter 13 is specifically designed to allow you to keep what you need and continue operating your business.

4) Chapter 13 gives you the power to retain business and personal collateral which secure a business debt even if you are behind on payments. Chapter 13 will allow you to pay those arrearages over the term of the Chapter 13 plan which could be between 36-60 months usually with no interest.

5) If you have second or third mortgages of your personal residence which are completely underwater (e.g. residence worth $200,000 subject to a $225,000 first mortgage and a $60,000 home equity loan), Chapter 13 allows you to strip off the second mortgage and treat it like an unsecured date.  That means that the $60,000 second gets paid for pennies on the dollar from your monthly payments to the Chapter 13 trustee.  And if you successfully complete the Plan, the second mortgage must be cancelled of record.

6.  Business owners in financial trouble are generally also in tax trouble. Chapter 13 gives business owners time to pay tax debts that cannot be discharged (permanently written off), all the while keeping the IRS and other tax agencies at bay. Chapter 13 usually stops the accruing of additional penalties and interest, enabling the tax to be paid off much more quickly. Tax liens can be handled especially well. At the end of a successful Chapter 13 case you will have either discharged or paid off all your tax debts, and will be tax-free.

A Chapter 7 “Straight Bankruptcy” Can . . . Help You Deal with Taxes from Your Closed Business

Posted by Kevin on October 12, 2014 under Bankruptcy Blog | Comments are off for this article

Chapter 7 can legally write off some business-related taxes, and put you in a good position to take care of the rest.


Although Chapter 13 can be the best way to handle taxes owed from running a business, not necessarily. Sometimes Chapter 7 is the better solution. Through it, you may be able to discharge some or all of your income tax debts, or maybe at least clean up your debts enough so that you can realistically take care of the remaining taxes.


If you own, or recently owned, a business that is failing or failed, you likely have a more complicated financial situation than people with just regular consumer debts. You may have heard that the Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” type of bankruptcy often deals better with messy situations. But you’ve also heard that this option takes three to five years, and that doesn’t appeal to you. However you might also think that the comparatively quick and straightforward Chapter 7 is not up to the task. But it just might be.

In deciding whether a Chapter 7 is right for you in this kind of situation, the main considerations are the kind of debts and the kind of assets you have. We first get into the debt issues, starting today with taxes.

Business Debts…

Chapter 7 tends to be the better solution if most or all of your debts are of the kind that will be discharged—legally written off—leaving you with little or no debt. Chapter 13 is often better if you have debts that are NOT going to be discharged—especially taxes—because it can give you major leverage over those debts. It protects you from them while giving you a sensible way to pay them.  So let’s look at this in the context of tax debts.

… Personal Income and “Trust Fund” Taxes

It seems inevitable—people who been running a struggling business almost always owe back taxes. As a small business hangs in there month after month, year after year, often there just isn’t enough money for the self-employed owner to pay the quarterly estimated income taxes, and then not enough money to pay the tax when it’s time to file the annual tax return. Tax returns themselves may not be filed for a year or two or more.

And if the owner was being paid as an employee of the business, or if the business had any other employees, it may have withheld employee income tax and Social Security/Medicare from the paychecks but then did not pay those funds to the IRS and the state/local tax authority. These are the so-called “trust fund” taxes, for which the business owner is usually held liable, and which can never be discharged in bankruptcy.

If you have a significant amount of tax debt, and especially if it includes “trust fund” taxes, and/or the taxes you owe span a number of years, Chapter 13 may be better for a number of reasons. Mostly, it can protect you and your assets while you pay the IRS or other tax authority based on your actual ability to pay instead of according to whatever their rules dictate. And you often have the power to pay other higher-priority debts at the same time or even ahead of the taxes, allowing you to hang onto a vehicle or catch up on child support, and such.

But you don’t always need that kind of Chapter 13 help, so don’t take the Chapter 7 option off the table without considering it closely. Keep these two points in mind:

First, personal income taxes which are old enough and meet a number of other conditions can be discharged in Chapter 7.  That could either eliminate your tax debt—if you closed your business a while ago and your taxes are all from a few years ago—or at least reduce it to a more manageable amount.

Second, regardless whether you can discharge any taxes, if you know that you will continue owing income taxes after your Chapter 7 case is completed you may be pleasantly surprised how reasonable the tax authorities can be with their repayment terms. You will need to continue paying interest, and usually also a penalty—both of which would likely be avoided through Chapter 13.  But the interest rate right now—with the IRS at least—is quite low, and some penalties reach a cap and stop accruing after that. You do need to keep in mind that the taxing authorities may or may not be flexible about lowering the payments if your finances take a turn for the worse. So you should avoid entering into a tax installment payment agreement unless you have reliable income source.

Filing a Chapter 7 Case to Save Your Business

Posted by on December 16, 2013 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

A Chapter 13 case is often the preferred way to keep a sole proprietorship business alive. But can a regular Chapter 7 one ever do the same?

In my last blog I said that “if you own an ongoing business as a DBA… which you intend to keep operating, Chapter 7 may be a risky option.” Why? Because Chapter 7 is a “liquidating bankruptcy,” so the bankruptcy trustee could make you surrender any valuable components of your business, thereby jeopardizing the viability of the business. But this deserves further exploration.

Your Assets in a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

When a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is filed, everything the debtor owns is considered to be part of the bankruptcy “estate.” A bankruptcy trustee oversees this estate. One of his or her primary tasks is to determine whether this estate has any assets worth collecting and distributing to creditors. Often there are no estate assets to collect and distribute because the debtor can protect, or “exempt,” certain categories and amounts of assets. The exempt assets continue to belong to the debtor and can’t be taken by the trustee for distribution to the creditors. The purpose of these “exemptions” is to let people filing bankruptcy keep a minimum amount of assets to get a “fresh start”.

Business Assets in a Chapter 7 Case

If you own a sole proprietorship, are all the assets of that business exempt and protected? In other words, is the entire value of the business covered by exemptions, whether approaching the business as a “going concern” or broken up into its distinct assets.

Many very small businesses cannot be sold as an ongoing business because they are operated by and completely reliant for their survival on the services of its one or two owners.  In most such situations the business only has value when broken into its distinct assets.  So the Chapter 7 trustee must consider whether the debtor has exempted all of these business assets to put them out of the trustee’s reach.

The assets of a very small business may include tools and equipment, receivables (money owed by customers for goods or services previously provided), supplies, inventory, and cash on hand or in an account. Sometimes the business may also have some value in a brand name or trademark, a below-market lease, or perhaps in some other unusual asset.

Whether a business’ assets are exempt depends on the nature and value of those assets, and on the particular exemptions that the law provides for them. For example, a very small business may truly own nothing more than a modest amount of office equipment and supplies, and/or receivables. In these situations the applicable state or federal “tool of trade” or “wildcard” exemptions may protect all the business assets. You need to work conscientiously with your attorney to make certain that all the assets are covered.

So it is possible for a business-owning debtor to have a no-asset Chapter 7 case, potentially allowing the business to pass through the case unscathed.

The Potential Liability Risks of the Business

However, there is an additional issue: will the trustee allow the business to continue to operate during the (usually) three-four months that a no-asset case is open or instead try to force the business to be shut down because of its potential liability risks for the trustee?

How could the Chapter 7 trustee be able to shut down the business? Recall that everything that a debtor owns, including his or her business, becomes part of the bankruptcy estate.  As the technical owner—even if only temporarily—of the business, the trustee becomes potentially liable for damages caused by the business while the Chapter 7 case is open. For example, if a debtor who is a roofing subcontractor drops a load of shingles on someone during the Chapter 7 case, the estate, and thus the trustee, may be liable for the injuries.

The main factors that come into play are whether the business has sufficient liability insurance, and the extent to which the business is of the type prone to generating liabilities. There’s a lot of room for the trustees’ discretion in such matters, so knowing the particular trustee’s inclinations can be very important. That’s one of many reasons why a debtor needs to be represented by an experienced and conscientious attorney who knows all of the trustees on the local Chapter 7 trustee panel and how they deal with this issue.


In many situations it IS risky to file a Chapter 7 case when you want to continue operating a business. You need to be confident that the business assets are exempt from the bankruptcy estate, and that in your situation the trustee will not require the closing of the business to avoid any potential business liability.