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Your Bankruptcy Options If You Owe Income Taxes After Closing Your Business

Posted by Kevin on May 14, 2018 under Bankruptcy Blog | Comments are off for this article

Most people who close down a failed small business owe income taxes. Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 provide two very different solutions.


Here are the two options:

Chapter 7 “Straight Bankruptcy”

File a Chapter 7 case to discharge (permanently write off) most of your debts.  This can include some or even all of your income taxes. If you cannot discharge all of your taxes, right after your Chapter 7 is completed, you (or your attorney or accountant) would arrange a payout plan (either lump sum or over time) with the IRS or other taxing authorities.

Chapter 13 “Adjustment of Debts”

File a Chapter 13 case to discharge all the other debts that you can, and sometimes some or even all the taxes. If you cannot discharge a significant amount of your taxes, you then pay the remaining taxes through your Chapter 13 plan, while under continuous protection of the automatic stay against the IRS’s or state’s collection efforts.

The Income Tax Factor in Deciding Between Chapter 7 and 13

In real life, especially after a complicated process like closing a business, often many factors come into play in deciding between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. But focusing here only on the income taxes you owe, the choice could be summarize with this key question: Would the amount of tax that you would still owe after completing a Chapter 7 case (if any) be small enough so that you could reliably make workable arrangements with the IRS/state to pay off or settle that obligation within a reasonable time?  If so, consider Chapter 7.  If not, then consider Chapter 13 which provides the automatic stay during the 5 year period allowed to pay taxes.

How Do You Know?

To find out whether you need Chapter 13 protection, you need to find out from your attorney the answers to two questions:

1) What tax debts will not be discharged in a Chapter 7 case?

2) What payment or settlement arrangements will you likely be able to make with the taxing authority to take care of those remaining taxes?

The IRS has some rather straightforward policies about how long an installment plan can last and how much has to be paid. In contrast, predicting whether or not the IRS/state will accept a particular “offer-in-compromise” to settle a debt can be much more difficult to predict.  Generally, it takes more attorney or accountant time to negotiate an offer in compromise, so the cost factor to the debtor should be considered.

When in doubt about whether you would be able to pay what the taxing authorities would require after a Chapter 7 case (either by installment plan or offer in compromise), or in doubt about some other way of resolving the tax debt, you may well be better off under the protections of Chapter 13.



Chapter 13 Handles Both Older and Newer Income Tax Debts

Posted by Kevin on April 3, 2017 under Bankruptcy Blog | Be the First to Comment

Same facts as previous blog.

  • Without a bankruptcy, a couple would have to pay about $30,000 to the IRS for back taxes, plus about another $45,000 in medical bills and credit cards, a total of about $75,000.
  • Under Chapter 13, this same couple would pay only about $18,000—36 months of $500 payments.

How Does Chapter 13 Work to Save So Much on Taxes and Other Debts?

  • Tax debts that are old enough are grouped with the “general unsecured” debts—such as medical bills and credit cards. These are paid usually based on how much money there is left over after paying other more important debts. This means that often these older taxes are paid either nothing or only a few pennies on the dollar.
  • The more recent “priority” taxes DO have to be paid in full in a Chapter 13 case, along with interest accrued until the filing of the case. However: 1) penalties—which can be a significant portion of the debt—are treated like “general unsecured” debts and thus paid little or nothing, and 2) usually interest or penalties stop when the Chapter 13 is filed.
  • “Priority” taxes—those more recent ones that do have to be paid in full—are all paid before anything is paid to the “general unsecured” debts—the medical bills, credit cards, older income taxes and such. In many cases this means that having these “priority” taxes to pay simply reduces the amount of money which would otherwise have been paid to those “general unsecured” creditors. As a result, in these situations having tax debt does not increase the amount that would have to be paid in a Chapter 13 case, which is after all based on what the debtors can afford. In our example, the couple pays $500 per month because that is what their budget allows.
  • The bankruptcy law that stops creditors from trying to collect their debts while a bankruptcy case is active—the “automatic stay”—is as effective stopping the IRS as any other creditor. The IRS can continue to do some very limited and sensible things like demand the filing of a tax return or conduct an audit, but it can’t use the aggressive collection tools that the law otherwise grants to it.

Deciding Between Chapter 7 and 13 for Income Taxes

If, unlike the example, all of the taxes were old enough to meet the conditions for discharging them under Chapter 7, there would be no need for a Chapter 13 case (but may require additional work in a Chapter 7).  On the other hand if more “priority” tax debts had to be paid than in the example, the debtors would have to pay more into their Chapter 13 plan, either through larger monthly payments or for a longer period of time.

There are definitely situations where it is a close call choosing between Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. And sometimes preparing an offer in compromise with the IRS—either instead of or together with a bankruptcy filing—is the best route. To decide which of these is best for you, you need the advice of an experienced bankruptcy attorney to help you make an informed decision and then to execute on it.


Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Helps You SETTLE Your Income Tax Debt

Posted by on April 30, 2015 under Bankruptcy Blog | Comments are off for this article

The last blog was about using Chapter 7 to discharge all or most of your debts other than taxes, so that afterwards you could afford to pay off the taxes through monthly payments to the IRS and/or the state. Or if you needed more payment flexibility, the usual alternative would be a Chapter 13 payment plan.

But there’s another possibility.

What if Neither Chapter 7 + Tax Payment Plan, Nor a Chapter 13 Will Work?

You may need a bankruptcy no matter what, to deal with debts other than taxes. But a Chapter 7 case may leave you owing too much income tax to be able to afford the minimum monthly payments that the IRS or the state would require. And a Chapter 13, as helpful as it can be for dealing with tough tax problems, may not be helpful enough. Chapter 13 requires payment in full of all “priority” debts—which includes non-dischargeable taxes—during the life of the case. That means a maximum of 5 years. You may just not have enough money available to pay into a Chapter 13 plan to do that.

So your best option may be to file a bankruptcy and then try to settle with the IRS and/or the state for less than you owe them.

Chapter 7 + Tax Settlement

A tax settlement would often be done in conjunction with and after a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing, for three reasons: 

1. If you owe a bunch of taxes, you are extremely likely to also owe lots of other debts, which need to be dealt with through bankruptcy.

2. Some of your older tax debts may be dischargeable. Trimming that debt away with a Chapter 7 bankruptcy would reduce the amount of remaining tax debt to be settled.

3. With an IRS Offer in Compromise or similar state procedure, you would need to show that you are pretty much focusing all your available financial resources on the settlement. It usually helps to get rid of your other debts to be able to do that.

Clean Your Slate of Other Debts So You Can Settle Your Taxes

You may owe too much in nondischargeable taxes to be able to make either the minimum permitted tax installment payments after the Chapter 7 case, or the necessary Chapter 13 plan payments. Then you may not have much choice except to attempt a tax settlement after completing a Chapter 7 case. (You generally cannot attempt an Offer in Compromise while in a Chapter 13 case.)

But even if you don’t seem to have much choice, before filing your Chapter 7 case you should still have a good idea what the IRS/state might accept once you make the offer a few months later. The basic settlement standard with the IRS is, as stated on its website, that “the amount offered represents the most we can expect to collect within a reasonable period of time.” Determining what that means in your situation, and so whether a particular settlement offer will fly, are delicate judgment calls, which is why you need to work with an experienced professional. Talk with your bankruptcy attorney about whether he or she regularly negotiates IRS Offers in Compromise and/or tax settlements with the state. If not, get a referral to a tax attorney or accountant who does.