Discharging Tax Debt in Bankruptcy

May 6, 2011

 Certain debts have been given special status by the Bankruptcy Code and are generally excluded from the debtor’s bankruptcy discharge. Child support obligations, student loans, and income tax debts are three of the most common types of debts that are not dischargeable. However, each of these debts may be eligible for discharge in bankruptcy under certain circumstances.

The rules for discharging an income tax debt can be complicated, and the debtor’s ability to discharge all or a portion of the tax debt or penalties may depend on whether the case is filed under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code. An income tax debt arises from a tax return for a particular tax year. In general, an income tax debt for a particular tax year may be discharged if the following criteria are met:

1. The due date for filing the tax return was at least three years prior to the bankruptcy filing date. This due date includes any extensions.

2. The tax return was filed at least two years prior to the bankruptcy filing. This date is the time the return was actually filed with the IRS.

3. A tax assessment was made at least 240 days prior to the bankruptcy filing. The tax assessment is usually measured from the IRS proposed assessment sent to the taxpayer.

4. The tax return was not fraudulent, and the taxpayer has not attempted to evade the tax laws. Dishonest taxpayers do not receive the benefits of the bankruptcy laws.

Taxes that do not meet the above criteria are not included in the bankruptcy discharge. This includes income tax debts from unfilled tax returns. Even if the IRS assessed a tax many years ago, if the taxpayer failed to file a return, the debt is not dischargeable.

When an income tax debt is discharged in bankruptcy, any tax penalty is also discharged. However, in some cases the tax penalty may be discharged, even when the tax debt itself is not discharged. For instance, in a Chapter 7 case tax penalties are discharged if the penalty is associated with a tax debt more than three years old. In a Chapter 13 case all unsecured tax penalties are dischargeable, and receive the same treatment as all other unsecured debts during the term of the bankruptcy repayment plan. If the debtor is repaying a tax debt through the Chapter 13 bankruptcy case, no new tax penalties will accrue.

The federal bankruptcy laws contain specific provisions for discharging income tax debt. Bankruptcy can provide you with time to repay your obligation, without the threat of IRS seizure or garnishment; or, in some circumstances, can permanently discharge your tax debt. Your bankruptcy attorney can explain your legal rights and the available opportunities to free yourself from your income tax burden.

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