Can Tax Debt Be Discharged in Bankruptcy? It Depends.

Tax Problems with the IRS or State Usually Are Not the Reason People File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

It seems to all come at once, doesn’t it? Generally when a person makes the decision to file for “bankruptcy protection,” tax debts are an afterthought. Other debts are usually the driving force behind a bankruptcy petition. But not carefully considering whether or not tax debts will be discharged through bankruptcy is a mistake, that – unfortunately – too many clients with tax problems make before they talk to an Attorney familiar with IRS procedures.

It usually goes something like this: a small business owner who has personally guaranteed loans for his or her business can no longer stand the constant calls from creditors. Business has fallen drastically, and it seems that there is no way for the client to dig himself out of the hole he is in. Since he is self-employed, and struggling to make ends meet, he probably hasn’t paid (and perhaps hasn’t even filed) his taxes for several years.


 

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I’ve seen court transcripts of judges and lawyers in family court all agreeing that income taxes are non-dischargeable. This is a common misconception within the legal community. I have also heard the same types of statements from actual bankruptcy attorneys or other tax professionals. The truth is that the most common type of tax debt – income tax liabilities –  will almost always be dischargeable in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy at some point. The trick is knowing the rules and understanding what has gone on with a taxpayer’s account before filing the petition. (I have personally seen clients miss out on discharging a liability because they filed a petition two weeks  too early.)

Tax debts usually are not the driving force between filing for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy liquidation because the IRS, a government agency, is slow (at first) to collect the liabilities, and the IRS does not call business owners non-stop or send threatening letters as often as other creditors. Couple that with the assumption that too many clients and other attorneys make – that income taxes cannot be discharged in bankruptcy – and costly mistakes happen. So what are the rules for discharging tax debts in bankruptcy? Keep reading to find out.

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