Income Tax Debt & Bankruptcy

When you file for bankruptcy, you may be able to wipe out and discharge income tax debts depending on how old the tax debt is. Bankruptcy law has specific rules for how old an income tax debt must be in order for it to be discharged along with a few additional requirements.

Timing: Tax Return Was Due At Least Three Years Ago

The federal income tax debt that you are seeking to discharge must have become due, including all extensions, at least three years before the day you file for bankruptcy.

Example: You owe taxes on your 2015 and 2016 tax returns. Your 2015 tax return was due on April 15, 2016. To meet the three-year requirement for your 2015 taxes you must file for bankruptcy on or after April 15, 2019. Your 2016 tax return was due on April 15, 2017, but you requested an extension that expired on October 15, 2017. To meet the three year requirement for your 2016 taxes you must file for bankruptcy on or after October 15, 2020. Generally speaking it is always 3 years from when the tax became DUE not 3 years from the tax year filed.

Timing: Tax Return Was Filed At Least Two Years Ago

In order to discharge your federal income tax debt, you must have actually filed the tax return in which the debt was related to at least two years prior to the filing of bankruptcy. Tax debts related to unfiled tax returns are not dischargeable. You must file the return and although it satisfies the 3 year rule it has to have been filed for at least 2 years.

Timing: Tax Assessment Occurred At Least 240 Days Ago

The IRS must have recorded your liability and assessed it to you for the tax debt at least 240 days prior to the filing of your bankruptcy. This is known as a “tax assessment.” Often, the date you file your tax return is when your related tax debt is assessed. However, on occasion, the IRS can assess additional taxes later based on an audit. When this happens, you must wait 240 days from the assessment to discharge the additional taxes in bankruptcy. It is very important to know when the tax was actually assessed to you by the IRS and wait at least 240 days to file for bankruptcy.

No Fraud or Willful Evasion Requirement

If you committed fraud when filing your income tax returns you can not discharge the debt in bankruptcy. If you willfully evaded paying taxes, your tax debt will not be eligible for discharge in bankruptcy. You would have options to repayment in a chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Penalties, Interest and Tax Liens

If an income tax debt meets the rules and requirements discussed above, interest charges and penalties on that underlying tax debt will be discharged as well. If the IRS has recorded a tax lien against your property before you file for bankruptcy, the bankruptcy court cannot set aside your tax lien. After the bankruptcy, if the tax lien has not been paid off, the IRS lien will remain. Chapter 13 bankruptcy does offer you options with tax liens. You should consult a qualified and experienced bankruptcy attorney for legal advice.

Chapter 13 and Non-Dischargeable Income Tax Debt

If your tax debt is not dischargeable in bankruptcy, filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy may still help you as it can make the process of paying back your debt easier. In a Chapter 13 plan you will need to pay your non-dischargeable tax debt over a 3 to 5 year period. The plan might offer better terms than an IRS installment plan and is usually an amount that is more comfortable than what the IRS proposes. It is important to remember that the automatic stay imposed by the bankruptcy court will prevent collection activity while you are in bankruptcy and provide you a lot of relief.