Dramatic Examples of How Bankruptcy Can Be a Good Idea Even if It Can’t Write Off Every Debt

Here’s how bankruptcy actually works, and works well, even when a significant debt or two can’t be written off.

The last blog gave six reasons why it’s worth looking into bankruptcy even if you know that you can’t discharge (write off) one or more of your most important debts. Today here are concrete examples how the first three of those could work for you.

The first two reasons we’ll cover together. First, sometime debts which you might think can’t be discharged actually can be, and second, some debts that can’t be discharged now may be able to be in the near future.

Let’s say you currently owe $10,000 in federal income tax for the 2008 tax year. You filed that tax return on October 15, 2009 after getting an extension. You’ve been making monthly payments to the IRS on a payment plan, but because of that you did not make adequate tax withholdings or quarterly estimated payments for 2011. You know that once you file your 2011 tax returns (by October 15, 2012, because you got an extension) you’re going to be in trouble because you will owe a lot for that year as well. You know the IRS will cancel the payment plan for 2008 because of your failure to keep current on your ongoing tax obligations. You’re pedaling as fast as you can, but October 15 is less than two months away and you don’t know what to do. You are quite certain that the $10,000 tax debt cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

You’d be right about that… but only for the moment. Because under these facts that 2008 tax debt could very likely be discharged through either a Chapter 7 or 13 bankruptcy case filed AFTER October 15, 2012. (Whether you’d file a Chapter 7 or 13 would depend on other factors, including how big your 2011 and anticipated 2012 tax debts will be.) Instead of being in a seemingly impossible situation, you would avoid paying all or most of that $10,000—plus lots of additional interest and penalties that you would have been required to pay. Instead you would be more than $10,000 ahead on paying off the 2011 and 2012 taxes!

Now here’s an example to go with the third reason to consider bankruptcy: even if you can’t discharge a debt, bankruptcy can permanently solve an aggressive collection problem.  

Change the facts above to make that $10,000 debt one owed for the 2009 tax year instead of 2008. Since that tax return was also filed with an extension to October 15, 2010, that $10,000 would not be dischargeable until after October 15, 2013. But in this example you’ve already defaulted on your monthly payment agreement. So you are appropriately expecting the IRS to file a tax lien on all of your personal property and on your home, and to start levying on (garnishing) your financial accounts, and on your paycheck if you’re employed or on your customers/clients if you’re self-employed.

With all that the IRS can do to you, you can’t wait until October of next year to discharge that $10,000. But if you filed a Chapter 13 case now the IRS would not be able to take any of the above aggressive collection actions against you. You would have to pay the $10,000 (and any taxes owed for 2010 and 2011) but you would have as long as 5 years to do so. And most importantly, throughout that time you’d be protected from any future IRS collection action on any of those taxes, as long as you complied with the Chapter 13 rules.

As for the 2012 tax year, you would likely be given the opportunity to pay extra withholdings or estimated payments during the rest of this year, which you would be able to afford because of temporarily paying that much less  into your Chapter 13 plan.

So instead of being hopelessly behind and deathly scared about everything the IRS is about to do to you, within a few days you could be on a financially sensible path to being caught up with the IRS. And then within three to five years you’d be tax debt free, AND debt free.

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