A “straight” Chapter 7 can write off some income taxes. But if you owe recent taxes, or multiple years of taxes, Chapter 13 is usually a much better way to go. It often provides tremendous advantages over both Chapter 7 and dealing with the IRS on your own.
I’ll illustrate this with an example, and then explain it in my next blog.
Let’s say a husband and wife owe $35,000 in a combination of medical bills and credit cards, requiring monthly payments of $800. After the husband lost his long-time job back in 2006, he followed his dream of starting a business, which was starting to make progress when it got hammered in the Great Recession. He closed it in 2010 and found a reliable job a number of months later, although one where he earns 30% less than he did at the one lost years earlier. His business had generated some income, but barely enough for the couple to meet their bare essentials. So there was no money to pay the quarterly estimated taxes, and they had no money to pay the amount due when they filed their joint tax returns for 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. They expect to come out even for the 2011 tax year because of tax withholdings from their wages. To try to simplify the facts, assume they owe the IRS $4,000 in taxes, $750 in penalties, and $250 in interest for each of those five years. So their total IRS debt for those years is $25,000—including $20,000 in the original taxes, $3,750 in penalties, and $1,250 in interest. The wife has had consistent employment throughout this time, with pay raises only enough to keep up with inflation. They filed each of the tax returns in mid-April when they were due, and have been making modest payments when they have been able to, but those have not even been keeping up with the penalties and interest. Assume they have no secured debts—no mortgage or vehicle loans. They can realistically afford to pay about $500 a month to all of their creditors, not nearly enough to pay their regular creditors much less the IRS. They are clearly in trouble.
Outside of bankruptcy, the IRS would likely require payment in full of the entire tax obligation, with interest and sometimes penalties continuing to accrue until everything was paid in full. Their payments would be imposed without regard to the other debts they owe. And if the couple failed to make their payments, the IRS would likely try to collect through garnishments and tax liens. Depending how long repayment would take, the couple could easily end up paying $30,000 or more with additional interest and penalties. This would be in addition to their $35,000 medical and credit card debts, which could easily increase to $45,000 or more, especially if these other debts went to collections or lawsuits. That’s likely because the couple would be paying all available money to the IRS. So likely the couple would eventually end up paying at least $75,000 to their creditors.
In a Chapter 13 case, the 2006 and 2007 taxes, interest and penalties would very likely be paid nothing and discharged at the end of the case. So would the penalties for 2008, 2009, and 2010. That takes care of $11,500 of the $25,000 present tax debt. The remaining $13,500 of taxes and interest for 2008, 2009, and 2010 would have to be paid as a “priority” debt, although without any additional interest or penalties once the Chapter 13 case is filed. Adding in some “administrative expenses” (the Chapter 13 trustee and our attorney fees), and assuming that their income qualified them for a three-year Chapter 13 plan, this couple would likely be allowed to pay about $500 per month. in spite of how much they owe to all of their creditors. Then after three years, they’d be done. The “priority” portion of the IRS debt would have been paid in full, but the older IRS debt and all the penalties would be discharged likely without any payment. So would the credit card and medical debts. After the three years, the couple would have paid a total of around $17,500 (including the “administrative expenses”), instead of about $75,000 without the Chapter 13. They’d be done instead of barely starting to pay their mountain of debt. And they would have not spent the last three years worrying about IRS garnishments and tax liens, lawsuits and harassing phone calls, and the constant lack of money for necessities.
As I said, in my next blog I’ll explain how all this works.