“Straight” Chapter 7 bankruptcy can give some relief for dealing with your back and current taxes, but Chapter 13 can help so much more.
The last blog showed how Chapter 7 can help you with your income tax debt, mostly indirectly, by writing off your other debts so you can financially concentrate on getting the IRS happy. It may also help by discharging (writing off forever) some tax debts, but only if at least three years have passed since that tax’s returns were due, AND you meet some other conditions. But if you owe a lot, and especially if you owe a number of years of taxes, Chapter 7 will often not be enough. So what more is it that Chapter 13 can do?
There are many situations in which you ought to look closely at the Chapter 13 option. Focusing on income taxes, the rule of thumb about when to do so is pretty simple:
File a Chapter 13 case if Chapter 7 does not gain you enough cash flow to allow you to get caught up on your back and current taxes through manageable monthly payments, made over a reasonable period of time. In other words, file a Chapter 13 if you need the extra protection provided by Chapter 13.
What extra protection? In a Chapter 7 case you are NOT protected from the IRS starting about three months after that case is filed, when the discharge is entered and the “automatic stay” terminates. So that means you’re arranging and then making the catch-up tax payments without any protection from the IRS’ collection procedures. That’s generally not a problem if 1) you deal with the situation very proactively, 2) the payment amount that you can comfortably handle is acceptable to the IRS, 3) it’s an amount you can pay it consistently, and 4) you do pay it perfectly until you pay it off.
In contrast, under Chapter 13 your protection from the IRS’ collection efforts continues throughout the whole 3-to-5-year length of the case. That’s protection you’ll need if you can only afford payment smaller than what the IRS wants, and/or you need more flexibly than the IRS would allow.
Under Chapter 13 you are generally allowed to pay other even more important creditors ahead of the IRS—such as mortgage arrearage, vehicle payments, and back child support. Plus you will generally not pay have to pay additional penalties and interest on the taxes, and may not have to pay all or most of the previous penalties. If the IRS has recorded a tax lien, you will have the opportunity to pay off that lien without the IRS being able to enforce that lien, resulting in the lien being released at the completion of your case.
Chapter 13 even often allows you to adjust your monthly plan payments in advance based on anticipated seasonal adjustments in your income and expenses, and even change those payments mid-stream as your circumstances change. You do need to deal responsibly throughout the process, or else you will lose your protection from the IRS and from your other creditors. And if you are not in fact able to do what your plan states and what the Chapter 13 rules require, so that you don’t finish your Chapter 13 case successfully, you will not get a discharge of ANY of your debts. But if your plan was put together sensibly and you follow it carefully, you should end your Chapter 13 case being current on all your past and present taxes, and owing no other debts (except ones you may have voluntarily accepted, such as an ongoing mortgage).