Three more very practical ways that bankruptcy works to let you take control of your debts, even those that can’t be written off.
Two blogs ago I gave six reasons why it’s worth looking into bankruptcy even when you can’t discharge (write off) one or more of your debts. Today here are the final three of those reasons, each one paired with a concrete example illustrating it.
Reason #4: Taking control over the amount of the monthly payments.
The taxing authorities, support enforcement agencies, and student loan creditors have extraordinary power to take your money and your assets if you fall behind in paying them. Because of that tremendous leverage, you normally have no choice but to play by their rules about how much to pay them each month. Chapter 13 largely throws their rules out the window.
Let’s say you owe $15,000 to the IRS—including interest and penalties—from the 2010 and 2011 tax years, resulting from a business that failed. You’ve now got a steady job but one that gives you very little to pay the IRS after taking care of your very basic living expenses. The IRS is requiring you to pay that debt, plus ongoing interest and penalties, within 3 years. And it calculates the amount you must pay it monthly without any regard for your other debts, or for your actual living expenses. Even if you did not have unexpected expenses during those 3 years, paying the required amount would be extremely difficult. But if your vehicle needed a major repair or you had a medical problem, keeping up those payments would become absolutely impossible. But the IRS gives you no choice.
In a Chapter 13 case, on the other hand, the repayment period would stretch out to as long as five years, which lowers the monthly payment amount. And instead of a rigid mandatory monthly payment going to the IRS, how it is paid in Chapter 13 is much more flexible. For example, if in your situation money was very tight now but you could more each month later—for example, after paying off a vehicle loan—you would likely be allowed to make very low or even no payments to the IRS at the beginning, as long as its debt was paid in full by the end. Also, you would be allowed to budget for vehicle maintenance and repairs, and medical costs, and other reasonable expenses, usually much more than the IRS would allow. And if you had unexpected vehicle, medical, or other necessary expenses beyond their budgeted amounts, Chapter 13 has a mechanism for adjusting the original payment schedule. Throughout all this, you’d be protected from the IRS.
Reason #5: Stopping the addition of interest, penalties, and other costs.
Under the above facts, if you were not in a Chapter 13 case, the IRS would be continuously adding interest and penalties. So that much less of your monthly payment goes to reduce the $15,000 owed, significantly increasing the amount you need to pay each month to take care of the whole debt in the required 3 years.
In Chapter 13, in contrast, unless the IRS has imposed a tax lien, no additional interest is added from the minute the case is filed. No additional penalties get added. So not only do you have more time to pay off the tax debt, and much more flexibility, you have also have significantly less to pay before you finish off that debt.
Reason #6: Focusing on paying off the debt that you can’t discharge by discharging those you can.
This may be obvious but can’t be overemphasized: often the most important and direct benefit of bankruptcy is its ability to clear away most of your debt burden so that you can put your financial energies into the one that remain.
Back to our example of the $15,000 IRS debt, let’s say the person also owes $20,000 in credit cards, $5,000 in medical bills, and a $6,000 deficiency balance on a repossessed vehicle. Discharging these other debts would both free up some of your money for the IRS and avoid the risk that those other creditors could jeopardize your payments to the IRS. Entering into a mandatory monthly payment arrangement with the IRS when at any moment you could be hit with another creditor’s lawsuit and garnishment is a recipe for failure.
Instead, a Chapter 7 case would very likely discharge all of the credit card, medical and old vehicle loan debts. With then gone you would have a more sensible chance getting through an IRS payment arrangement.
In a Chapter 13 case, you may be required to pay a portion of the credit card, medical and vehicle debts, but in return you get the benefits of getting long-term protection from the IRS, a freeze on interest and penalties, and more flexible payments.
So whether Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 is better for you depends on the facts of your case. Either way, you would pay less or nothing to your other creditors so that you could take care of the IRS. Either way, you would much more likely succeed in becoming tax free and debt free, and would get there much quicker.