Don’t disregard bankruptcy as an option just because it does not write off the debt which is your immediate big headache. There’s likely some good medicine for that headache after all.
Let’s say you owe a dreadfully large income tax debt from a couple of years ago. The IRS is getting aggressive about collecting it. You know for a fact that bankruptcy doesn’t discharge (legally write off) income tax debts, so you’re not seriously considering that option and have not seen a bankruptcy attorney.
You may or may not be right about whether or not that tax debt can be discharged. That’s almost always a matter of timing. So if indeed you could not discharge your debt a few months ago, that might not be true today, or might not be true a few months from now.)But whether or not the debt can be discharged, either way, you would probably be wrong about not getting legal advice about it.
Why? Whether that special debt that you know can’t be discharged is a tax debt, back child support, student loans, or some other troublesome debt, here are six reasons you should STILL get legal advice about the bankruptcy option:
1. Some debts which look like they can’t be discharged actually can. Certain income taxes can be discharged in either a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 case, depending on how old they are and a series of other factors. Sometime a portion of an otherwise not dischargeable tax debt—such as the penalties—can be discharged, sometimes significantly reducing the amount you need to pay. Student loans are difficult to discharge, but in some unusual situations can be. And even though true child support obligations are not dischargeable, in rare situations a debt which you thought was a support obligation might not fit the legal definition for bankruptcy purposes. It’s certainly worth finding out whether the debt you assume can’t be discharged actually might be able to be.
2. Some debts that can’t be discharged now may be able to be in the future. Almost all income taxes can be discharged after a series of conditions have been met. So your attorney can put together for you a game plan coordinating these tax timing rules with all the rest of what is going on in your financial life. Timing issues can sometimes also be important with student loans, especially if you have a worsening medical condition or are simply getting close to retirement age
3. Even if you can’t discharge a debt, bankruptcy can permanently solve an aggressive collection problem. In many situations your primary problem is the devastating way a debt is being collected. For example, you may want to pay an obligation for back child support but the state support enforcement agency is about to suspend your driver’s and/or occupational license. A Chapter 13 case will stop these threats to your livelihood, and protect you from them while you catch up on the back support.
4. You have more control over the amount of the monthly payments on debts that cannot be discharged. Debts which the law does not allow to be discharged in bankruptcy also tend to be ones that give the creditors a lot of leverage against you. Chapter 13 takes most of this leverage away from them and puts their power on hold while you pay what your budget allows, not what these creditors would otherwise be gouging out of you.
5. Bankruptcy can stop the adding of interest, penalties, and other costs, allowing you to pay off a debt much faster. Unpaid income taxes and certain other kinds of debts are so much more difficult to pay off because a part of each payment goes to the ongoing interest and penalties. Some tax penalties in particular can be huge. Most of these ongoing add-ons are stopped by a Chapter 13 filing, allowing you to become debt-free sooner.
6. Bankruptcy allows you to focus on paying off the debt(s) that you can’t discharge by discharging those you can. You may have both a debt or two that can’t be discharged and a bunch of debts that can be. Even if bankruptcy can’t solve your entire debt problem directly, discharging most of your debts would likely make that problem much more manageable. Under Chapter 7, you would be able to pay off those surviving debts much faster, which is especially important if they are accruing interest or other fees. And under Chapter 13 you would have the benefit of a predictable payment program, one that focuses your financial energies on those nondischargeable debts while protecting your assets and income from them.
So don’t let the fact that you have a debt or debts that can’t be discharged in bankruptcy stop you from getting legal advice about how your overall financial life could still be much improved through one of the bankruptcy options.