Pre-Bankruptcy Tax Strategies

Get the maximum benefit from your bankruptcy against your taxes by following these sophisticated strategies.

Pre-bankruptcy planning to position a debtor in the best way for discharging or for otherwise favorably dealing with tax debts is one of the more complicated tasks handled by a bankruptcy attorney. Do NOT attempt these strategies, including the five mentioned here, without an attorney, indeed frankly without an attorney who focuses his or her law practice on bankruptcy. Elsewhere in this website I make clear that you cannot take anything in this website, including what I write in these blogs, as legal advice. That’s especially true in this very sophisticated area. Also, I could write a chapter in a book on each of these five strategies, so all I’m doing here is introducing you to them, to begin the discussion when you come in to see me.

1st:  Wait out the appropriate legal periods before the filing of your bankruptcy case.

As you may know from elsewhere in these blogs, most (but not all) forms of income tax become dischargeable after the passing of specific periods of time. Much of pre-bankruptcy tax strategy turns on figuring out precisely when each of your tax liabilities will become dischargeable, and then either waiting to file bankruptcy until all those liabilities are dischargeable, or, when under serious time pressure to file, at least when the maximum amount will be discharged as is possible under the circumstances.

2nd:  File past-due returns to start the clock running on those as soon as possible.

If you know you owe taxes for prior years and don’t have the money to pay them, your gut feeling may well be to avoid filing those tax returns in an attempt to “fly under the radar” as long as you can. But irrespective of any other rules, you cannot discharge a tax debt until two years after the pertinent tax return has been filed. Get good advice about how to deal with the IRS or other taxing authority during those two years so that you take appropriate steps to protect yourself and your assets. You deserve a rational basis for getting beyond your understandable fears about this.

3rd:  Try to stay in compliance with the new tax year(s) while you wait to file your bankruptcy case, by designating tax payments to the more recent tax years instead of older ones.

Because recent tax year tax liabilities cannot be discharged in a Chapter 7 case and must be paid in full as a priority debt in a Chapter 13 case, you want to try to stay current on your most recent tax debts. It’s also usually a necessary step in keeping the IRS and its ilk from taking aggressive action against you, thus allowing you to wait longer and discharge more taxes. With the IRS in particular you can and should explicitly designate which tax account any particular tax payments are to be applied to achieve this purpose.

4th:  Avoid tax fraud and evasion, and whenever possible, withholding taxes.

Simply put, you can’t ever discharge any taxes related to fraud, fraudulent tax returns, or tax evasion, so avoid these kinds of illegal behavior. If you have any doubt, talk to a knowledgeable tax accountant or attorney. Unpaid tax withholdings also cannot be discharged, so either try to avoid them from accruing, focus your resources on paying them off, or just recognize that they will either have to be paid after your Chapter 7 case or as a priority debt during your Chapter 13 case.

5th:  Be aware of tax liens.

Tax lien claims have to be paid in full in Chapter 13, with interest, and can survive a Chapter 7 discharge. So try to avoid having the taxing authority record a tax lien against you—admittedly sometimes easier said than done. Or if that is not possible, at least refrain from building up equity in possessions or real estate. That equity, although often exempt from the clutches of the bankruptcy trustee and most creditors, is still subject to a tax lien. So any built up equity just increases what you will have to pay to the taxing authority on debt you might otherwise been able to discharge completely.