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.

Powerful Chapter 13 gives you tools to solve your mortgage problems from a number of different angles.  Plus it gives you other tools to deal with tax, support, and judgment liens on your home.

In my last blog I showed how a straight Chapter 7 bankruptcy case can sometimes help you enough to save your home. Or at least it can help you hold onto your home for as long as you need to.  But Chapter 7 can only give limited help, sufficient only in limited circumstances. Chapter 13, on the other hand, provides you a much more powerful and flexible package, with a range of tools for addressing just about all debt issues involving your home.

Here are the first five of ten distinct and significant ways that Chapter 13 can save your home. I’ll give you the other five in my next blog.

A Chapter 13 case enables you:

1. … to stretch out the amount of time you get for catching up on missed mortgage payments, giving you as long as 5 years to do so. A longer repayment period means that you can pay less each month, making it more likely that you will actually be able to catch up and keep your home. Throughout this catch-up period, you are protected from foreclosure as long as you stay with the payment program, one that you propose.

2. … to slash your other debt obligations so that you can afford your mortgage payments. The mortgage debt—especially your first mortgage—is highly favored within Chapter 13. So you are usually allowed—indeed required—to pay most of your mortgage payments in full, while being allowed to pay only as much as you have left over towards your “general unsecured” debts—those without any collateral, such as most credit cards, medical debts, and many other types of debts.

3. … to permanently prevent income tax liens, child and spousal support liens, and judgment liens from attaching to your home. This stops these special creditors from gaining dangerous leverage over you and your home.

4. … to have the time to pay debts that cannot be discharged (legally written off) in bankruptcy, all the while being protected from those creditors messing with your home. That applies when the tax, support or other lien was not filed before the Chapter 13 is filed—the example immediately above. But this also applies if the lien is already in place, giving you the opportunity to pay the debt while under the protection of the bankruptcy laws, undercutting most of the leverage of those liens against your home. And at the end of your case, the debts are paid and those liens are gone.

5. … to discharge debts owed to creditors which could otherwise attack your home.
For example, certain income tax debts are discharged, leaving you owing nothing. But if instead you had not filed the Chapter 13 case, or delayed doing so, a tax lien could have been recorded on that tax debt. That would have required you to pay some or all of the balance to free your home from that lien. Even most conventional debts can turn into judgment liens against your house after a lawsuit is filed. And certain judgment liens may or may not be able to be taken care of in bankruptcy.  If instead you file a Chapter 13 case to prevent these liens from happening, at the end of your case the debt is gone, and no such liens ever attach to your home.

Again, see my next blog for the other five house-saving tools of Chapter 13.

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.

Many bankruptcy attorney ads say: “Stop garnishments.” “Stop foreclosures.” “Stop repossessions.” So bankruptcy stops all those bad things. But is it as good as it sounds? How does it really work?


In my last blog I said that in keeping with getting a fresh start for the new year, I’d get down to basics.  There’s nothing more basic than getting immediate protection for you, your paycheck, your home, and your possessions. You get this protection the minute a bankruptcy is filed for you, either a “straight” Chapter 7 case or an “adjustment of debts” Chapter 13 one. Other than some very rare exceptions, all efforts by creditors against you or your property must come to an immediate stop. You’ll hear this referred to as the “automatic stay.”

“Stay” is just a legal word for “stop” or “freeze.” “Automatic” means that this “stay” goes into effect simultaneously with the filing of your bankruptcy petition. That filing itself, by virtue of the federal Bankruptcy Code, “operates as a stay” of virtually all creditors’ actions to pursue a debt or grab collateral. It doesn’t take a judge signing an order or even any further action by you or your attorney to impose the stay.

But although the automatic stay is instantaneous, practically speaking the creditors need to know about the filing of your case so that they can abide by the stay. Assuming your creditors are all listed in your schedules of creditors, they should all get informed by the bankruptcy court within about a week or so after your case is filed, without any additional action by either you or your attorney. If you are not anticipating any action against you by any of your creditors sooner than that, usually letting them all be informed by the court is appropriate. But if do expect some quick creditor action, be sure to talk with your attorney about it so you’re both on the same page about informing that creditor.

But what if a creditor unexpectedly takes some action in the days after your bankruptcy is filed but before it finds out about it? The automatic stay is so powerful that if this does happen, the creditor must undo whatever action it took against you, even if it did not know about your bankruptcy filing. So if after your bankruptcy is filed, a creditor, for example, files a lawsuit against you or turns its earlier lawsuit into a judgment, that lawsuit must be dismissed or the judgment must be set aside.

In my next blog I’ll tell you about how long this automatic stay protection lasts. If you can’t wait until that blog, give me a call or set up an appointment to see me. I’ll tell you all about it personally.

Don’t take for granted the extraordinariness of bankruptcy’s automatic stay. That’s the federal law that stops creditors from pursuing you, your money, and your other possessions the moment your bankruptcy case is filed.

In my last two blogs, I told you about the relatively rare situations in which the automatic stay does not apply—situations in which certain special creditors, or sometimes even all creditors, can continue collecting their debts. But let me emphasize again–the vast majority of the time, as soon as your bankruptcy case is filed, all creditor efforts against you and your property come to an immediate stop.

The automatic stay is so powerful because it is 1) fast and 2) very broad in what it covers.

Very Fast

Very few legal procedures work as quickly and efficiently as the automatic stay. To get anything done in just about any court usually takes weeks, months or even years. A complaint or motion of some sort needs to be filed, the other side usually has the opportunity to respond, then often there is a hearing of some sort, and finally a judge makes a decision.

But not with the automatic stay. It operates as a one-sided and immediate court order, made effective by the very act of filing the bankruptcy case.  A judge isn’t even involved. The creditors have no immediate say about it. There IS a procedure for creditors to object and ask the judge for “relief from the automatic stay,” in other words, for permission to continue or start pursuing you or your money or property, but that’s after the fact. The automatic stay gives you an immediate breathing spell, whether your creditors like it or not.

Broad Coverage

This breathing spell protects you in just about every possible way from your creditors. It stops all phone calls and letters—“any act to collect, assess, or recover” a debt. The automatic stay stops all court and administrative proceedings against you from starting or continuing. Doesn’t matter if your bankruptcy is filed two minutes before the start of a civil lawsuit trial or the foreclosure of your house, the trial or foreclosure does not happen. If a judgment was entered against you in the past and the creditor is about to garnish your wages or checking account, these garnishments are stopped. If you’ve fallen a couple months behind on your vehicle loan payment and the repo man is looking for your car in the employee parking lot, the automatic stay sends him away empty-handed. If the IRS is about to record a lien against your home and vehicle to collect an income tax debt, the automatic stay stops the tax lien. Or if you already have a recorded tax lien and the IRS is about to grab your vehicle to pay the debt, your bankruptcy filing stops this enforcement of the tax lien.

This IS powerful medicine. 

As with other strong medicine, it should be administered with the right guidance, and with help for dealing with any potential side effects. Stopping your creditors with a bankruptcy would essentially be the end of the story for many of them. But for other creditors—those with rights against your home or vehicles, or with special kinds of debts such as taxes and student loans—the breathing space gives us the opportunity to address each of these special creditors.

Contact me to get the immediate protection you need, along with the long-term financial solution for dealing with all of your creditors.