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What Happens to Your Tax Debt After Filing for Bankruptcy

What Happens to Your Tax Debt After Filing for Bankruptcy

Filing for bankruptcy can be a daunting decision, often seen as a last resort for individuals and businesses facing overwhelming financial difficulties. While bankruptcy can provide relief from various forms of debt, it's important to understand that not all debts are treated equally in bankruptcy proceedings. One category of debt that can be particularly complex is tax debt. 

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and Tax Debt

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is often referred to as a "liquidation" bankruptcy. In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, your non-exempt assets are sold to pay off your creditors. However, not all tax debt can be discharged in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. To qualify for the discharge of tax debt under Chapter 7, several conditions must be met:

  • The tax debt must be income tax debt: Only income tax debt is eligible for discharge in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Other types of taxes, such as payroll taxes or fraud penalties, are not eligible for discharge.

  • The tax debt must be at least three years old: To be eligible for discharge, the tax debt must have been due at least three years before filing for bankruptcy. For example, if you're filing for bankruptcy in 2023, the tax debt should relate to tax years from 2019 or earlier.

  • You must have filed a tax return: You must have filed a tax return for the debt in question at least two years before filing for bankruptcy. If you fail to file a return, the debt is not eligible for discharge.

  • The IRS assessment must be more than 240 days old: The IRS must have assessed the tax debt at least 240 days before you file for bankruptcy.

  • You must not have engaged in tax fraud or evasion: If the IRS can prove that you engaged in tax fraud or evasion, your tax debt will not be dischargeable in bankruptcy.

If your tax debt meets these criteria, it may be eligible for discharge in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. However, even if your tax debt is dischargeable, it's essential to consider the timing of your bankruptcy filing.

Timing Matters

When you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the automatic stay goes into effect. This means that most collection actions by creditors, including the IRS, are temporarily halted. However, there are exceptions. If the IRS has placed a tax lien on your property, the lien survives the bankruptcy process, and the IRS can still collect the debt by selling your property, even if the underlying tax debt is discharged.

Additionally, if you have recently filed tax returns and incurred new tax debt, this debt will not be eligible for discharge. Therefore, careful consideration of the timing of your bankruptcy filing is crucial to maximize the benefit of discharging tax debt.

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy and Tax Debt

Chapter 13 bankruptcy, also known as "reorganization" bankruptcy, is different from Chapter 7. Instead of liquidating assets, Chapter 13 creates a repayment plan over three to five years. Tax debt is treated differently in Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you can include your tax debt in the repayment plan. This means you can repay your tax debt over time, typically with little to no interest. The IRS is usually cooperative with these plans as they ensure some payment rather than none.

Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a viable option for individuals who have significant tax debt and do not meet the criteria for discharge under Chapter 7. This form of bankruptcy allows you to get control of your finances and make structured payments to the IRS while keeping your assets.

Non-Dischargeable Tax Debt

It's important to note that certain tax debts are nondischargeable in both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy. These include:

  1. Recent income tax debt: Tax debt for the most recent tax year, or the tax year in which you filed your return late, is not dischargeable in bankruptcy.

  2. Tax debt from unfiled returns: If you failed to file a tax return, any resulting tax debt for that year is non-dischargeable.

  3. Penalties and interest: While the underlying income tax debt may be dischargeable, penalties and interest are generally non-dischargeable. This means you'll need to pay these amounts in full.

  4. Trust fund taxes: If you're responsible for collecting and remitting payroll taxes on behalf of employees, these trust fund taxes are non-dischargeable in bankruptcy.

Effect of Bankruptcy on Tax Liens

A tax lien is a legal claim the government has on your property when you owe back taxes. The existence of a tax lien can complicate your bankruptcy proceedings.

In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, as mentioned earlier, while the underlying tax debt may be discharged, the tax lien itself will remain on your property. This means that if you have assets with significant equity, the IRS may seize and sell those assets to satisfy the lien, even after the debt is discharged.

In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you can include the tax debt in your repayment plan. This allows you to address the tax lien throughout the repayment period. If you complete the Chapter 13 plan successfully, the tax lien may be removed from your property, which can be a significant benefit.

The Fresh Start Initiative

The Internal Revenue Service has implemented the Fresh Start Initiative, which is designed to help taxpayers who are struggling with their tax debt. This program has made it easier for some taxpayers to qualify for installment agreements and offers in compromise, which allow you to settle your tax debt for less than the full amount owed. The Fresh Start Initiative has also expanded the criteria for "Currently Not Collectible" status, where the IRS temporarily suspends collection efforts for taxpayers facing financial hardship.

The Fresh Start Initiative can be a valuable option to explore before considering bankruptcy, as it can help you address your tax debt without the more severe consequences of bankruptcy.


Filing for bankruptcy is a complex process, and the treatment of tax debt varies depending on the type of bankruptcy you file and the specifics of your tax situation. It's crucial to consult with a qualified bankruptcy attorney or tax professional to understand your options and navigate the intricacies of bankruptcy and tax debt relief.

In summary, tax debt can be discharged in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy if it meets specific criteria, while Chapter 13 allows you to create a repayment plan for your tax debt. However, not all tax debt is dischargeable, and the presence of a tax lien can complicate matters. Exploring alternatives such as the Fresh Start Initiative and consulting with professionals can help you make an informed decision and take control of your financial future.



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