Discharging Income Taxes in Bankruptcy

There are four general requirements for discharging an income tax in bankruptcy. Initially, the tax must be one for which the return was not last due within three years of the filing of the bankruptcy. Therefore, if a 2006 income tax return was last due on April 15, 2007, the three-year requirement would be met after April 15, 2010.

The “last due” requirement may be complicated by the debtor’s actions. If the debtor requests and receives an extension, the three-year clock starts after the last extension. See In re Wood, 866 F.2d 1367 (11th Cir. 1989). The three-year period is also tolled during the time when the taxing authority is barred from collecting the debt because of a prior bankruptcy.

The second requirement is known as the 240-day rule. For an income tax to be dischargeable, it must not have been assessed with 240 days of the filing of the bankruptcy. When a tax is assessed is sometimes complicated and depends on the practices of the federal or state taxing authority. For federal taxes, the I.R.S. regulations state that “the date of the assessment is the date the summary record is signed by an assessment officer.” This is not the same time as when the return is filed. However, when a return is timely filed, the assessment date is usually around the time a return is filed.

A debtor will know that a tax has been assessed when they are notified by the taxing authority of the tax claim. The exact date of assessment of a federal tax can be obtain by requesting and analyzing a debtor’s tax transcript.

Another related requirement is that, to be discharged in a bankruptcy, an income must not be not yet assessed but be assessable at the time that the bankruptcy is filed. Pursuant to 26 U.S.C. § 6501(a), tax liability must be assessed within “three years after the return was filed….” Therefore, even if a tax has not yet been assessed for some reason at the time a bankruptcy case is filed, and the case postdates the applicable return by three years, this requirement for dischargeability will met.

The third requirement relates to the timing of when the return is filed.  If a return is filed late, it cannot not be filed within two years of a bankruptcy for the tax to be discharged. Under this rule, amended returns are treated as original filed returns. Also, if the debtor provides to the IRS with correspondence containing financial statements with all the information needed to complete a return, this can also be deemed to be a return. The two-year period begins once the taxing authority actually receives the return, and not when the return is mailed, as is the case with timely-filed returns.

The final requirement is the following.  The return must be filed. A substitute return filed by a taxing authority on behalf of a taxpayer is not considered a return for these purposes. There is, however, a split of authority on whether a return filed by a debtor after a substitute return is filed can is considered a return for this test. The return must not be fraudulent and the debtor must not have attempted to evade the tax.

Tax evasion is generally rare and courts disagree on what is deemed to constitute tax evasion for purposes of this test. Tax evasion is found usually in situations where a debtor is hiding assets, constructing complicated transactions for tax purposes, or making false and misleading statements to avoid tax. However, evasion has also been found to exist in some cases in which a debtor has simply not paid a tax while having the ability to do so.

If you have pending tax liabilities, and you believe that you can satisfy all or some of the above requirements, you should meet with a bankruptcy lawyer to determine whether a Chapter 7 bankruptcy will result in a discharge of some or all of your tax liabilities.

If you are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a bankruptcy attorney.

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