Under certain circumstances a recorded tax lien does NOT require you to pay a dischargeable tax after Chapter 7, or at least not in full.
The last two blog posts have been about the benefits of preventing an income tax lien recording by filing bankruptcy. That’s especially helpful if the tax at issue is an older one that can be discharged—legally written off. The recording of a tax lien can turn such a tax debt from one you don’t have to pay at all into one that you have to pay in full. (See the IRS Notice of Federal Tax Lien form.)
But what if the IRS or state has already recorded a tax lien against you, before you could file bankruptcy? You’re likely in even more financial distress after that tax lien recording than you were before. Could filing bankruptcy still help with that tax debt even after the lien recording?
Yes, both Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” and Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” could help. They could each do so in different ways. And they could each help whether the tax at issue met the conditions for discharge or instead was a newer tax that did not.
Today’s blog post covers how Chapter 7 can help with a recorded tax lien on a dischargeable tax debt. We’ll cover how Chapter 13 helps in this same tax situation next week.
The Effect of a Tax Lien Recording
In most situations the recording of a tax lien on an otherwise dischargeable tax requires to pay that tax. Again, it turns a tax that you wouldn’t have had to pay into one you have to pay in full.
How does it do that? Basically, IRS’/state’s recording of a tax lien turns an unsecured debt into a secured one. The tax meets the conditions for discharge (mostly by being old enough), but the IRS/state now has rights over your assets. You have to pay the otherwise dischargeable tax if you don’t want to lose those assets.
What assets? Which of your assets would you lose after the recording of a tax lien if you didn’t pay the tax? That’s a crucial question. That’s because under certain circumstances you might not need to pay all the tax, even after a tax lien recording. You might not have to pay any of the tax. It depends on which of your assets, if any, the tax lien attached to.
Assets Attached by the Tax Lien
Let’s be clear. Most of the time the recording of a tax lien results in you having to pay the tax. That’s because that tax lien attaches to your assets or property that you don’t want to lose. A recorded IRS Notice of Federal Tax Lien, for example, applies to “all property and rights to property belonging to this taxpayer for the amount of these taxes… .” So if it applies to everything that belongs to you, you pay the tax to avoid losing those assets.
But sometimes the tax lien might attach to little, or even nothing, of value. Or what it attaches to is worth much less than the tax debt. Then you may not end up paying the whole tax debt amount, or even any of it. (See the IRS’ Guidelines for Processing Notice of Federal Tax Lien Documents, including about lien releases and withdrawals.)
For example, assume you owe $10,000 in old, dischargeable income taxes but own very little—say a total of $2,500 fair market value in household goods and personal effects. There’s a recorded tax lien on that $10,000 debt covering all your property. With a Chapter 7 case you discharge the $10,000 debt, but recorded tax lien on the $2,500 in property survives. The IRS/state has limited leverage in making you pay any more than $2,500. So there’s a good chance you could settle the matter by agreeing to pay around that amount.
Another example: the IRS/state has recorded a tax lien in your county real estate recorder’s office, placing a lien on your home. (Under many state’s laws that recorded lien would only apply to real estate, not to any other personal assets.) But what if you do not own a home or any other real estate in that county? What if you recently lost your home to foreclosure? Or what if your home has no equity at that time and likely won’t for many years? In these scenarios the IRS/state would have to concede that its lien is essentially worthless. Your bankruptcy lawyer may well be able to convince the IRS/state to release or withdraw its lien as being of no collection value.