Chapter 7 and 13 can both prevent the recording of a tax lien. But if the tax qualifies for discharge Chapter 7 is quicker and less risky.
Last week we showed how detrimental the recording of an income tax lien can be for you. It can turn a tax that you could fully discharge (legally write off in bankruptcy) into one you’d have to fully pay. We showed how Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” could prevent recording of the tax lien and could discharge the tax.
How about a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case? Would filing one also stop an income tax lien recording? If so, what would happen to that tax debt?
Chapter 13’s Automatic Stay
The filing of a Chapter 13 case stops the recording of a tax lien by the IRS or state just like a Chapter 7 would. Any voluntarily filed bankruptcy case by a person entitled to file that case imposes the “automatic stay” against almost all creditor collection activities against that person and his or her property. (See Sections 301 and 362(a) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.) Those “stayed” or stopped activities specifically include “any act to create, perfect, or enforce” a lien. (See Section 362(a)(4) and (5).)
So filing under Chapter 13 stops a tax lien recording just as fast and just as well a Chapter 7 would.
But Would Chapter 13 Be Better than Chapter 7?
That depends. It depends at the outset on whether the tax is one that qualifies for discharge. If it does qualify (mostly by being old enough) then a Chapter 7 is actually often better.
Under Chapter 7 the automatic stay protection lasts only the 3-4 months that the case is active. But that’s long enough since the discharge of the tax debt would happen just before the case was closed. Once the tax debt is discharged the IRS/state could no longer do anything to collect that tax. It would certainly have no further ability to record a tax lien on that tax.
What would happen in this situation under Chapter 13, with a tax debt that qualifies for discharge? It would get discharged like under Chapter 7, but with two big differences.
First, the discharge would happened not 3-4 months after case filing but usually 3 to 5 years later. The automatic stay protection usually lasts throughout that time, preventing tax collection, including the recording of a tax lien. But that long period of time under Chapter 13 does create more opportunities for things to go wrong. That’s all the more true because throughout that time you have various obligations, such as to make monthly Chapter 13 plan payments. If for any reason you don’t successfully complete your Chapter 13 case, the otherwise dischargeable tax debt still won’t get discharged.
Second, under Chapter 13 you may have to pay part of the tax debt before it is discharged. This is in contrast to usually paying nothing on it under Chapter 7. (This assumes that you’d have a “no-asset” Chapter 7 case—in which all of your assets would be “exempt”, protected.) Whether you’d pay anything on a dischargeable tax debt in a Chapter 13 case, and if so how much, depends on many factors, mostly the nature and amount of your other debts and your income and expenses. But why risk paying something on a tax debt under Chapter 13 if you wouldn’t have to pay anything under Chapter 7?
So Chapter 7 Is Usually Better at Dealing with a Dischargeable Tax Debt?
The answer is likely “yes” if you focus only on this one part of your financial life.
But you may have other reasons to file a Chapter 13 case. For example, you may owe a more recent income tax debt that does not qualify for discharge, in addition to the one that does qualify. Chapter 13 provides a number of significant advantages in dealing with the nondischargeable tax. These could make Chapter 13 much better for you overall.
Or you may have considerations nothing to do with taxes, such as being behind on a home mortgage, a vehicle loan, or child support. Chapter 13 gives you huge advantages with each of these kinds of debts. Your bankruptcy lawyer and you will sort out all the advantages and disadvantages of each legal option to choose the best one.