First, it is important to understand the difference between a tax lien and a levy. An IRS or Oregon Department of Revenue (ODR) tax lien is a formal public notice—to anyone who knows where to look—that you owe taxes. A lien attaches to your property and affects your rights to the property. When a tax lien iNew Website Home page picture full resolution filed or recorded it can hurt your credit. A lien does NOT involve the direct taking of money or property from you. An IRS levy or ODR garnishment/seizure does involve their taking of your property—your real estate, personal property, or money owed to you. The most common ones by far are levies or garnishments on money owed to you by others—your paycheck being paid to you by your employer or money held in your bank or credit union accounts.
In some circumstances a chapter 13 bankruptcy is a better strategy for dealing with past due taxes. Indeed, as my last blog post explained, a Chapter 7 case can be a powerful tool in dealing with past due taxes. A chapter 7 stops, at least briefly, any pending IRS or Oregon Department of Revenue (ODR) paycheck or bank account garnishment, and most other collection actions. And, most importantly, a Chapter 7 case can either: 1) discharge (legally write off forever) certain, usually older, income tax debts; or 2) discharge enough of your non-tax debts so that—after your Chapter 7 case is completed— you can afford to enter into a reasonable monthly payment plan with the IRS and/or the ODR on the taxes that can’t be discharged; or 3) a combination of the above two—discharge some of your tax debt, along with some or all of your other debts, so that you can afford to enter into a monthly payment plan with the IRS and/or ODR on the taxes that can’t be discharged.
A Chapter 7 bankruptcy can be a very powerful strategy for dealing with past due income taxes. A Chapter 7 can stop a tax garnishment, discharge older tax debt, and allow you to pay off newer taxes. A Chapter 7 will stop the IRS, the Oregon Department of Revenue (ODR), and/or any other state or local tax entity from garnishing your bank accounts and paychecks. The filing will stop a threatened tax lien from being recorded against your home and will stop threatening letters and phone calls for at least 90 days after the filing, and, in some cases, forever.
Income tax debts CAN be “discharged” (permanently written off) if they meet certain conditions. These conditions may be quite easy to meet.To write off income taxes under either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 takes meeting four conditions. Two of these conditions are very seldom a problem. That means that most likely you can discharge a tax debt if you meet the other two conditions. And you will likely meet these other two conditions sooner or later. It’s mostly a matter of time.
As previously discussed, Oregon law now allows residents to choose between using the Oregon exemptions or the federal exemptions when filing a bankruptcy. In most situations, the federal exemptions are significantly better than the Oregon exemptions. Only if a debtor owns a house with significant equity will the Oregon exemptions be better for the debtor than the federal exemptions. If you had to pick the single federal exemption that will help the most people, it’s likely the wildcard exemption. That’s especially true for people who either don’t own their own home or don’t have any equity in their home.
Exemptions are very important. One of the crucial considerations in bankruptcy is whether all of your assets are “exempt,” or protected by the law from your creditors. If all your assets are exempt, then you can keep everything that you own if you file a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy.” Whether your assets are exempt also affects how much you would pay to your creditors and how long you would do so if you file a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case. This consideration can also greatly influence which of these two options are better for you.
In Oregon, banks have traditionally chosen to non-judicially foreclose on homes after a period of default on the mortgage payments (non-judicial foreclosures can be quicker and less costly than judicial foreclosures). There is no law that requires the bank to foreclose within a certain period of time. Indeed sometimes many months or years pass before the bank gets around to beginning the foreclosure process.
When someone files a chapter 7 bankruptcy, all liabilities and assets (including the approximate quick liquidation value of the assets) are included in the bankruptcy petition. The liabilities listed include everything, including non-dischargeable debt (among other things, certain taxes are not dischargeable, student loans are generally non-dischargeable, child/spousal support is not dischargeable).
Student loans are a huge issue for many people. Unfortunately, under current law it is almost impossible to discharge student loans in a bankruptcy case. The general rule is that student loans are not dischargeable unless you can prove an “undue hardship.” Often courts will require that the debtor is essentially mentally and/or physically disabled and unable to earn an income before they will allow a discharge of student loans in a bankruptcy. But if a debtor is disabled, most student loan lenders have an internal procedure (non-bankruptcy) for obtaining a discharge of the student loans.
I often get the question of whether or not there is a certain amount of debt that somebody needs to have before they can file a bankruptcy. The answer is that there is no minimum amount of debt that is required to file a bankruptcy.