Can a debtor discharge old tax debts in Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 consumer bankruptcy?
In December, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit weighed in on an unusual tax situation involving a consumer bankruptcy proceeding and outstanding individual income tax debt. In the case, two individual taxpayers – husband and wife – failed to file a tax return in 2000 and 2001, resulting in an undisputed deficiency notice. In 2006, the IRS began collection proceedings on the debtors – who thereafter filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 13 and, later, Chapter 7.
The U.S. Bankruptcy Code allows for the discharge of a wide array of consumer debts, including – in certain circumstances – outstanding federal tax liability. However, these discharges are only available where the taxpayer has actually filed a tax return for the tax years implicated in the bankruptcy proceedings, and are excepted if a tax return was never filed.
Here, the debtors failed to file a tax return in 2000 and 2001, and were thereafter barred in their subsequent bankruptcy proceeding from discharging the tax debt accrued in those years. In their argument, the debtors explained that they actually filed post-assessment appeals with the IRS after the deficiency notices were sent. However, the U.S. District Court held that a post-assessment tax return is not the same as a traditional tax return due on April 15 of each year, and the tax debt was not dischargeable.
On appeal, the debtors pleaded to the Tenth Circuit that they should not be liable for the 2000 and 2001 tax debts, as a tax return was filed (eventually). However, the Tenth Circuit sided with the IRS and U.S. District Court, holding that a timely tax return must be filed in order to benefit from the dischargeability allowances in the Bankruptcy Code. In other words, a post-assessment filing is simply too little, too late.
The debtors have since filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, and it is unclear whether the court will grant a writ of certiorari to review this complex issue at the intersection of bankruptcy and tax law.
If you are struggling to meet your debt obligations, are considering bankruptcy and would like to speak to a reputable attorney about your situation, contact the knowledgeable legal team of Miami Valley Bankruptcy at 937-502-1040 today.