We’ve been talking about the effect of an income tax lien on an income tax that bankruptcy CAN discharge–legally write off. A tax lien can turn that tax from one you don’t have to pay into one you have to pay in full. That’s because a tax lien recording turns an unsecured debt that bankruptcy can write off into a secured one. The tax becomes secured by your real estate, or your personal property, or both. So, if you want to keep what you own, you must pay the tax.
But what about an income tax lien on a tax that bankruptcy CAN’T discharge? The tax already doesn’t qualify for being written off. What difference does the recording of a tax lien make on such a tax? And how can bankruptcy help in these situations?
An Income Tax Lien on a Non-Dischargeable Tax
It’s likely somewhat less common for an income tax lien to be recorded on a nondischargeable tax. Broadly speaking, an income tax does not qualify for discharge because it’s not old enough. Often, by the time the IRS/state records a tax lien, the tax at issues has meet the conditions for discharge.
But that certainly isn’t always true. There are many circumstances when a tax has not qualified for bankruptcy discharge and the IRS/state records a tax lien. The taxing authority may be relatively quick on recording a tax lien because of the amount at issue. Or a prior history of unpaid taxes could encourage the same reaction. Also, if you owe more than one year of taxes, a tax lien would often apply to all taxes owed. Some of those taxes may be old enough to qualify for discharge while others may not.
So what’s the practical effect of a tax lien recording on a tax that already doesn’t qualify for discharge? The effect is much less than it would be on a dischargeable tax—making you pay a tax you could have avoided paying. In both situations the tax lien turns an unsecured tax into a secured one. With a nondischargeable tax this simply means that you have one more reason to pay a tax which you already had to pay after a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Besides their usual collection tools, the IRS/state can now take your assets if you don’t pay.
Chapter 7’s Effect
Filing Chapter 7 only makes sense when you have a recorded tax lien secured by assets you own and want to keep (worth at least the amount of the tax) if you are prepared to pay the tax. That’s true if the tax at issue is dischargeable or not dischargeable. With a nondischargeable tax that’s all the more true—the lien just gives you more reason to pay the tax. It gives you more reason to pay it more quickly.
There are concrete ways that a recorded tax lien gives the IRS/state that much more leverage to make you pay. The lien increases the ways the IRS/state can directly hurt you, through the seizure of your assets. In the case of a tax lien on a home, it can prevent you from refinancing your mortgage. It could even jeopardize the sale of a home. The lien is also a black mark on your credit record.
You don’t have to be prepared to pay it in full. But you need to have the cash flow—after discharging your other debts—to make appropriate monthly payments. Or, in special circumstances, you need to have strong confidence that you can successfully reduce or eliminate the tax through an offer in compromise.
What If You Can’t Pay, or Not Fast Enough?
Chapter 13 is a better option if you can’t pay the tax at issue fast enough to satisfy the IRS/state. We’ll tell you about this next week.