The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) may seize a tax refund at any time. Sometimes this is done in error.
Filing bankruptcy does not stop the IRS from collecting tax refunds before the process is started. What many people do not realize is that if the bankruptcy trustee is the one behind the seizure of a tax refund, the refund will not be forthcoming. It will be used to pay creditors. On the other hand, if the bankruptcy trustee did not seize the tax refund, the seizure can be corrected.
When it comes to bankruptcy, the courts view the IRS as a creditor, just like any other bank, credit institution, or company that is owed money. If the IRS moves to seize someone’s tax refund, they must advise the individual of their actions, and include the reason for doing so. For example, if the reason is to pay back taxes written off in bankruptcy, contact your lawyer, the bankruptcy trustee and the IRS promptly. You will need to provide proof your bankruptcy has been discharged to correct this error and get your tax refund back.
Why call the trustee? They have a great deal of latitude to file motions to seize funds and redirect the money to pay creditors. Letting the trustee know the IRS seized a tax refund may trigger the legal process to have that money returned. Provided the trustee is able to demonstrate the IRS acted illegally to seize the refund in the first place, the motion should result in the money being returned.
There are instances in which you may owe more in taxes than you expected. If you file bankruptcy, the IRS might audit your previous tax returns, to see if you made any extra cash. They could then seize the refund to pay for the extra owing they found in your records. This extra money is usually not written off in bankruptcy, as you did not know the debt existed. Despite the fact this kind of gold mining in a debtor’s past tax records is unsettling and seems underhanded, it is legal.
In both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceedings, bankruptcy trustees may file motions to seize tax refunds to pay creditors and back taxes owed the IRS. In a Chapter 7 filing, the liquidation of assets takes the tax refund and uses it to pay off the maximum amount of the debt. The rest is written off. In a Chapter 13 filing, the taxes are seized to roll them into an individual’s court-approved payment plan.
Kevin Ahrenholz is an Iowa bankruptcy lawyer and Iowa bankruptcy attorney. To contact him, visit http://www.iowachapter7.com or call 1.877.888.1766.