There is a common misconception that income taxes are never dischargeable in bankruptcy. In fact, you can discharge some back federal, state, and local income taxes in Chapter 7, Chapter 13, and Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Moreover, the penalties and interest attached to these taxes are dischargeable as well. Determining which back taxes are dischargeable can be a complex process. Nonetheless, it is possible to discharge significant income tax debt in bankruptcy, if your tax debt fits within certain rules.
THE 3 YEARS, 2 YEARS, AND 240 DAY RULES
The Bankruptcy Code sets out specific time periods that determine if you can discharge your taxes, commonly called the 3-year, 2-year, and 240-day rules (the “3-2-240 rules”). Under these rules, you can discharge income taxes that came due three years before you file for bankruptcy, as long as it has been at least two years since you filed the tax forms and 240 days since the taxes were assessed. There are some exceptions, and these rules do not apply to other types of taxes, such as property taxes.
To discharge back income taxes, be aware that you must meet the requirements of all three rules.
1. The 3-Year Rule. This rule states that to discharge your back income taxes, they must become due at least three years before you file for bankruptcy. Bankruptcy Code §507(a)(8)(A)(i). Typically, your federal and most state income taxes become due on or around April 15th of each year. In most cases, it is simply a matter of adding three years to this due date to determine the earliest date you can file for bankruptcy and still discharge your taxes.
2. The 2-Year Rule. Under the 2-year rule, your income tax returns must have been filed at least two years before you file your bankruptcy petition. This requirement allows you to discharge your taxes even if you file your tax forms late, as long as you file the forms at least two years before filing for bankruptcy. §523(a)(1)(b)(ii).
3. The 240-Day Rule. Taxes must have been assessed by the taxing agency at least 240 days before you file for bankruptcy under this rule or not assessed at all. As a practical matter, the original date of assessment is typically on or near the date you file your income tax form (assuming the IRS or other taxing agency agree on the amount of taxes owed).