52 Traps & Frequently Missed Issues

     & Opportunities In Tax - Bankruptcy Cases





The “¶“ citations refer to corresponding sections of King’s Discharging Taxes in Consumer Bankruptcy Cases - available at

“The law concerning dischargeability of taxes and penalties is confusing at best, starting with the relevant statutes that are characterized by double and triple negative constructions and incorporate other statutes by reference." Judge Dana L. Rasure, Moore v. Oklahoma ex rel. Okla. Tax Comm'r (In re Moore) (Bankr. N.D. Okla., 2017)

√   1.  Failure to adequately explore client's tax history for willful evasion.


          Chapter 7 debtor's intentional failure to file his federal income tax returns, together with his failure to pay taxes when he had

          resources to do so, was sufficient to prove that debtor attempted to evade or defeat tax liability for dischargeability purposes.

           Petersen v. United States, Dep't of the Treasury (In re Petersen) (Bankr. S.D. Fla.,

           2012); Terrell v. Internal Revenue Service (Bankr. W.D. Okla. 2018).

           See ¶ 2.4(i)(9). 


√   2.   Advising client to withdraw bank accounts and hide assets until the bankruptcy is filed –             

           fraudulent transfer. See ¶ 2.4(i). In re Gagow, 590 B.R. 517 (Bankr. Nev., 2018).


           Held, the debtors engaged in a fraudulent transfer justifying denial of discharge when they withdrew over $64,000 from money                 market and deposit accounts with the admitted  intent to hinder creditors.  In re Bernard, 96 F.3d 1279 (9th Cir. 1996)


           Debtor willfully evaded taxes by transferring stock and royalty interests to domestic and off-shore entities.  

           In re Sommers, 209 B.R. 471 (Bkrtcy.N.D.Ill. 1997).


           Chapter 7 debtor engaged in willful attempt to evade or defeat tax where did not merely fail 

           to pay taxes but transferred assets to live-in companion without consideration, with intent to

           protect assets subject to levy; willful attempt to evade tax may include any conduct the likely

           effect of which would be to mislead or - conceal.  In re Griffith, 210 B.R. 216 (S.D.Fla. 1997).


√    3.  Relying on verbal or telephonic representations made by taxing authority.

           See ¶ 7.5(c).


           Matter of Larson, 862 F.2d 112 (7th Cir. 1988) (taxpayers were not entitled to rely on IRS agent's

           erroneous misrepresentation that taxes would be discharged in a bankruptcy filed less than 240 days after assessment).

          Similar ruling In re Howell, 120 B.R. 137 (9th Cir. BAP 1990).


√    4.  Failing to consider tolling events (primarily prior bankruptcy or offer-in-compromise) on discharge time periods.

           See ¶ 2.8. Failing to include 90-day add-on pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 507(a)(8)(A)(G+).


           And see possible tolling of the 2-year period based on “equitable tolling” discussed at ¶ 2.9(c)(2).


√    5.  Failing to consider extensions to file tax return in calculating the three-year rule. 

           See ¶ 2.8(a).


√   6.   Mistake - putting client in Chapter 13 to “wait out” the priority periods. See ¶ 2.9(d)(1)

It is important to keep in mind that the period in which the taxing entity is prevented from collection due to the automatic stay is tolled for that period, plus an additional 90 days.


Hence, putting the client into bankruptcy to "wait out" the running of one or more of the discharge time periods (3-yr rule, 2-yr rule, 240-day rule) is not viable.


See In re Ford (Bankr. E.D.N.C. 2020) 


√    7.  Failing to obtain the basic tax transcripts. See ¶ 7.1.


√    8.  Mistaking code “150” on the transcript for date taxpayer filed his own return. 

           See ¶ 7.7(b)(9).


√    9.  Failure to examine the Account Transcript for clues that the return may have been an IRS

          substitute for return. See ¶ 7.7(b)(9).


           Clues for Substitute for Return (“SFR”):


√ No $ amount shown for “Tax Per Return”

√ No $ amount shown with “150”

√ Letters “SFR” appear with Code “150”

√ Form 1040A” appears at upper left corner

√ Code “599” appears (but could be the taxpayer’s 1040)


√    10. Assuming “SFR” on transcript rules out a taxpayer filed return; taxpayer may have

            filed his/her 1040 later that could be deemed a valid return. See ¶ 2.4(f)(3)


√    11. Incorrect calendar calculation of the three time periods; Debtor’s counsel filed the

            bankruptcy just one day short of the satisfaction date for the 3-year time rule.

            Elkins v. IRS 369 B.R. 741 (Bankr. S.D. Ga. 2007). See ¶ 2.4(d) et. seq.


           When in doubt consider using an online bankruptcy transcript analysis service[2] 


           However, such a service may not be able to correctly determine calendar times in the

           case of a serial filer, or case where new bankruptcy period overlaps prior bk filing.


           When calculating the 3-year period, failing to consider when due date for return may

           land on weekend or holiday. Where April 15 lands on a weekend or holiday, due date

           is extended to next business day. See In re Hammerer, 18 B.R. 524 (Bkrtcy.E.D.Wis.

              1982).  See ¶ 2.4(e).

√   12. Wrong assessment date for state taxes. Date of assessment as to state income tax

            may be nebulous; verify when the assessment is “final.” In re King 122 B.R. 383 (9th

            Cir. BAP 1991). See ¶ 2.4(G)(5).


            Example; In California, the Franchise Tax Board date deemed the assessment date is

            the “posting” date. See ¶ 2.4(g)(4).


√    13. Filing proof of claim for unsecured priority taxes that do not violate any of the § 523

            rules in Chapter 13. May be a mistake.

            See ¶ 2.10(b), ¶ 3.6, ¶ 3.6(f)


√    14. Failing to file proof of claim for secured tax claim in Chapter 13. Mistake.

             See ¶ 2.10(b), ¶ 3.6(f)(3), (5)


√    15. Failure to scrutinize tax proof of claim filed in Chapter 13 - usually incorrect (IRS

             often claims entire tax is secured if a lien is recorded, ignoring the actual value of the

             debtor's assets).

             See ¶ 2.15(c)(2), ¶ 3.11(g)(6), ¶ 8.12(k).


√    16. Failing to file proof of claim in Chapter 7 for nondischargeable taxes with nonexempt

             assets. Mistake. See ¶ 6.10(b) In re Higgins, 29 B.R. 196 (Bankr. N.D. Iowa, 1983)


√    17. Failure to explore state tax law requirement that taxpayer file a “report” or amended

             return where IRS assesses additional taxes.

             See ¶ 2.4(f)(20). Report is probably a required “return” under BAPCPA. § 523(a)(1)(B).


√    18. Overlooking trustee’s power to avoid or subordinate a tax lien on the debtor’s (estate’s)

           property and liquidate the asset to pay unsecured creditors.  Applies in chapter 7 only.

            See ¶ 6.11(b). In re Selander, 592 B.R. 729 (Bankr. W.D. Wash., 2018)In re Christensen,

            561 B.R. 195 (Bankr. Utah 2016); Mukamal v. Citibank N.A. (In re Kipnis), 555 B.R. 877 (Bankr. S.D. Fla., 2016).

√    19. State “sales” taxes may be dischargeable, either as excise taxes or as income

            taxes, if assessed only against the retailer, not the customer.

            See ¶ 2.7(g). 11 U.S.C. § 507(a)(8). Rosenow v. State of Ill., Dept. of Revenue, 715 F.2d

            277, 10 B.C.D. 1332 (7th Cir., 1983); In re Calabrese, 689 F.3d 312,  (3rd Cir., 2012).


√    21. Giving improper notice. Listing wrong address for IRS on the schedules: should

            normally be centralized IRS Insolvency Office, not the service center or district office.

            See ¶ 5.1(b). Markley v. Dep't of Treasury (In re Markley) (Bankr. N.D. Ohio, 2017).

√    22. In Chapter 7, failure to request release of lien for discharged tax where equity in debtor's property is nominal.

           See ¶ 2.4(j); ¶ 6.1(k); ¶ 6.12.


√    23. Failure to verify validity of assessment in connection with 240-day period.

            See ¶ 2.4(g); 6.8(f)(7).


  • Are the assessments valid?

  • Assessed during previous bankruptcy (pre-1994)?

  • Has client signed a waiver of the statute of limitations on assessment?

  • Is there any other event that extended the statute of limitations?


√    24. Failure to determine if on-going IRS audit may result in additional federal tax, or

            subsequent state “piggy-back” assessment.


            The “sleeping assessment.” See item no. 28, below. See ¶ 2.4(g) and ¶ 7.10(b)(12)(ii)


√    25. Failing to determine whether liens are valid; See ¶ 6.6 et seq.


            For example, was a pre-1994 assessment or lien done during a prior bankruptcy thus

            making it void? Was the lien filed in the wrong county? Has the lien expired?

            (good for ten years from date of assessment of tax, plus applicable tolling events. If a

            tolling event, IRS must refile the lien before a total of ten years has expired from date of

            original filing).


            Junior to other liens? Invalid or inadequate name or address of taxpayer? Based on

             arbitrary assessment?


            Problem - tax lien on retirement plan. Can client outlive life of lien?


            State liens - rules of validity may be different (e.g., California – must record with Sec. of 

            State to be valid against personal property, and is treated as a civil judgment 

            (may be avoidable if impairs exemption?)

            SOURCE: John Balian.


            Unlike IRS tax lien, state tax lien may not be effective against personal property unless

            recorded in a central state office; in Cal. the lien must be recorded in the office of the

            Secretary of State as well as the county of taxpayer's residence.


            State tax lien may be avoidable where IRS lien is not; in CAL an FTB lien for personal

            income taxes may be avoidable because state law treats tax lien as an ordinary judgment


            Cal. R & T Code 2191.4.

            See 11 U.S.C. § 524(a).


√    26. There may be a second transcript for same client in IRS files - look for asterisk on social

             security number on the tax transcript.
             See ¶ 7.8. IRS Non-Master File section - (888) 829-7434


            Particularly if debtor is divorced, widowed, or filed separately. Request the “non-master

            file” transcript   for both social security numbers. If the regular account transcript shows

            no liability, it is probably on the other spouse's account transcript, or the non-master file



√    27. Tunnel vision (looking only at IRS, or in the alternative, only at the state tax

            situation). Focusing only on the tax years or tax periods your client seems most

            concerned about.


            Tip: when requesting the account transcripts “bracket” the transcripts - request the year

            before the first year of liability, and the first year following the most recent year of liability.


√    28.  Failure to advise client about potential “sleeping assessments.”

             See ¶ 2.4(9).

               1. For IRS: Sleeper: no. 1


  •   Tax Year meets the three-year rule;

  •   Tax assessment meets the 240-day rule;

  •   Tax return filed more than two years ago, but less than three.


          Problem: the original tax for this year is dischargeable, but the statute of limitations

          to audit this year has not expired (three years from date tax return was filed): IRS has right to

         come back and audit this year after the bankruptcy, and may assess additional taxe which would not be 

         discharged in the bankruptcy.


                  2. For state taxes: Sleeper no. 2


                  Failure to check subsequent state tax assessment following discovery of a

                  Subsequent IRS assessment on the transcripts. Taxpayers frequently forget about

                  the state taxes following an IRS audit.


                  In re Nusseibeh, (Bankr. N.D. Ohio 2010) 

                  In re Jerauld, 208 B.R. 183 (B.A.P. 9th Cir., 1997)

                 In re Haywood, 62 B.R. 482 (Bankr. N.D. Ill., 1986)

                  See ¶ 2.4(g)(8). ¶ 2.4(g)(10)s


√    29. Failure to verify that tax lien that has been satisfied in Chapter 13 plan has been

             released following discharge. See ¶ 2.15(d)(1); ¶ 6.5. 


√    30. Interest on the tax may be wrong. If a priority or non-dischargeable tax is going to be

             paid out of liquidated assets or through a plan, it might be prudent to double-check

             the interest that the taxing entity claims has accrued; it is not unheard of to find an

             error. There is software available for this, or a local enrolled agent or accountant may

             know how to check the interest. See ¶ 3.13.


√    31. NOL. If the client's business has lost money recently making the client eligible for a

             net operating loss (NOL) adjustment to his next year's taxes, and there will be non-

             exempt assets to be liquidated by the estate, the trustee may claim the NOL to reduce

             the estate's taxes, resulting in deprivation of the benefit of the NOL to the client. If

             such an event seems possible, the client needs to be forewarned.

             See ¶ 2.18(b).


√     32. Failure to warn client about personal liability for accrued postposition interest on non-

              dischargeable taxes and trust-fund taxes, even if tax claims are to be paid in full through

              chapter 13 plan. ¶ 3.13(a)(3), ¶ 3.13(a)(6). In re Widick, No. 10-40187 (Bankr. D. Neb.

              2019); In re Thaxton (Bankr. S.D. W.Va., 2017).


√     33. Not getting precise figures for tax, interest and penalties early on in a chapter 13; if not

             straightened out early in the case so that monthly payment will be sufficient to pay it

             off within the life of the plan, the trustee may file a surprise motion to dismiss just

             months before completion on the basis that the claims cannot be paid off within 60

             months. Reuland v. I.R.S.  Br. (Bankr. N.D. Ill. 2018).


√     34. Treating a tax lien on an ERISA retirement plan as a secured claim in chapter 13; weight

              of authority is that lien on property that is not property of the estate is not a secured

              claim in bankruptcy. In re Bailey (Bankr. Me., 2018)

              See ¶ 3.15(c)(2); See ¶ 6.5(b)(4).


√     35. Forgetting to explore whether statutes of limitations for collection may have expired or

              are near expiration, before doing discharge analysis. In some cases the statute will have

              expired or is near expiration, making the bankruptcy unnecessary. See ¶ 2.15.


√     36. When reviewing the effect of the tax liens, not looking at the priority (i.e. seniority) of

              tax lien filing dates - State may have filed before the IRS, thus IRS may be unsecured,

              or vis-versa. See ¶ 6.4.


√    37. Substituting in on a filed case in progress. Taking a case over after filed by the client

             pro per, or filed by another lawyer - Don't assume prior attorney knows what he was

             doing.  Do assume there are hidden mistakes that will come back to bite you.


√    38. Failure to get client to sign release of liability in a rush filing case where you don't

             have time to do a thorough case investigation.

             See author's example, Appendix.


√    39. Missing possible defense; it may be argued that post-petition community property is

            immune from debts of other spouse discharged, or dischargeable in prior bankruptcy;

            convoluted text of § 524(a)(3). In re Field, 440 B.R. 191 (Bankr. Nev., 2009).

            See ¶ 6.13(g)(7).


√    40. Another possible defense; spousal transmutation agreement may protect non-filing

            spouse's income and property from non-dischargeable tax debt of the other spouse.

            ¶¶ 6.9(d)(9); 6.13(g)(7); Internal Revenue Manual § (06-05-2017) - Effect of

            Marital Agreements on Collection. But may be nullified if technicalities are not

            observed- Stadtmueller v. Sarkisian (In re Medina) (Bankr. S.D. Cal., 2018);


            Assuming a marital-property divorce decree assigning tax liabilities to the respective

            spouses binds the IRS as to whom they can go after for the whole liability. As a

            general rule the IRS is not bound by the provisions of such agreements assigning tax

            payments to one spouse. In re Cooper, 83 B.R. 544, 17 Bankr. CT. Dec. 276 (Bankr. C.D.

             Ill., 1988)


√    41. Date of IRS assessment is not when a tax court judgment is entered, but after 90-day -

             appeal period has expired. See ¶ 2.4(g)(2). In re Williams 183 B.R. 43 (Bankr.E.D.N.Y. 1995)


√    42.  Is the client a partner or shareholder in a partnership, joint venture, or corporation that is

            being audited, or that may cause the client to be personally assessed for business entity

            income or taxes?

            Will the client’s filing bankruptcy automatically dissolve the partnership? Check with the

            client’s tax professional. ¶ 2.4(g)(10), ¶ 2.17.


√    43.  In a chapter 7 case to be filed this year – debtor has non-exempt assets and non-

             dischargeable taxes – if he/she fails to file an election to split the tax year it is possible

             all of the tax debts will be deemed post-petition liabilities, and hence will receive no

             dividend from the non-exempt assets. Client should consult his/her tax professional.

             In re Higgins29 B.R. 196 (Bankr. N.D. Iowa, 1983). See ¶ 2.15(b).

√   44.   “Equitable tolling.” Prior bankruptcy may toll the two-year period prescribed at § 523(a)(1)

             (B)(ii). Putnam v. Internal Revenue Serv. (In re Putnam), 503 B.R. 656 (Bankr.

             E.D.  N.C., 2014); Ollie-Barnes v.  Internal Revenue Serv. (In re Ollie-Barnes) (Bankr.

             M.D.N.C., 2014); In re Spinks, 591 B.R. 113 (Bankr. S.D. Ga., 2018). See ¶ 2.9


√   45.   Failure to consider the late-filed return issue. A tax return not filed on time (for the IRS,

             April 15 or October 15); is it a valid tax return for bankruptcy purposes? Same for state

             income tax returns. The McCoy and Beard cases (1st., 5th and 10th circuits.)

             ¶  2.4(f)(2)(iii).


             Failure to consider this issue in circuits outside the 1st., 5th. And 10th circuits;

             notwithstanding that other circuits have not adopted McCoy, some individual judges in

             other circuits have adopted the McCoy test.


             Some examples; Judge Thomas L. Perkins, Shinn v. Internal Revenue Serv. (In re Shinn)

             (Bankr. C.D.  Ill., 2012) – 7th Cir; Erik P. Kimball, Judge; Wendt v. United States (In re

             Wendt), 512 B.R. 716 (Bankr. S.D. Fla., 2013) – 11th Circ; Ben Barry, United States

             Bankruptcy Judge, Kline v. Internal Revenue Serv. (In re Kline), 581 B.R. 597 (Bankr. W.D.

             Ark., 2018) – 8th Cir..


√   46.  Improper allocation of taxpayer’s funds seized pre-petition, or as setoff. i.e.

            the debtor designated the money go to non-dischargeable tax years, but IRS allocated

            to dischargeable taxes. In re Fielding (Bankr. N.D. Tex., 2015); In re Lockard (Bankr. E.D.

            Mich. 2014); Muntwyler v. United States703 F.2d 1030 (1983). 111 U.S.C. § 553.

            Setoff. ¶ 2.15


√   47.   Failure to consider effect of Code section that provides, upon confirmation of the Chapter

             13 plan, the property revests to the debtor: Does this allow the IRS to do collection on

             those assets, under the argument that property released from the estate is no longer

             protected by the automatic stay? It may be prudent to provide in the plan that the property

             is retained by the estate. 11 U.S.C. § 1327(b).

             King, ¶ 4.3(d), ¶ 5.9(d), ¶ 6.13. Mullins and Martha Hopkins Mullins (Bankr. S.D. West VA 2009).

√   48.   Failure to file motion to impose or extend the automatic stay.


             In the event the debtor is a serial filer, particularly if he/she had one or more prior cases pending within

             the preceding year, the automatic stay may commence on petition date,

             but  expire in 30 days if the debtor does not obtain an order extending the stay pursuant

             to 11 U.S.C. §  362(c)(3)(A), or not  arise at all pursuant to. Discussed at ¶ 2.9(c)(2).


             The issue may be complicated if prior bankruptcy stays overlapped. Nachimson v. United

             States ex rel. Internal Revenue Serv. (Bankr. W.D.Oka. 2019);

             In re Daniel, 227 B.R. 675 (Bkrtcy.N.D.Ind. 1998).


             It may not be clear whether or not the IRS has violated the stay.

             In re Janice L. Elrod, Debtor 523 B.R. 790 (Bankr, W.D. Tennessee. 2015).

√   49.   Failure to give proper notice; wrong IRS address in the schedules; What may have been dischargeable 

   taxes were not discharged in debtor's chapter 13 because notice to the IRS was given at an improper address. 

   Markley v. Dep't of Treasury (In re Markley) (Bankr. N.D. Ohio, 2017).

             See ¶ 5.1(b).

√   50.  In the 1st, 5th, or 10th circuits, where taxpayer filed a late tax return thus triggering the "McCoy test," the

  taxes and interest will be non-dischargeable, but the McCoy rule does not apply to the penalties; the discharge

  of penalties is governed by 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(7) and does not depend on whether a tax return was filed.

√   51.  Assuming incorrectly that, in a chapter 7 case, that the IRS cannot levy, postpetition, on the debtor’s ERISA or

  other similar retirement plan for prepetition taxes, despite the automatic stay.


 The automatic stay prevents IRS levy only on property of the estate; the automatic stay does not apply to property that is

 not property of the estate. Hence, an IRS levy that commenced before or after the chapter 7 is filed, may continue on a

 taxpayer’s retirement plans containing anti-alienation clauses (such as an ERISA). Gross v. Commissioner, (CA   9th Cir., 2/25/2014) 113 AFTR 2d ¶ 2014-529. Similar ruling, In re Wilson, 206 B.R. 808 (Bankr. W.D.  N.C. 1996).


 Held, IRS could levy on debtor's postpetition income because the income was not property of the estate, In re Ballard, 238 B.R.   610 (Bankr. M.D. La 1999), In re Smiley, 189 B.R. 338 (Bankr. E.D. Pa. 1995). pparently contrary, In re Reisbeck, 505 B.R. 546   (Bankr.  Mont. 2014). 

√  52. Treating a lien for tax penalties as secured. The IRS or state taxing agency sometimes files a proof of claim listing the

          entire tax liability as secured, which presumably includes the portion for the penalties. This may arise where the taxing

          entity has recorded a lien for the liabilities.

          However, the majority rule is that penalties should not be deemed secured, notwithstanding a valid tax lien

          which includes the penalties has been filed. The rationale is, typically, that to do so would punish the general unsecured

          creditors for the debtor's bad conduct (whatever it was that triggered the penalty).

          See, e.g., In re Merwede, 84 B.R. 11 (Bankr. Conn. 1988); In re Brentwood, 134 B.R. 267 (Bankr. M.D. Tenn. 1991);

          In re Quality Sign Co. Inc. 51 B.R. 351 (Bankr. S.D. Ind. 1985).

√  53. Failing to "exhaust administrative remedies"before seeking damages against the IRS for violation of the automatic stay or

          the discharge. 26 U.S.C. § 7433(e)(2)(A). ¶ 5.9(h).

© MORGAN D. KING 2019 2020

[1] Derived from King’s Discharging Taxes in Consumer Bankruptcy Cases, available at (

[2] There are several that do well with calendar arithmetic, but the author uses

© MORGAN D. KING 2016-2020 Technical web advisor Douglas Morrison

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