Discharging Tax Debts in Bankruptcy: When is a Return not a Return?

March 19, 2015  |  New York Law Journal

Falling behind on one’s taxes often leads to a downward spiral, and it is not uncommon for a taxpayer who cannot pay her tax obligations to decide not to file a return. Not only does such a failure to file expose the taxpayer to additional penalties and potential criminal liability, but it can have devastating ramifications if she subsequently files for bankruptcy. This article discusses In re Fahey, in which the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit joined the Fifth and Tenth Circuits in concluding that filing deadlines are “filing requirements” under 11 U.S.C. Section 523(a)(*) and thus that the tax liabilities reflected on untimely returns are not subject to discharge. While these Courts of Appeals have all interpreted the so-called “hanging paragraph” in a manner that precludes virtually all late-filers from discharging tax liabilities in bankruptcy, there are compelling reasons to exclude returns accepted by the relevant taxing authority from such a harsh rule. Clearly, there is more to come on this issue. In the meantime, Fahey provides yet another reason for practitioners to urge their clients to file their returns on a timely basis.

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