Tax Refunds In Bankruptcy

Your tax refund is an asset in bankruptcy. This is true whether you file Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. Your refund is treated differently in each chapter, but generally you can keep your tax refund in bankruptcy.

Chapter 7

In Chapter 7, your bankruptcy assets are any assets you already own, or reasonably expect to own. A tax refund is a great example. If you have not filed your taxes yet, but you know that you will receive a refund, that refund is part of your bankruptcy estate. Because the refund does not represent income earned in the last 60 days, it cannot be exempted under N.C.G.S. 1-362. It can, however, be exempt under N.C.G.S. 1C-1601(a)(2). This is commonly known as your “Wild Card” exemption. It can be applied to any assets.

By claiming an exemption, you are exercising your right to protect certain assets. Your Wild Card exemption is available to cover up to $5,000 of assets. So, as long as your refund is $5,000 or less, you can use your Wild Card exemption to protect it. If you’re filing with a spouse, you both have a Wild Card exemption, for a total of $10,000 in Wild Card exemption available.

By protecting your tax refunds in bankruptcy with an exemption, your bankruptcy case can move forward without the bankruptcy trustee taking that asset. You will receive your discharge, and when you receive your tax refund, it’s yours to keep.

Another option is to receive and spend your tax refund in bankruptcy before you file. So long as you spend the refund on normal living expenses, you are not running afoul of the bankruptcy rules. Additionally, if you purchase household goods like furniture, you can still protect those new purchases with your household exemption under N.C.G.S. 1C-1601(a)(4).

Chapter 13

If you are in Chapter 13, the same rules apply as outlined above for Chapter 7. However, these rules are only applicable to the year in which you are filing your Chapter 13. Because a Chapter 13 case runs for three to five years, you need to be concerned about future tax refunds in Chapter 13.

If you receive tax refunds in Chapter 13 in a year beyond your first year, you must disclose this refund to the Chapter 13 bankruptcy trustee. Generally, you are allowed to keep $1,000 per debtor each year. Additionally, if you have any unused Wild Card you can apply it to your tax refunds received in subsequent years. Lastly, if your tax return shows that your refund is due to an earned income credit or a child tax credit, the refund is yours to keep.

If you cannot protect your tax refund in Chapter 13 in the above manner, you can also petition the court to keep your refund due to the fact it is necessary for living expenses. An example would be that you have been putting off repairs to your home or vehicle, and the non-exempt tax refund will be used for those repairs. Quite often, clients are making ends meet but putting off normal and routine household expenditures to do so. For this reason, the court entertains a request to use your tax refund in Chapter 13 to get ‘caught up’ on household expenses.

Adjusting Your Withholding In Bankruptcy

One allowable way to help insure you don’t lose any money in Chapter 13 is to adjust your tax withholding. This way, rather than receive a large refund in bankruptcy at the end of the year, you receive more income each month. Your Schedule I and J filings in Chapter 13 should reflect this, and your overall budget will change slightly; however, it will help you avoid an annual chore of trying to prove to the Chapter 13 court that you should be allowed to keep your tax refund.

Speak With A Charlotte Bankruptcy Attorney Today

Bankruptcy is a very powerful solution with long-lasting positive effects. If you’d like to speak with a lawyer about filing bankruptcy, we’re here to help. Consultations are free and answering questions is part of the job. Call us at 704.749.7747 or click for a FREE CASE EVALUATION and we will reach out shortly.