Sunday, July 5, 2020

Hidden Income - Bankruptcy - Chapter 13

Image courtesy of
Vichaya  Kiatying-Angsulee 
Many people set their federal tax withholding amount well above the amount they need to pay their federal tax obligation. When they file their federal tax return, the receive a large refund. They feel like it is a bonus. I have some clients that regularly receive refunds of $3K to $5K. This is not a bonus. 

This is the same as if you sent Amazon $500 for the purchase of a product that costs only $250 and receive a refund of $250. The extra money is already yours and always was yours. That is the way the bankruptcy law views it. It the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the Trustee's office includes the refunds as part of the debtors' income. 

In my experience, the Trustee wants the refund divided into 12 payments and added to the monthly plan payment going forward. For instance, after completing an extensive budget, the debtors (a couple) may show they have $500/month of disposable income to be paid into a chapter 13 plan. But the same couple has received over $4000 every year for the last 3 - 4 years in their federal tax refund. 

The Trustee expects the debtors to adjust their monthly tax withholding figure to bring that refund back into the monthly income and paid into the plan. If you divide $4000 by 12 months, the debtors have $333/month to add to their disposal income of $500/month. As a result, the Trustee is expecting a proposed plan with a monthly payment of $833/month. This is hard for many people to understand because they do not see their refund as income. They are resistant to changing their withholdings. But without paying the additional amount, the Trustee will attempt to block the plan.   

If a person is exploring a chapter 13 filing and usually have a large tax refund, the person needs to discuss this issue with their attorney. 

NOTE: I assume other jurisdictions handle this issue differently. Also, I expect some attorneys work a plan with an annual lump sum payment of the refund every year. I think adding an annual lump sum payment could complicate a plan. I could and would propose such a plan if a client wanted such a plan but my recommendation is to adjust withholdings and add the amount across the plan.

If you want assistance, legal representation, or just want to know more about me, Mark M. Medvesky, or Wells, Hoffman, Holloway & Medvesky LLP, check out our website at

We are working with clients via telephone, internet and video conferencing during this time. We are starting to accept office appointments as well.

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