‘Tis the season when bankruptcy trustees are taking tax refunds.

Potential tax refunds MUST be disclosed on your bankruptcy case, just like your couch and car.

Not disclosing your state and federal tax refund is often a sure way to forfeit your tax refund, this means the trustee will get to keep your funds. The problem with tax refunds is usually there is no specific exemption to protect it like your couch or car, but often a good attorney can use a wild card exemption to protect your hard earned cash.

Since many households depend on tax refunds, that leaves two options: (1) Plan to lose or it OR (2) Plan to protect it.

The following are some ways my clients have preserved their tax refund:

  1. File bankruptcy at a time of the year when tax refunds are not imminent.
  2. Adjust withholdings after filing bankruptcy to eliminate any refund.
  3. Use an exemption such as the “wildcard” exemption to protect any refund.
  4. Delay filing bankruptcy until after the refund is received and spent.

Of course, protecting your tax refund varies by jurisdiction, making it important to educate yourself or consult an attorney as to local practice. In North Carolina, trustees are generally asking about tax refunds between November and April; however, one time I was involved in a bankruptcy from Louisiana and the trustee was asking about tax refunds in September and mentioned the case would be held open to see if there was a refund.

Adjusting withholdings for the remainder of the year might be the best way to protect the refund in that situation. Wherever you live, make sure you disclose any potential tax refund and plan to either protect or forfeit that refund.

Rob Cohen

Rob Cohen, the Managing Partner of Cohen & Cohen P.C., is a bankruptcy attorney that practices in Colorado and Wyoming. He serves as a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Panel Trustee, and has to date administered over 8,000 Chapter 7 bankruptcy estates. Rob is a Certified Consumer Bankruptcy Specialist, and was nominated for Denver Business Journal’s 40 under 40 in both 2014 and 2016.
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