Tax Returns and Bankruptcy: Do I Get to Keep My Refund in Bankruptcy?

Before exploring the status of any tax refunds, let’s be clear about taxes owed. If you owe taxes, that debt will not be discharged during bankruptcy, whether you file Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 unless 1) that tax debt more than 3 years old; 2)there was nothing fraudulent about the tax returns; 3) and the tax was not assessed within 240 days of filing the bankruptcy petition. Business tax debts cannot be discharged. That said, the status of any tax refunds is not so clear-cut. So the answer to the all important question “Do I get to keep my refund in bankruptcy?” is “It depends.” The issue of tax refunds during bankruptcy is one of a number of complex questions that can arise during bankruptcy. That’s why it is essential to consult with professionals, like the experts at Burr Law, who deal with the intricacies of bankruptcy law every day.



Whether you file Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you are entitled to exemptions. There are both federal and state exemptions, and Wisconsin is one of only 19 states that allows you to choose which set of exemptions you use. It’s important to note that you must choose one or the other; you cannot mix-and-match the exemption rules. The experts at Burr Law can help you determine which is better for your particular situation. While Wisconsin does not have a specific federal or state tax refund exemption, you can protect it with a wildcard exemption if you are able to use the federal bankruptcy exemptions. Should you choose, your tax refund can become an asset protected through your exemptions, and you would then retain it.


Necessary Expenses

Your tax refund may be automatically deposited into your bank account. Can you spend those funds? If you spend your tax refund on necessary expenses like mortgage or rent payments, that is allowable. Other necessary expenses include food, medical expenses, and clothing. While your tax refund counts as an asset, you are allowed to spend money on necessary expenses, and that applies equally to money gained from a tax refund. Basically, as long as you are not spending it on luxury items, it’s all right for you to spend the tax refund you receive. You can also use your tax refund to pay your bankruptcy attorney and associated court costs.


Timing – Not Yet Filed

If you have not yet filed bankruptcy, but plan to do so within the year, it is a good idea to adjust your withholding to minimize any refund you may receive. This must be done carefully; if you miscalculate and end up owing taxes, those become non-dischargeable debts. Another way to plan ahead for bankruptcy is to designate more of your income to your employer IRA or 401k. Those retirement contributions will not become assets liable to exploitation during bankruptcy. Pre-planning for bankruptcy will help you avoid the question altogether.


Timing – Refund From Income After Filing

Any refund that results from income you earned after filing for bankruptcy is yours free and clear. Also, if any portion of the refund results from income you earned after the filing date, that portion is available to you without restriction. Again, this is a delicate calculation and it is vital that you have an experienced bankruptcy attorney from Burr Law to guide you through the process. You want to adhere to the law in all instances.


The issue of tax returns during bankruptcy is complex. With the experts at Burr Law, you can feel confident that all of your individual circumstances will be carefully considered. We will find the best possible solutions for your financial situation.