Tax refunds you are entitled to receive are considered property in bankruptcy just like money in your bank account. You must disclose any anticipated tax refunds as an asset on your bankruptcy schedules. This means that if you want to keep your refund, you must be able to exempt it. If you can exempt your tax refund in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you can keep it.
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In Chapter 7, a debtor surrenders non-exempt property to a bankruptcy trustee, who then liquidates the property and distributes the proceeds to the debtor's unsecured creditors. In exchange, the debtor is entitled to a discharge of some debt. However, the debtor is not granted a discharge if guilty of certain types of inappropriate behavior (e.g., concealing records relating to financial condition) and certain debts (e.g., spousal and child support and most student loans). Some taxes are not discharged even though the debtor is generally discharged from debt. Many individuals in financial distress own only exempt property (e.g., clothes, household goods, an older car, or the tools of their trade or profession) and do not have to surrender any property to the trustee. The amount of property that a debtor may exempt varies from state to state (as noted above, Virginia and Maryland have a $1,000 difference.) Chapter 7 relief is available only once in any eight-year period. Generally, the rights of secured creditors to their collateral continues, even though their debt is discharged. For example, absent some arrangement by a debtor to surrender a car or "reaffirm" a debt, the creditor with a security interest in the debtor's car may repossess the car even if the debt to the creditor is discharged.
Bankruptcy statistics are also a trailing indicator. There is a time delay between financial difficulties and bankruptcy. In most cases, several months or even years pass between the financial problems and the start of bankruptcy proceedings. Legal, tax, and cultural issues may further distort bankruptcy figures, especially when comparing on an international basis. Two examples:
When the debtor completes payments pursuant to the terms of the plan, the court formally grant the debtor a discharge of the debts provided for in the plan. However, if the debtor fails to make the agreed upon payments or fails to seek or gain court approval of a modified plan, a bankruptcy court will normally dismiss the case on the motion of the trustee. After a dismissal, creditors may resume pursuit of state law remedies to recover the unpaid debt.