Providing Tax Documents to the Bankruptcy Trustee

Find out what tax documents you must provide to the trustee when you file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

By , Attorney · University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law

When you file for bankruptcy, you'll provide tax documents to the bankruptcy trustee appointed to oversee your case and other documents required under the bankruptcy code. The trustee will use the tax documents to verify your income and, to some extent, your expenses and other financial transactions.

This article explains more about bankruptcy and tax returns, including why you'll turn over:

You'll also learn that tax returns are part of the "521 documents" provided to the trustee in bankruptcy. Find out what happens to tax refunds in bankruptcy.

Are Tax Documents Part of the 521 Documents in Bankruptcy?

Yes, you're required to turn over tax return filings in bankruptcy because it's part of the financial documentation required by law. Trustees use the tax documents and other financial papers to verify the information provided in your bankruptcy petition when the trustee is reviewing your bankruptcy filing for fraud.

Bankruptcy law requires you to provide the trustee with the documents at least seven days before the 341 meeting of creditors, the hearing all bankruptcy filers must attend (or file them with the court, depending on local practices).

Here's a minimal list of what you'll send over:

  • two months of paycheck stubs
  • two months of bank statements, and
  • copies of filed federal tax returns (more below).

Most trustees will ask for additional documents, such as:

  • retirement, pension, and investment account statements
  • profit and loss statements (if you own a business)
  • up-to-date mortgage and vehicle loan billings
  • proof of the value of your vehicle or other property
  • a divorce decree or settlement, and
  • receipts proving that you've incurred expenses.

You're obligated to comply with reasonable document requests. Learn more about the documents you must provide to the bankruptcy trustee or court.

Tax Documents Required by Bankruptcy Law

Most people are somewhat uncomfortable giving out tax information, and understandably so. But you must submit certain tax documents to the bankruptcy trustee. Here's what the law requires.

Copies of Tax Returns Filed Before Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

If you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you must provide the bankruptcy trustee with a copy of your tax return for the most recent and likely the previous year. In other words, plan on giving the trustee two most recent returns.

If you weren't required to file a tax return, perhaps because you receive SSI exclusively, let the Chapter 7 trustee know. Many trustees will be satisfied with a written statement of explanation.

Copies of Tax Returns Filed Before Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

A trustee needs more in a Chapter 13 case to determine whether you owe taxes because you must pay recent income tax in full through the Chapter 13 plan. So, in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you'll need to show that you've filed returns for the four previous years.

If you don't timely provide your tax return, your Chapter 13 case can't move forward. The trustee can reschedule the 341 meeting to give you time to obtain your tax returns or ask the court to dismiss your bankruptcy case altogether.

In both cases, you'll need to provide the returns to the trustee at least seven days before the 341 meeting of creditors.

Copies of Tax Returns You Filed After the Bankruptcy

If the Court, United States Trustee, your bankruptcy trustee, or another party in interest requests it, you must provide copies of any tax returns filed while your bankruptcy is pending. This rule includes:

  • returns that came due after the bankruptcy filing
  • returns you filed post-petition for a tax period that ended within the three years preceding the filing of your bankruptcy case, and
  • any amended returns for those periods.

This requirement is only triggered if someone makes a formal request. In most cases, no one will file a request, and you won't have to turn over post-bankruptcy tax returns.

Other Tax Documents Requested by the Trustee

Trustees commonly request that debtors provide additional tax documents for the trustee's review. The trustee must investigate the debtor's financial affairs, and the debtor must cooperate and turn over all financial records to the trustee.

Tax documents, such as personal income tax returns, business income tax returns, W-2s and 1099s, and depreciation schedules may provide the trustee with information on:

  • the debtor's income and expenses
  • losses or reductions in income
  • transfers of property, or
  • ownership of business interests.

Annual Income Tax Returns in Chapter 13

In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you must contribute all disposable income to the Chapter 13 plan for three to five years. Your income will likely change over this period. The trustee uses the returns to monitor it and determine whether your Chapter 13 plan should be modified to include additional post-petition income not anticipated at the plan confirmation.

The procedure varies by court and trustee. Some trustees make case-specific requests for the returns, some include language in the confirmation order requiring yearly returns, and, in some areas, you'll find the requirements in the local rules.

Learn more about the Chapter 13 repayment plan.

Need More Bankruptcy Help?

Did you know Nolo has been making the law easy for over fifty years? It's true—and we want to make sure you find what you need. Below you'll find more articles explaining how bankruptcy works. And don't forget that our bankruptcy homepage is the best place to start if you have other questions!

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Helpful Bankruptcy Sites

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We wholeheartedly encourage research and learning, but online articles can't address all bankruptcy issues or the facts of your case. The best way to protect your assets in bankruptcy is by hiring a local bankruptcy lawyer.

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