The Bankruptcy Code is a collection of federal laws that apply in bankruptcy cases or proceedings. The Code is made up of various “Chapters” that each apply to a different type of debtor or bankruptcy. One purpose of Chapter 11 is to “rehabilitate” or “reorganize” a business so that it can continue without folding or closing.
Social Security benefits, company pensions, and 401(k) plans are all shielded by law and are, therefore, not lost to creditors in bankruptcy. Whether that same protection extends to an individual retirement account (IRA) is not clear. The bankruptcy law, which was drafted in the 1970’s before IRAs became such an important vehicle for retirement savings, is ambiguous. This has led to contradictory rulings in federal courts around the country.
Setoff is an equitable right of a creditor to deduct a debt it owes to the debtor from a claim it has against the debtor arising out of a separate transaction. The Bankruptcy Code is not an independent source of law that authorizes a setoff; it recognizes and preserves rights that exist under non-bankruptcy law.
The treatment of tax debts in bankruptcy proceedings is an attempt to reconcile two conflicting policies. The first policy concerns the government’s interest in collecting taxes. The second policy concerns the fresh start that bankruptcy is to give honest debtors. Under the Bankruptcy Code, a debtor’s ability to discharge any tax debt is based upon the classification of that particular tax debt.