Reinstate Your Driver’s License File a Petition in Bankruptcy

If a New York State resident incurs New York State tax debt which including interest and penalties exceeds $10,000, under a existing program New York State Department of Taxation and Finance may suspend a taxpayer’s driver’s license to enforce collection of the past due balance. See New York Tax Law Section 171-v. While the program has enjoyed considerable success in helping New York State raise funds to augment its depleted coffers, for the unsuspecting taxpayer who is completely ignorant that falling behind in his tax payments to New York State could result in the taxpayer being grounded, unable to use his vehicle even to drive and engage in gainful employment so as to amass funds to make inroads on the tax debt, the loss of the use of a driver’s license can be both devastating and debilitating.

While various steps can be taken by a taxpayer to obtain relief from the suspension, such as entering into a repayment plan, or proving “undue economic hardship”, these procedures can be time consuming and even ultimately unsuccessful.

When faced with somewhat limited time consuming and potentially unsuccessful alternatives, a preferable solution might be to simply file for bankruptcy.

The Department of Taxation and Finance itself has acknowledged that it may not suspend a driver’s license while a taxpayer is seeking relief under applicable federal bankruptcy laws. See Technical Memorandum, TSB-17-13(4) I dated August 8, 2013. When faced with the prospect of substantial delays in being able to drive one’s vehicle, immediately upon notification to the taxing authorities that he has filed for bankruptcy a taxpayer has the right to the reinstatement of his license.

Typically, a delinquent taxpayer will receive from the tax department a letter which will include a “Consolidated Statement of Tax Liabilities”. The letter will also advise the taxpayer how to pay the liabilities or to request additional information. Finally, the letter will notify the taxpayer that his driver’s license can be suspended by the Department of Motor Vehicles upon failure to pay taxes. The taxpayer must then respond to the payment demand within 60 days. A failure to timely respond will result in notification by the taxing authorities to the Department of Motor Vehicles to move forward to suspend the taxpayer’s driver’s license.

Thus, this 60 day notification creates a window which may be utilized to file a bankruptcy petition which would then have the immediate effect of forestalling the suspension of the driver’s license.

Moreover, even if a driver’s license had already been suspended, the filing of bankruptcy petition thereafter would have the (short term) benefit of reinstating the driver’s license.

Obviously, much more needs to be discussed to fully understand the bankruptcy process, various bankruptcy alternatives and a mechanism for dealing with the tax debt in a bankruptcy case, and these are all important issues. However, in any event, the immediate benefit of a filing for bankruptcy to cease in its tracks actions by New York State to suspend a driver’s license cannot be overestimated in providing immediate and inexpensive relief to a beleaguered taxpayer.

Our experts would be more than happy to discuss with you the bankruptcy process and how it might be beneficial in dealing with tax and other categories of debt.

Robert L. Pryor is a partner in the Westbury N.Y. firm of Pryor and Mandelup LLP and has practiced bankruptcy law for over 30 years. He is a Chapter 7 Trustee former Law Clerk to Hon. C. Albert Parente, Chief Bankruptcy Judge of the Eastern District of New York, and former Chairman of the Bankruptcy Committee of the Nassau County Bar Association.