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SBA Loan Default: Filing Bankruptcy May Not Prevent An Offset

Filing bankruptcy may not solve your SBA loan default problems. Aside from other financial considerations, the government may still be able to offset against your assets.


The Bankruptcy Code preserves a creditor’s right to setoff. Section 553(a) of the Bankruptcy Code provides:

Except as otherwise provided in this section and sections 362 and 363 of this title, this title does not affect any right of a creditor to offset a mutual debt owing by such creditor to the debtor that arose before the commencement of the case under this title against a claim of such creditor against the debtor that arose before the commencement of the case.

Setoff requires mutuality in that the indebtedness must be between the same parties. For bankruptcy purposes, this generally requires that both debts (i.e., the debt owed by the debtor and the debt owed to the debtor) fall on the same side of the bankruptcy line (i.e., on the same side of the timeline marked by the filing of the petition). That is, with some exceptions, both debts must be prepetition or both debts must be postpetition. Creditors with prepetition setoff rights have a secured claim under section 506(a)(1) of the Bankruptcy Code.

Federal agencies are authorized to intercept certain federal payments to collect delinquent debt owed to the United States. This includes the authority to offset tax overpayments for debts owed to the United States. This applies only to tax refunds for years before the debtor filed for bankruptcy protection. Offsets for postpetition years are not allowed, unless the debtor owes postpetition debts to the United States.

For a creditor to have setoff rights both the obligation of the creditor to the debtor and the debtor’s obligation to the creditor must arise prior to the petition date. While the most common example of when both obligations would arise prepetition in the federal debt collection context is when the debtor has made overpayments of federal tax in the year preceding its bankruptcy filing, there are other circumstances where an obligation of the United States may arise prior to the petition date. For example, certain portions of a federal salary payment may have accrued to the debtor prior to the petition date, and to the extent the debtor owed the United States a federal debt prior to the petition date, the United States would have setoff rights with regard to those portions of the federal salary payment. The same would be true for retirement payments, vendor payments, and tort payments, to the extent the right to those payments arose prior to the petition date. To the extent a creditor agency is aware of a federal payment to which the debtor is entitled, the agency should analyze whether its setoff rights have been preserved by the Bankruptcy Code.

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