Federal Tax Lien: How to Solve the Problem

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Federal Tax Lien: How to Solve the Problem

Tax lien

IRS Tax Liens

What is a Tax Lien?

A tax lien is a claim by the IRS that taxes are owed and they intend to collect these taxes.  It is legal claim by the IRS against your property.  The lien attaches to your property until the tax is paid.

The purpose of a tax lien is to protect the government’s interest in the taxpayer’s assets.  A lien informs the public that the IRS will receive payment first when the property is sold.

Tax liens only apply to the person whose name is listed on the lien.  Thus, if the lien names one spouse and the other spouse owns the family home, then there is no impact on the title of the home.

The lien attaches to all of the taxpayer’s real estate or personal property.   Liens also attach to assets that are acquired in the future.

Federal tax liens are often superior to other types of creditor liens.  However, they do not automatically jump ahead of mortgages, Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) filings or previously filed liens.

When Does a Tax Lien Start?

A tax lien starts with a warning.

First, you will receive a notice or letter from the IRS in the mail of taxes due.  This notice or letter will contain a request for payment.  If you make no response to the request for payment within 10 days, then a tax lien goes into effect.  Liens become effective automatically at that point.

When does the IRS Lift or Remove a Tax Lien?

Tax liens are lifted (removed) in two ways:

  • The IRS will lift a tax liens when the tax debt expires at the end of the 10-year Statute of Limitations period (known as the CSED).
  • A tax lien is also lifted when the tax is paid in full, or the IRS agrees to compromise the tax debt with an Offer in Compromise.

Preventing a Federal Tax Lien

The best way to prevent a federal tax lien is to pay your tax bill to the IRS.  If you cannot afford to pay the taxes in full, request an installment agreement or payment plan.  Depending on the amount of the tax and the length of time covered by the installment agreement, you may be able to avoid a tax lien entirely.

CPA Tax Tip:  Do not ignore notices from the IRS.  And don’t put mail from the IRS in a drawer and forget about it.  That only makes things worse.  And you will surely end up with a tax lien, as well as a host of other tax problems.

Notice of Federal Tax Lien

The IRS typically files a Notice of Federal Tax Lien when a taxpayer owe $10,000 or more in taxes.  The intent of the Notice is to let creditors know that available money will be paid to the IRS first, before any other debts.  Unsecured creditors will be behind the IRS in priority.

The Notice of Federal Tax Lien is a public document.  It will be filed in the land records where the taxpayer lives.  It will also be filed with the Secretary of State where the taxpayer lives.  Banks, credit card companies and other creditors do check these records when considering to issue a loan or line of credit.

Expect to get letters in the mail from national tax resolution companies who buy list of federal tax liens.  The resulting flood of mail is a pain, but there is nothing you can do about it.

There is little you can do to the stop the IRS from filing a Notice of Federal Tax Lien.  The best thing to do is to work with the IRS to resolve your tax matter.  Once the tax matter is resolved, the federal tax lien will be released within 30 days.  If the IRS deems a taxpayer to be uncollectible, the lien remains in place until the tax is paid, or the statute of limitations expires.  The same is true for taxpayers who are paying a tax though an installment agreement.

Collection Due Process Hearing

The filing of a Notice of Federal Tax lien provides the taxpayer with a right to a Collection Due Process Hearing (also called a CDP Hearing).  During the hearing, the taxpayer meets with a Settlement Officer to discuss the lien.  The taxpayer may also use the hearing to discuss one of the IRS Tax Relief methods to resolve the debt.  These methods include the Offer in Compromise, Installment Agreement or Uncollectible Status.

The request for a hearing must be filed within 30 days of the IRS filing a Notice of Federal Tax Lien.

Withdrawal of a Federal Tax Lien

As a result of the Fresh Start Program, taxpayers who owe $25,000 or less to the IRS may request their tax lien to be withdrawn if they enter into a direct-debit installment agreement to pay off their tax.  This means that the IRS withdraws a fixed sum of money from the taxpayer’s bank account on a given day each month.  

The IRS will required that three electronic monthly payments have been made.

If taxpayers meet this exception, then they may request that the their federal tax lien be withdrawn after making three monthly installment payments to the IRS.

CPA Tax Tip:  For taxpayers who do not qualify for a withdrawal, a great strategy is to pay off the amount of the tax debt to below $25,000.  The IRS will then withdraw the lien, assuming the other requirements are met.

IRS Lien Release After 10 Years

IRS liens are released after 10 years, when the statute of limitations on the tax debt expires (commonly called the CSED).  There is no need to request that the lien be released. It will be done automatically.

In other words, the IRS will forgive the tax liability, and the tax lien will be released, after 10 years.

The IRS may send a Certificate of Release to the taxpayer when the tax is paid or the debt is compromised (which happens in an Offer in Compromise).  This is your proof that the lien has been released.

However, the IRS does not automatically send the Certificate of Release to the taxpayer when the tax expires at the end of the 10-year Statute of Limitations period (the CSED).  In such case, the taxpayer or their CPA may submit a written request to the IRS Lien Unit to obtain the Certificate.  Once received, the Certificate of Release should be filed with the land records of their county and the Secretary of State where they live.

Banks or other lenders may also request a copy of a Certificate of Release of a Federal Tax Lien when issuing a loan or line of credit. 

IRS Lien Discharge

Homes on which there is a federal tax lien may still be sold.  This is done by “discharging” the house from under the lien.

Here are three examples that illustrate how it is done:

  1. If there is equity in the house which can pay the tax in full, the IRS will provide a payoff letter and, once the house is sold and the tax is paid, will issue a lien release.
  2. If there is equity in the house but not enough to pay the tax in full, the IRS will issue a lien discharge upon proof that the IRS is receiving all available equity in the house.  The IRS will issue a lien release once the house is sold and the funds are received to pay down the tax.
  3. If there is no equity in house, the IRS will provide a lien release when the sellers prove that they are not receiving an equity from the sale.

In all three cases, the IRS will not hold up the sale provided that the above steps are followed.

IRS Lien Subordination

In the context of an federal tax lien, subordination refers to the government allowing the lien of another lender to take precedence over its lien on the taxpayer’s property.

Here are three examples of how a subordination works:

  1. In the case of a loan refinancing, the IRS will agree to subordinate its lien to a bank or other mortgage lender if the new loan will be used to pay down the tax debt.
  2. The IRS will also agree to a subordination of the new loan is used to improve the property and thereby create additional equity to secure the tax debt.
  3. Lastly, the IRS will subordinate their lien if the new loan reduces the monthly mortgage payment, allowing the taxpayer to increase their monthly payments to the IRS to pay off the tax.

Tax Lien on Credit Report

Prior to 2018, tax liens had a significant impact on credit scores, typically pushing scores down by more than 100 points.

In 2018, the three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – decided to remove federal and state tax liens from their credit reports.  This means that tax liens will no longer influence credit scores.

If you do see a tax lien on your credit report, be sure to dispute it with the credit bureaus.

To Conclude

Despite the good news about credit scores, federal tax liens remain effective and powerful.  They are a favorite tool of the IRS in its mission to collect unpaid taxes.  And they serve to get the attention of taxpayers when all else fails.

Our Atlanta-based firm represents taxpayers in a variety of tax issues, including back taxes, audits and the resolution of IRS notices.  When the issue includes a federal tax lien, we collaborate with mortgage brokers, bankers and real estate agents to get homes sold or refinanced, generally resulting in a favorable resolution of the tax debt.

The need for good taxpayer representation is exploding.  Be sure to work with a firm that knows how to handle these cases.


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Massey and Company CPA is a boutique tax and accounting firm serving individuals and small businesses in Georgia, Illinois and throughout the country.  Our services include tax return preparation, tax planning for businesses and individuals, IRS tax problem resolution, IRS audits, sales tax, and small business accounting and bookkeeping.  

Massey and Company CPA

Based in Atlanta and Chicago, Massey and Company CPA specializes in tax and accounting matters of small businesses, entrepreneurs, and their families.
We do everything related to tax return preparation and tax planning, as well as accounting and bookkeeping for small businesses using QuickBooks Online.
In addition, we represent taxpayers before the IRS, keeping taxpayers out of tax trouble. We negotiate with the IRS and the state, so you do not have to.
We know the tax issues. We know our way around the IRS. We know QuickBooks. And we know how to help you save taxes and keep more of your hard-earned profits.

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