What is a tax lien?

When you fall behind or fail to pay your taxes, the government takes legal claim against your property through means of a tax lien. Your property can include financial assets, personal property, and real estate, all of which are under the government’s umbrella once a tax lien is claimed. The general process that leads to a tax lien begins with the IRS’s evaluation of your liability, then a Notice and Demand for Payment is sent to you, and it ends when you refusal to pay your debt in the time allotted. An official document entitled the “Notice of Federal Tax Lien” is then publically filed as to alert your creditors of the government’s right to your property.

The best way to avoid a tax lien is to pay and file your taxes on time, no matter what. The worst thing you can do is ignore the letters from the IRS if you haven’t been keeping up with your taxes – the letters won’t go away, and neither will the outstanding action that the IRS will take in 30 days from their final notice. You may pay the debt in full to absolve the state of your back taxes and dissolve the tax lien. If not, there are a few more options to consider: withdrawal, discharge of property and subordination. Withdrawal removes the public statement so that other creditors will not attempt to compete for your property, discharge of property enables the selling of property without the lien, and subordination pushes creditors to the situation before the IRS, making it easier to receive a loan.

A few other methods to achieve freedom from tax liens are included in the list below:

  • Innocent Spouse Relief: On a joint return, a spouse may seem to have extra assessed taxes due to the other spouse’s inaccurate taxes. There are many details to take into consideration when determining whether that spouse has the element of “innocence”.
  • File for Bankruptcy: Do not immediately file bankruptcy before knowing more about the options and repercussions. For instance, a common myth states that all tax debts will be forgiven, which is not always true; in addition, there are several chapters of bankruptcy that all differ in detail.
  • Currently not Collectable: This solution is only temporary, and it is exclusively for tax payers whose necessary expenses exceed their incomes. It is also known as a “temporary delay for hardship”.

While some may benefit from the “offer in compromise” route, most usually slip into a trap made by late-night infomercials that promise complete tax settlement for mere pennies. The risk is certainly not worth it due to the slim odds that it will actually work. Luckily, the IRS offers different options for tax payers to explore when in need, and experienced tax attorneys are available for solid legal assistance.