IRS Liens

North African Ostrich /  Masai Ostrich - female non-breeding (Struthio camelus)

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Updated January 2016

Okay, so you owe money to the IRS and haven’t paid yet. You get a notice in the mail saying that the IRS has slapped a lien on you (the lovely form 668(Y) Notice of Federal Tax Lien). So what exactly does that mean?
A lien means that the IRS is claiming first dibs on your money if you sell something—like a house or a car. A lien is a legal document that goes through the courts. Your creditors; the mortgage company or the bank holding your car loan are publicly notified that you owe the IRS money.
Let’s say you owe the IRS $20,000 and the IRS places a lien for your tax debt and you sell your home. The IRS is in line to get its money before you get any of the profit.
The lien also goes on your credit report. If you’re trying to buy a new home or even get a credit card, the IRS lien may prevent you from obtaining credit.
How bad does your tax debt have to be before the IRS files a lien? It used to be that the IRS would file a lien once you owed over $5,000, but starting in February of 2011, they raised it to $10,000. If the IRS issued a lien on you under the old rules, they won’t withdraw it just because of the rule change.
So how do I get the IRS to withdraw a lien? Well, paying the tax is the most effective way to remove a lien.
What if I don’t have enough money to pay the tax? That’s harder, but not impossible. You’ll need to be in a payment agreement, but not just any payment agreement—you’ll have to have a “Direct Debit Installment Agreement” if you want to have the lien removed. Direct debit is where you give the IRS permission to take the money directly out of your checking account every month (as opposed to mailing them a check or you paying them online.)
If you want your lien removed, you’ll also have to meet some other eligibility requirements.
· First, the amount you owe must be $50,000 or less. If you owe more than that, you can’t apply to have your lien withdrawn until you’ve paid the debt down to that amount.
· Also, your Direct Debit Installment Agreement monthly amount must be large enough that you can pay off the full amount of your tax debt within 6 years. For example, if you owe $20,000, you’d take the $20,000 and divide by 72 months. You wouldn’t be able to release your lien for less than $278 per month.
· Don’t apply for a lien release until you’ve made at least three consecutive direct debit payments.
· You can’t have already gotten a lien withdrawal for the same taxes, meaning that if you filed for a withdrawal before and then screwed up later, you’re not getting it withdrawn this time.
· Also, you can’t have defaulted on your current, or any previous, direct debit installment agreement.
Okay, so I’ve done everything necessary, how do I get the lien withdrawn? You’ll need to file another form of course! It’s called form 12277, Application for Withdrawal of Filed Form 668(Y), Notice of Federal Tax Lien. Is that a mouthful or what? The name of the form is longer than completing the form itself. Most of the questions are easy, like your name and social security number. The only question that you need help with is number 8: what reason are you requesting the withdrawal for? You want to check box “b.” You entered into an installment agreement. That’s it. Here’s a link to the form:
What if I can’t do all of this stuff? Then you live with the lien until things change. It’s a lien, not a levy. They haven’t garnished your wages, they haven’t grabbed your bank account. Now if you don’t shape up and get your taxes taken care of, that could happen in the future, but not if you stay on top of things and actively work with the IRS to get your debt taken care of.
Don’t play ostrich and bury your head in the sand. Trust me, the IRS won’t just go away. A lien isn’t good, but it’s not the end of the world. If your financial situation is that bad, perhaps you might be able to negotiate an offer in compromise or a reduced payment option. (This is a point where it might help to get professional assistance. Some people are perfectly comfortable with these negotiations, but most folks aren’t). The point is, you have to make the move to solve the problem. You must be in control (as best as you can). Generally, if you’re on top of things, the IRS will be much easier for you to work with.