What To Do If You Owe Back Taxes or Have an IRS Tax Levy

Owing back taxes to the IRS can be a scary and stressful situation.

You may have a tax levy or tax lien due to overdue taxes – and it’s tough to manage a budget when your wages or assets get garnished. It’s also no fun to worry constantly about what the IRS can do to you because of your financial predicament.

Fortunately, there are multiple solutions for working out your IRS tax problems.

Here are four approaches to eliminate past-due taxes and get the IRS off your back.

1. The “Pay in Full” Approach

Obviously, the most straightforward way to get your IRS tax debt under control is to pay off whatever amount you owe. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

Presumably, for most people, if you had the money you would have already forked it over to the IRS.

But just because you don’t have the cash in your bank account today doesn’t mean you can’t get your hands on the money fairly quickly.

When your tax debt is relative small – perhaps $1,000 or less – one strategy you could try is to sell items you no longer want or need, and then use the money to eliminate your IRS debt.

Gazelle.com is a good site I’d recommend if you’re trying to sell electronics (like phones, computers or laptops) as a way get your hands on cash quickly. Alternatively, you could sell stuff on eBay or hold a garage sale to raise money.

A few other sources of cash you might tap include: cash from a life insurance policy, or even an advance on your pay from your employer. Money from either one of these places could help you get rid of your IRS woes by just paying what you owe in full.

Lastly, you might consider working a second job, even if only temporarily, in order to hustle up enough money to pay off back taxes.

2. The “Borrowed Funds” Approach

When your overdue taxes are in the $1,000 to $10,000 range, in certain instances it could be worth it to take out a personal loan, or to use credit in order to reduce your IRS tax bills.

Peer-to-peer loans, from places like Prosper.com or LendingClub.com could help those with decent or good credit obtain a relatively low cost loan.

With a few caveats, you could also charge your IRS taxes owed on a credit card or perhaps use a cash advance check from a credit card to pay those lingering back taxes.

For starters, realize that a cash advance or using a credit card balance-transfer check will likely cost you anywhere from 3% to 5% of the transaction amount.

I also wouldn’t suggest haphazardly racking up thousands of dollars in credit card debt to pay overdue taxes – not unless you have a specific payoff plan, and not unless the interest rates on any credit cards you use would be very low.

The IRS can impose a failure to pay penalty of 0.5% for each month that you have unpaid taxes are not paid, plus interest. Furthermore, this penalty is compounded each month and can reach up to 25% of your tax liability.

So if you can get a 0% credit card deal and use that credit line or a check from that credit card to pay the IRS, that could be a smart move.

The good news is that once you use “borrowed funds” – either borrowed cash or credit – and you pay the IRS in full, they’ll remove a bank account levy or any other tax levy they may have initiated.

3. The “Work Out a Deal” Approach

When you owe overdue taxes, it’s always in your best interest to try to clear up your back taxes as quickly as possible. That way you minimize potential penalties or interest charges.

The problem for many people, however, is they fear the IRS so much that they fail to even try to work out a deal. So tax issues simply fester and grow year after year.

But avoiding the problem won’t make it go away. Even if you’re too scared to call and talk to the IRS, you might be able to arrange a payment plan electronically – right from the comfort and convenience of your home.

For example, the IRS offers an installment agreement for those who owe $50,000 or less in taxes. If you meet certain guidelines, you can work out a repayment plan online – and you never have to meet face-to-face with an IRS agent or even speak directly to an IRS representative via telephone.

IRS.gov has more guidance on installment agreements, including an online payment agreement application.

4. The “Professional Help” Approach

If you’re stuck with a very large overdue tax bill of $10,000 to $100,000 or more and you just can’t afford to pay it, another great option is to get professional help to deal with your back taxes.

When a tax pro gets involved in your situation, they can:

  • help you settle your IRS debt for less than the amount owed
  • advise you whether you might qualify for “penalty abatement” and could get fines and penalties reduced
  • counsel you about all your rights and tax relief options

For example, one tax consulting agency that I’d recommend is TaxReliefCenter.org, which offers a free tax relief consultation and a complimentary case review, with no obligation or commitment on your part.

With the Tax Relief Center, an attorney or tax specialist with an A-rating from the Better Business Bureau conducts an independent and confidential review of the facts surrounding your case. Then they advise you of the available options to resolve or settle your case with the IRS.

Ultimately, many people are shocked to know that there are a variety of scenarios under which a tax professional may get your tax debt knocked down considerably.

For instance, there may be legitimate doubts about the amount the IRS says you owe, or you may be going through an extreme or long-term financial hardship.  Either one of these scenarios may help you qualify for a reduction in your overdue taxes.

There’s another bonus to taking the “professional help” approach. For many taxpayers, having a knowledgeable third party act as an intermediary and negotiate with the IRS on your behalf is just way more comfortable than dealing with the IRS themselves.

So the bottom line is: there are many approaches you can take when you owe back taxes or are facing an IRS tax levy.

But sticking your head in the sand will only prolong your problems. Therefore, the first step is to take action today – and not procrastinate about getting rid of your IRS headaches once and for all.

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