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Tax Debt – What You Need To Know

It’s tax season, which can be an extremely stressful time of year for many Americans. For some, it can bring good news with a hefty return. For others, you may have to look for ways to pay off what you owe. When you owe the IRS a lot of money, your financial situation can seem hopeless. Not being able to pay your taxes does not bode well for your overall financial outlook. This is where you may be tempted by the advertisements of tax relief companies who promise to settle your tax debt for pennies on the dollar. But in many cases, these firms have questionable reputations. They may even have outright fraudulent practices that could leave you even deeper in debt. To address your tax debt issues, it’s important to look for information from sources you can trust.

If tax debt confuses you, there's always an answer.

If tax debt confuses you, there’s always an answer.

Tax Debt – What Should You Know

Due to numerous reasons, your ability to pay off your taxes might be hindered. Especially this past year was a difficult one for many of us. Loss of employment, health issues may have put severe stress on overall debt management and financials. Having serious possibilities to accumulate tax debt on top of this can cause some serious financial crisis. Therefore, it is important that you know what steps to take in a crisis related to tax debt.

What Can You do if You Can’t Pay the Money You Owe?

The realization that you possibly cannot pay what you owe can make you feel uneasy. However, the good news is that there are options. The first thing you must do without fail is filing your return on time. According to an article published on “The Balance”, the IRS typically assesses two types of tax penalties: one for filing late and one for failing to pay. The penalty for filing late is 5% of your taxes owed for each month your return is late, up to a maximum penalty of 25%.1 The late-payment penalty, by comparison, is just 0.5% of the unpaid taxes due per month past due date, up to a maximum penalty of 25%.

Then you need to evaluate your options to pay off your dues. Can you find the money to pay off your tax debt from your savings? Can your credit card handle this payment? Will. you end up paying more in interest if you choose to use this method? Can you use your emergency savings funds? Whichever way you choose to go with must fit with your overall financials. Talk to your family about your financial priorities and choose the best option that works for you. You can even reach out to professionals for some debt advice.

Also, make sure you consider all your payment options. Sometimes, the most practical way for you might be to look into installment payments.  You can request an installment plan where you span your payments across a few months to ease the pressure on your personal finances.

How to Proceed with a Notice from IRS

Note: The following information is extracted from irs.gov 

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will send a notice or a letter for any number of reasons. These can include things such as a specific issue on your federal tax return or account. It may be sent to let you know about changes to your account or ask you for more information. It can also be about a due payment. Whichever message it entails, the important thing to know is that you never ignore this mail. The IRS lists some do’s and don’ts when it comes to notices.

The IRS mails letters or notices to taxpayers for a variety of reasons including if:

  • They have a balance due.
  • They are due a larger or smaller refund.
  • The agency has a question about their tax return.
  • They need to verify their identity.
  • The agency needs additional information.
  • The agency changed its tax return.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for taxpayers who receive one:


  • Don’t ignore it. Most IRS letters and notices are about federal tax returns or tax accounts. The notice or letter will explain the reason for the contact and gives instructions on what to do.
  • Don’t panic. The IRS and its authorized private collection agencies generally contact taxpayers by mail. Most of the time, all the taxpayer needs to do is read the letter carefully and take the appropriate action.


  • Do read the notice. If the IRS changed the tax return, the taxpayer should compare the information provided in the notice or letter with the information in their original return. In general, there is no need to contact the IRS if the taxpayer agrees with the notice.
  • Respond timely. If the notice or letter requires a response by a specific date, taxpayers should reply in a timely manner to:
    • minimize additional interest and penalty charges.
    • preserve their appeal rights if they don’t agree.
  • Pay amount due. Taxpayers should pay as much as they can, even if they can’t pay the full amount. People can pay online or apply for an Online Payment Agreement or Offer in Compromise. The agency offers several payment options.
  • Do keep a copy of the notice or letter. It’s important to keep a copy of all notices or letters with other tax records. Taxpayers may need these documents later.
  • Do remember there is usually no need to call the IRS. If a taxpayer must contact the IRS by phone, they should use the number in the upper right-hand corner of the notice. The taxpayer should have a copy of their tax return and letter when calling. Typically, taxpayers only need to contact the agency if they don’t agree with the information, if the IRS request additional information, or if the taxpayer has a balance due. Taxpayers can also write to the agency at the address on the notice or letter. If taxpayers write, they should allow at least 30 days for a response.
  • Avoid scams. The IRS will never contact a taxpayer using social media or text messages. The first contact from the IRS usually comes in the mail. Taxpayers who are unsure if they owe money to the IRS can view their tax account information on IRS.gov.

Ways to Resolve Tax Issues

There are several ways taxpayers can avoid having the IRS notify the State of their seriously delinquent tax debt. They include the following:

  • Pay the tax debt in full,
  • Paying the tax debt timely under an approved installment agreement
  • Pay the tax debt timely under an accepted offer in compromise
  • Having a pending collection due process appeal with a levy
  • Paying the tax debt timely under the terms of a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice
  • Having collection suspended because a taxpayer has made an innocent spouse election or requested innocent spouse relief.

Relief programs for unpaid taxes

Frequently, taxpayers qualify for one of several relief programs including the following:

  • Payment agreement. Taxpayers can ask for a payment plan with the IRS by filing Form 9465. They can download this form from IRS.gov and mail it along with a tax return, bill, or notice. Taxpayers who are eligible can use the Online Payment Agreement system to set up a monthly payment agreement. Using the Online Payment Agreement system is cheaper and can save time.
  • Offer in compromise. Some taxpayers may qualify for an offer in compromise, an agreement between a taxpayer and the IRS that settles the tax liability for less than the full amount owed. The IRS looks at the taxpayer’s income and assets to determine the taxpayer’s ability to pay. Taxpayers can use the Offer in Compromise Pre-Qualifier tool to help them determine whether they’re eligible for an offer in compromise.

Subject to change, the IRS also will not certify a taxpayer as owing a seriously delinquent tax debt or will reverse the certification for a taxpayer:

  • In bankruptcy
  • Who’s identified by the IRS as a victim of tax-related identity theft
  • Whose account the IRS has determined is currently not collectible due to hardship,
  • Who’s located within a federally declared disaster area,
  • Who has a request pending with the IRS for an installment agreement,
  • Has a pending offer in compromise with the IRS, or
  • Who has an IRS accepted adjustment that will satisfy the debt in full.

For taxpayers serving in a combat zone who owe a seriously delinquent tax debt, the IRS postpones notifying the State Department of the delinquency and the taxpayer’s passport is not subject to denial during the time of service in a combat zone.

The best source of information for all your tax-related issues is the IRS. Reaching out to organizations that claim to solve all your tax problems may simply be taking you out on a ride costing you more money and putting you deeper in debt. Therefore, always reach out to credible and certified professionals for the right information.
If you struggle to pay off debt, ACCC may be able to help. Schedule a free credit counseling session with us today!


Dilini is a Marketing Communications & Programs Associate at ACCC. To anyone, managing finances can be a real challenge! Any tips and tricks to help get through this are great! Dilini will share her experiences, tips, and tricks along the way through the Talking Cents blog. Stay tuned!

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