Federal Tax Liens Are A Serious Problem

The “National Taxpayer Advocate” 2009 Annual Report to Congress in part discusses the notice of federal tax lien (NFTL). The Report said that on average, a lien filing reduces a taxpayer’s credit score by 100 points. Unpaid tax liens may remain on a taxpayer’s credit history, leaving a derogatory mark on the credit history indefinitely. Released liens, including those paid off by the taxpayer, are not generally removed from the credit history until seven years from the date of release. Thus, an NFTL has a significant long-term impact on a taxpayer’s credit record. As a result, some lenders decline to extend credit to a taxpayer if the IRS has filed an NFTL against the taxpayer’s property. Others will charge substantially higher rates, even if the lien is subordinated. Impaired credit history can also affect a taxpayer’s ability to obtain insurance or rent an apartment on reasonable terms. Moreover, some licensing boards require members to maintain a clean credit history and some employers require employees to do so as a condition of employment. Thus, a lien filing can mean that employees lose their jobs and self-employed individuals cannot maintain the licensing necessary to remain in business. It can also hamper the taxpayer’s ability to stay compliant and obtain credit needed to pay preexisting tax debts.

Properly applied, the notice of federal tax lien (NFTL) can be an effective tool in tax collection. It gives the IRS a priority interest in the taxpayer’s property, such as a home or a car, and may enable the IRS to collect all or a portion of the tax debt if the taxpayer sells or refinances the property.

If improperly applied, however, tax liens have the potential to cause needless harm to taxpayers and undermine long-term tax collection.

If improperly applied, however, tax liens have the potential to cause needless harm to taxpayers and undermine long-term tax collection. Assume, for example, that a taxpayer loses his job during a recession and becomes unable to pay his tax bill. The filing of a tax lien can significantly harm the taxpayer’s credit and thus negatively affect his or her ability to obtain financing, find or retain a job, secure affordable housing or insurance, and ultimately pay the outstanding tax debt. Moreover, the government must consider that its role as a creditor is different from that of a private entity creditor. If the filing of a tax lien drives up the taxpayer’s costs and renders him or her unemployed or underemployed, the government may be forced to make outlays in the form of unemployment benefits, food stamps, and the like. Thus, the imprudent filing of a tax lien has the potential to badly damage the taxpayer and the taxpayer’s family and simultaneously reduce federal revenue – a lose-lose proposition.

For this reason, the decision whether to impose a tax lien should be made on a case-by-case basis. Yet, the IRS files many liens systemically….

The results of research done by the Taxpayer Advocate suggest that the IRS’s use of liens may not be furthering the agency’s revenue collection objective and, equally significant, that the IRS has shown very little interest in evaluating the effectiveness of liens for itself.

A federal tax lien (FTL) arises when the IRS assesses a tax liability, sends the taxpayer notice and demand for payment, and the taxpayer does not fully pay the debt within ten days. An FTL is effective as of the date of assessment and attaches to all of the taxpayer’s property and rights to property, whether real or personal, including those acquired by the taxpayer after that date. This lien continues against the taxpayer’s property until the liability either has been fully paid or is legally unenforceable.

It is IRS policy not to use the NFTL as a negotiating tool. The IRS is required to release a lien not later than 30 days after the underlying liability either is fully satisfied through full payment of tax or is legally unenforceable (typically, by expiration of the statutory period for collecting the tax).

If you have tax problems, call a qualified tax attorney. Call Mitchell A. Port at (310) 559-5259.