Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

Early in 2011, the IRS announced a series of measures to help taxpayers buffeted by the economic slowdown. The IRS calls these measures its “Fresh Start” program and they are intended help taxpayers who want to pay their tax liabilities but because of unemployment, slow business sales or for other legitimate reasons, cannot pay their tax debts. One of the most attractive features of the Fresh Start program involves the withdrawal of a tax lien.

Liens

When the IRS files a notice of federal tax lien (NFTL) it makes a claim to a taxpayer’s property as security or payment for a tax debt. The IRS must follow very detailed procedures, including sending the taxpayer a notice and demand for payment. If the taxpayer pays the tax debt, the IRS must release the lien within a prescribed period of time; generally within 30 days after the taxpayer satisfies the tax due, including interest and other additions.

There is an important distinction between release of a lien and withdrawal of a lien. Although the IRS may release the lien, the lien generally continues to be reflected on the taxpayer’s credit report unless the lien is withdrawn. This can negatively affect a taxpayer’s ability to get credit or, in some cases, could have a negative impact on the taxpayer obtaining a job if the employer reviews the taxpayer’s credit history.

Full payment

Under the “Fresh Start” program, the IRS has announced that liens will be withdrawn immediately once full payment is made by the taxpayer. The IRS has instructed taxpayers, whose lien has been released after full payment, to request withdrawal of the lien in writing. Taxpayers use Form 12277, Application for Withdrawal, to make this request.

Direct Debit installment agreement

The IRS will also withdraw a lien if the taxpayer agrees to enter into a Direct Debit installment agreement. In this arrangement, the taxpayer consents to having funds automatically debited from a bank account for the agreed upon installment amount. The IRS prefers Direct Debit installment agreements because they are automatic: the taxpayer does not need to remember to send a check or money order.

Not everyone is eligible for lien withdrawal after entering into a Direct Debit installment agreement. The IRS has explained on its web site that qualifying taxpayers are individuals; active businesses with income tax liability only (this would exclude active businesses with unpaid employment taxes); and defunct businesses with any type of tax debt. The current amount owed by the taxpayer must be $25,000 or less. The IRS has advised on its web site that taxpayers owing more than $25,000 may pay down the balance to $25,000 prior to requesting the lien withdrawal to be eligible for the relief. Additionally, the taxpayer’s Direct Debit installment agreement must pay in full the amount owed within 60 months or before the collection statute expires, whichever is earlier. The taxpayer also must have made three consecutive Direct Debit Payments before the IRS will withdrawal the lien.

Taxpayers should use Form 12277 to request withdrawal of a lien after entering into a Direct Debit installment agreement. The IRS warned it will file a new NFTL if the taxpayer subsequently defaults on its Direct Debit installment agreement.

Lien filing thresholds

The IRS has also adjusted the lien filing threshold under the Fresh Start program. The Fresh Start changes increase the IRS lien filing threshold from $5,000 to $10,000. However, the IRS has reserved the right to file liens on amounts less than $10,000 when circumstances warrant.

If you have any questions about withdrawing a lien under the IRS “Fresh Start” program, please contact our office at 908-725-4414.

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