I owe back taxes. Can I make a deal so they don’t garnish my paycheck?

July 01, 2020 by Glynis Miller, CPA, MST
Garnishment of Wages written on a notepad

If you owe back taxes, it is understandable that you would like to make a deal with the IRS to get relief. However, your ability to make a deal to stop the garnishment on your paycheck may be limited. First, wage garnishments are a form of tax levy, giving the IRS the legal authority to seize your earnings to pay for back taxes owed. The tax code for using the IRS levy contains specific federal guidelines that govern when it is used. Generally, a garnishment is not sought by the IRS unless all of the following actions have occurred:

  1. The tax has been assessed and billed to the taxpayer (Demand for Payment)
  2. The tax bill remains unpaid (significant time has passed, and multiple attempts made to collect)
  3. The IRS has sent the Final Notice of Intent to Levy and Notice of Your Right to A Hearing. (Notice must be submitted at least 30 days before the levy.)

Therefore, the status of these three actions by the IRS determines the ability to prevent garnishment of your paycheck.

It is essential to understand what the above actions mean in regards to your outstanding tax debt. First, what does it mean that the tax has been assessed? It can mean that you filed a tax return and the IRS processed it and sent you a billing statement. Or, it could mean a tax assessment from a substitute tax return filed by the IRS as a result of your failure to file a tax return or an adjustment made for some other error on a tax return.

Secondly, what does it mean to remain unpaid? Note, the IRS is required to inform you of past-due tax debt in writing. Due to this requirement, the IRS will send out multiple letters requesting that you pay the amount due or contact them if you have difficulty paying or believe you do not owe. On occasion, taxpayers must contact the IRS to prove they have already paid the amount requested. Why? Well, believe it or not, posting errors do happen at the IRS. And if they think you have not paid, they will continue to send you letters requesting full payment. Generally, providing proof of payment can resolve the matter with no further action necessary. Even if the notices indicate additional penalties and interest, those fees are removed if the evidence shows the assessments were paid in full.

Lastly, each IRS letter provides details on how to contact the IRS to settle the disputed amount and warnings of the time allowed before the next action if you fail to respond. At some point in time, the Final Notice of Intent to Levy is issued. With this notification, taxpayers are informed that they have a right to a hearing before the IRS levies any assets. A request should be made for a hearing appointment upon receipt of this notification. At a Collections Due Process (CDP) hearing, you can work with the IRS on a payment option to avoid garnishment. The CDP hearing does not generally handle disputes on the amount of tax owed. As noted, the notification must be submitted at least 30 days before the IRS takes action to levy or garnish your wages. The IRS must stop a levy if:
  • The statute of limitations for collection expired before notification of garnishment was issued
  • The full 30 days were not allowed for response by the IRS
  • The taxpayer has declared bankruptcy
  • A request for an installment plan or offer in compromise are under consideration

So, the answer is yes, it is possible to make a deal to keep the IRS from garnishing your paycheck. In fact, for many taxpayers owing back taxes, making payment arrangements with the IRS is all that is needed to avoid the garnishing of a paycheck. However, it may be too late for others to stop the garnishment, but not necessarily too late to make a deal to resolve debt from back taxes.

Please note, there are options to resolve your back taxes. You may have to consider whether the balance is correct or if you have unfiled tax returns. An “Audit Reconsideration” or “Offer in Compromise” might be the option for you. Or, maybe you do not know how to set up a payment plan. Though there are many options available to assist taxpayers in resolving tax debt, not every taxpayer qualifies for every choice. TaxAudit can help if you owe back taxes. A specialist at TaxAudit can work with you to determine the best course of action for your circumstances, whether it be an installment agreement, audit reconsideration, offer in compromise, or penalty abatement.

Do you owe money to the IRS or State?

Get Professional Help Now!



Glynis Miller, CPA, MST
Tax Content Developer


Glynis began her career with TaxAudit in February 2006 as a Seasonal Tax Return Reviewer. In December of 2008, she joined the permanent staff as an Audit Representative. Glynis has been an instructor for both continuing education tax classes and various staff training classes since 2009. Glynis holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting and a Master’s Degree in Taxation. Prior to joining TaxAudit, Glynis worked in private and public sectors of accounting. She has worked at regional accounting firms preparing tax returns, financial statements, and audit services. Her professional career has spanned over a wide variety of industries from advertising, construction, commercial real estate, farming, manufacturing and more. In 2017, Glynis joined the Learning and Development Department as a Tax Content Developer. She is providing a wealth of accounting and tax knowledge, writing skills, current job awareness, and a very cross-functional skillset to the team. 


Recent Articles

Levy written on a calculator
Receiving notice of an IRS levy can cause a lot of anxiety. How you can prevent an IRS levy from occurring or release a levy once it has occurred?
When shares of a limited partnership held in a SEP-IRA are completely sold are the gains subject to recapture as ordinary income as shown on the K-1 taxable?
Sold House
Two siblings were listed on the title of a home with their mother. She died and the siblings sold the home and distributed the funds to the other siblings.
Grocery bag full of food
Groceries you buy for your household are a personal expense and are not deductible. But there are numerous cases in which food can be deductible.
This blog does not provide legal, financial, accounting, or tax advice. The content on this blog is “as is” and carries no warranties. TaxAudit does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy, reliability, and completeness of the content of this blog. Content may become out of date as tax laws change. TaxAudit may, but has no obligation to monitor or respond to comments.