IRS Tax Debt Settlement Help

May 15, 2023 by Steve Banner, EA, MBA
Handcuffs laying on a 1040 form

I am sure we could all agree that few things in life can be said to be truly certain, and we are reminded of this fact almost every day when we compare the weather conditions around us with the ‘expert’ forecast from the previous night. And as Benjamin Franklin famously wrote in a letter to a friend, “…[I}n this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Following on from the words of the great statesman, I am certain that no one likes to find themselves in the position of owing a tax debt to the Internal Revenue Service. Of course, it all depends on the amount of the debt and one’s ability to pay, but receiving an official-looking letter from the IRS with news of a tax debt is almost never a cause for celebration. (The only exception I can think of would be if you prepared your own taxes and calculated a $10,000 balance owing, only to receive a letter from the IRS telling you that you made a mistake, and the correct amount of your debt is only $100). But what if the shoe is on the other foot, and you have just been informed that your debt is $10,000 instead of the $100 that you thought you owed?

For one thing, you might need help picking your jaw up from the floor, but you may also need help to find out how to deal with paying your debt. The IRS has a lot of information on this topic on its website, but sometimes it can be quite overwhelming to make sense of it all in the heat of the moment. Let us instead take a brief look at each of the various programs that the IRS offers to help taxpayers settle their debt. Depending on their circumstances, taxpayers can apply to participate in the following programs:

Extension of Deadline

Taxpayers for whom the immediate payment of their debt would cause what the IRS regards as an “undue hardship” can apply for an extension of up to 6 months beyond the original tax deadline. For example, this request might be granted for a low-income taxpayer who has been studying full-time for a graduate degree, and who is scheduled to commence a new higher-paying job in a few months after he graduates. He will be able to settle his debt in full within 6 months but, for the time being, is unable to make payments toward that goal. The IRS may grant a request for an extension in this case. Although the final payment deadline would be pushed back 6 months, the taxpayer’s debt would continue to accrue interest every month until it is paid in full. However, if the taxpayer has not paid the debt in full on or before the extended deadline, the IRS will add penalties to the amount owed.

Short-Term Payment Plan

Taxpayers who do not meet the “undue hardship” criteria can apply for a short-term payment plan of up to 6 months in duration. Under this program, the debt is expected to be paid off within 6 months, and both interest and penalties are added to the debt until the final payment is made. Taxpayers can reduce the impact of interest and penalties by making a series of regular payments throughout the 6-month period.

Installment Agreement

Those taxpayers who will be unable to pay off their entire debt within 6 months can apply to make monthly payments over a period of up to as long as 6 years. The IRS charges a fee to set up an installment agreement such as this, but many taxpayers have found this to be a successful method to deal with their debt, even though interest and penalties continue to accrue until the final payment is made.


Taxpayers with a large amount of debt, and with limited ability to pay down that debt, can sometimes qualify to have the debt reduced by the IRS to an agreed lower amount. There are a number of criteria involved in negotiating an offer-in-compromise, but the benefit for those taxpayers who qualify is that they are given the opportunity to eventually eliminate their debt. Without the offer-in-compromise, the elimination of the debt would have taken an inordinately long period of time or may never have been possible to pay in full within the taxpayer’s lifetime.

As we have seen, there are many ways that taxpayers can deal with getting their tax debts settled. But the best path for each individual taxpayer depends on the facts and circumstances of their case. And if you are one of the many less-than-happy taxpayers with a tax debt, please rest assured that help is available. Rather than trying to make sense on your own of the available options to deal with paying the money you owe to the IRS, you could call one of our experienced tax professionals for a cost-free and obligation-free discussion of your particular situation. He or she will be happy to will help you figure out the best IRS tax debt settlement option for you and help you turn your frown upside down.

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Steve Banner, EA, MBA
Tax Content Developer


Steve Banner began his career in the field of income tax in 1977 and has since gathered business experience in a variety of countries and cultures. In addition to the United States, he has lived and worked for extended periods in Australia, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and Sweden. Along the way he studied Adult Education and earned a Bachelor of Education, Master of Educational Administration, and MBA. He joined TaxAudit in 2016, where he is a Tax Content Developer.


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