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Tax Debt Help & Offer In Compromise

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Daniel Cohen
UpdatedSep 28, 2007

I have $18,000 I owe in federal and state taxes. Help!

I have about $18K that I owe in federal and state taxes. I have a payment arrangement but it's difficult to keep up. I wanted to know if there is a way to consolidate these taxes and pay a lower monthly payment? My total monthly payment is now almost $700/ month.

You are not alone. Many Americans cannot afford to pay their IRS debts. If you want to get IRS debt help, it is important to understand the different strategies that are available to resolve IRS tax debt problems.

Quick tip

If you are struggling with IRS tax debt, get a no-cost, no obligation analysis of your tax resolution options from one of’s pre-screened tax specialists.

There are five strategies for getting out of IRS tax debt:

  1. Offer in Compromise: A program where you can settle your tax debts for less than what you owe. Requires making a lump sum or short term payment plan to pay off the IRS at a reduced dollar amount.
  2. Installment agreement: A monthly payment plan for paying off the IRS.
  3. Partial payment installment agreement: A somewhat new debt management program where you have a long-term payment plan to pay off the IRS at a reduced dollar amount.
  4. Currently not Collectible: A program where the IRS voluntarily agrees not to collect on the tax debt for a year or so.
  5. Filing bankruptcy: Discharge your tax debts under the strict rules of a Chapter 7 or 13 bankruptcy petition.

Offer in Compromise

Many people who find themselves in debt to the IRS might focus on the an Offer in Compromise (OIC). For those who qualify it can be the optimal solution, however, it is important to note that not everyone qualifies for the OIC solution. Only about 15% of applicants succeed in reducing their debts through the OIC program.

For this reason and because of the complexity of filing an offer in compromise many people enlist the services of a tax professional who has a track record of success negotiating with the IRS. This tax professional will not only be able to determine if you are eligible to reduce your IRS debts via an OIC but they will also assist you in navigating the complicated IRS bureaucracy to achieve the desired outcome.

An offer in compromise is a lengthy and time-consuming process. It takes most individuals anywhere from 12 months to 24 months to achieve a successful resolution on your offer application. Through an offer in compromise, taxpayers agree to pay the IRS only the reasonable collection potential instead of the full amount of taxes owed. For some people the "reasonable collection potential" will be less than the full amount of taxes owed — sometimes as little as 10%.

Installment Agreement

Taxpayers with tax debts under $10,000 usually can manage the payment on their own or via an Installment Agreement or Partial Payment Installment Agreement arranged with the IRS. An installment agreement is a temporary delay in which the IRS waits to collect taxes due, but but still charges penalties and interest, and may put a lien on assets.

A partial payment installment agreement is a monthly payment plan for a portion of the tax debt.

Taxpayers can apply for an IRS installment agreement online.

Currently Not Collectible

As you know, if a taxpayer does not qualify for an offer in compromise and cannot afford to pay an installment agreement, Currently not Collectible (CNC) status may be an option. If a client is placed in CNC status, the statute of limitations continues to run and the IRS will not pursue collection actions. However, if a taxpayer’s financial status improves, the IRS can remove the file from CNC status and return to active collection status. Reasons for attempting CNC status include:

  1. Taxpayer has income below allowable expenses and there is no indication that the financial situation will improve in the future;
  2. Due to high equity in a home, other real estate, or a retirement account, the taxpayer does not qualify for an OIC, but has more allowable expenses than income, so an Installment Agreement is not an option; and,
  3. Taxpayer has more allowable expenses than income and the statute of limitations is getting close to expiring.

IRS & Collections

The IRS has 10 years to collect outstanding tax liabilities. This is measured from the day a tax liability has been finalized. A tax liability can be finalized in a number of ways. It could be a balance due on a tax return, an assessment from an audit, or a proposed assessment that has become final.

From that day, the IRS has 10 years to collect the full amount, plus any penalties and interest. If the IRS does not collect the full amount in the 10-year period, then the remaining balance on the account disappears forever.

If You Disagree With the Amount of Tax Owed

The IRS offers several means for taxpayers to dispute the amount of tax owed. See Publications and Forms About Your Appeal Rights to get started. The IRS also offers regional Taxpayer Assistance Centers for local, in-person assistance.


If this seems overwhelming -- and I admit I provided a lot of information -- it cannot hurt to get no-cost, on-line quotes from pre-screened service providers who offer IRS debt resolution and will explain your options in detail, handle the negotiations, and complete the IRS documentation for you.

I hope the information I provided helps you Find. Learn. Save.




AAnqelique, Nov, 2011
My boyfriend owes $30k in taxes from 02 and 03, he has been unemployed for the last two years. we want to file an OIC but since he lives with me I have to list my income on the form. I am unsure if I also have to check yes that I contribute to the household income. I am supposing yes, however since he has no means to support himself at this time, it is my house he is living in and he has no assets it makes it seem like he would have access to my income which he does not. What is the best way to fill out the paperwork in this case? Since he has no income and only made $8k last year and did file taxes he would qualify to apply waiving the fee. I just want to make it as accurate and complete as possible to avoid it being rejected. We were going to offer $500 payable in 10 monthly payments of which he would borrow if still unemployed. Any suggestions?
BBill, Nov, 2011
While you are not responsible for your boyfriend's tax debt, even if you were to get married tomorrow, your income is used by the IRS to see if he qualifies for an OIC, when the two of you are living together. The IRS takes the combined household income and compares it to certain basic living expenses that it recognizes are even more important than paying the IRS. You can view the IRS recognized expenses in the different basic categories at the IRS Web site.

If the IRS determines that the household income compared against basic expenses leaves enough to pay the debt off over the number of years the IRS has left to collect, then the OIC will not succeed. How many years the IRS has left to collect depends on what year the tax assessments were made. You mention that the tax debt is from 2002 and 2003, but it is not clear when they were assessed. Did your boyfriend file the '02 and '03 returns in a timely manner, back in '03 and '04? If so, then it is likely that the tax debts will reach their statute of limitations in 2013 and 2014. Once the SOL is reached the debt expires and is no longer his responsibility.

I see a few possible options: 1. Pursue an OIC, if he qualifies based on the combined income and expenses. Your assets have no bearing on the matter. 2. Currently not Collectible (CNC) status. He does not submit an OIC, but calls the IRS and explains that he is unemployed and can't make payment. The SOL continues to run during CNC. If the SOL is going to expire soon, he can just bide his time in CNC until it does. He can determine when the SOL will be reached, by speaking to the IRS and asking about the CSED (Collection Statutory Expiration Date). CNC usually lasts for two years, before the IRS comes back to check again whether the taxpayer has the ability to pay. While the clock on the SOL continues running during CNC, it stops as soon as an OIC is officially submitted. 3. Do nothing. If his only income is unemployment, which the IRS cannot garnish, and he has no bank account that could be levied, then the IRS cannot do much aside from take any tax refund he would be due. If he were to start working, his income would be at jeopardy, but if he were to be unemployed until the SOL expired, the debt would die on its own.

I admire your wanting to fill out IRS paperwork accurately and honestly. It is never a good idea to lie to the taxman, as it can turn a financial issue into a criminal one. There may be a way to honestly qualify for the OIC, if he does not qualify while living with you. He could rent a room from a friend, not a family member of his, for a nominal amount. If he were legally living somewhere other than with you, your income would not come into play. His allowances for food, transportation, and medical expenses would eat up all the $8k per year and his OIC would be approved.

Lastly, if an OIC is submitted, don't offer a dollar more than required. If he is in the negative each month and has no assets to which the IRS assigns a value (such as a car with equity, retirement accounts, property, savings), then he can offer $20 and it will be accepted. Given all of this, I recommend speaking with a reputable tax professional, to hear a professional recommendation.

DDesiree, Feb, 2011
From 2006 I owed franchise tax board $900 & setup an installment agreement my husband was to pay because I have been unemployed since 2004. Then they tacjed on fees which made it over $1200. I am now on public assistance & they have randomly been putting liens on my checking accounts. At one point I couldn't eveb pay for diapers! What can I do to stop their lien on my account? It is really putting a strain on my family. I am now separated from the husband but not legally divorced. It is not a lot owed like everyone else but the debt is causing a hardship.
BBill, Feb, 2011
You face two significant events with legal implications for you. Consult with a lawyer about the account levy and your divorce. If you cannot afford a lawyer, call your county bar association and ask for the name of the organization in your area that offers no-cost legal services for people with low or no income. Make an appointment with that organization, and bring all of your documents relating to the debt to your meeting. A lawyer will offer you advice on how to file a motion to lift the levy order, and help you with the divorce.
BBill, Sep, 2009
You are a good candidate for the offer in compromise program. The above article is a good introduction to offers in compromise. To learn more, see the IRS document What is an Offer in Compromise?, which contains additional information and links to even more helpful documents. Whether it is fair for for IRS to ask for income information for all people in your household is a philosophical question. However, the IRS reserves the right to see the income and expenses of your entire household, including your spouse, domestic partner, significant other, children, and others who contribute to the household.
BBo, Sep, 2009
I owe the Federal IRS $27,000 and have tried to pay by installment agreements within the past two years but lost my home and fell behind. The only assets I own a car that is worth $20,000 and they have threatened to put a lien on it. Do I qualify for the Offer in comprise program? They cut my hours this past year to 20 hours a week and I can only make my car payment and health insurance payments and moved in with my boyfriend. Now, they want to see statements from my boyfriend. We are not even married. Do they have that right?
BBill, Feb, 2009
You have a few options, but if the tax assessment is accurate (you cannot contest the tax or by filing an ammended 2007 return with deductions you cannot lower the liability) you should look to resolution options.The primary IRS Debt Settlement option is an offer in compromise. A leader in the space of IRS Tax resolution is Freedom Tax Relief and you can locate them at: 1-800-455-6829.
LLaurie, Feb, 2009
I owe the irs almost 9,000. for the year of 2007. my wages for that year was 25,000. how can I get this reduced.