What Profession Owes the Most Back Taxes?

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While U.S. credit card debt and student loans tend to garner publicity, tax debt continues to be a massive problem that is overlooked.

Although the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) collects more than $3 trillion annually in taxes, penalties, interest and fees, approximately 16.4% of all federal taxes owed go unpaid.

What Profession Owes the Most Back Taxes?

That may not sound like a high percentage. But it equates to $441 billion in lost revenue for the IRS. The IRS calls this the “average gross tax gap.” Factoring in late payments and successful collection efforts, the net tax gap, or total tax debt owed, drops to $381 billion.

So, who owes all these taxes? Our latest State by State Tax Debt Industry Report reveals some eye-opening truths.

  • Taxpayers aged 51-65 are more likely to carry tax debt than any other age group (48%), and taxpayers age 65 and over represent 26% of cases.
  • Tax debt is not just a problem for lower income taxpayers; it affects all income groups. Sixty-five percent of cases involve households with income less than $75,000 per year, but 34% of cases are for those households with more than $75,000 in income, and 8% are households who take in greater than $125,000.
  • Professional or technical workers carry tax debt more frequently than any other type of worker (15%). Job titles in this category include: pilot, undertaker, analyst, consultant, doctor, professional, programmer, software engineer, tech and technician.

Tax Debt Based on Profession

Analyzing tax debt by profession reveals a suggested correlation with income level, education level and the likelihood of having unpaid tax debt. Nurses, skilled tradespeople and retired folks fall just behind professionals and technical workers, with 12% of these populations each owing tax debt.

Eleven percent of upper management or executives carry tax debt, while only 4% of self-employed individuals do. Because tax filings can be more complicated for those who file as self-employed or 1099 contractors, one might expect more tax debt. But that’s not the case. Similarly, real estate professionals are not typically W-2 employees, but only 3% of that demographic carry outstanding tax debt.

Tax Debt Based on Income Levels

It’s important to note that those who earn the least based on our study – independent of education levels or profession – are more likely to owe taxes. The data collected reflects 2019 statistics, with updated tax brackets in effect designed to benefit lower income taxpayers.

Based on IRS tax brackets, only those making less than $9,700 annually fall into the lowest (10%) tax bracket. Those making between $39,476 and $84,999 fall into the third bracket with a 22% tax rate – a big jump from the 12% those making more than $9,700 but less than $39,746 would pay.

With these tax brackets in place since 2018, lower income individuals who fall into the 22% bracket might have tax debt they can’t pay. The second income group, $40,000 to $74,999, isn’t far behind. Thirty-two percent of these taxpayers carry tax debt.

In spite of their higher tax bracket, which could result in larger tax bills, only 8% of those making $125,000 or more owe unpaid tax debt.

How Much Do Taxpayers Owe?

Just how much tax debt do people across the U.S. have?

More than one-third carry less than $7,499 in tax debt. Some tax debt relief firms only work with people who owe more than $10,000 in unpaid taxes, which may leave individuals with smaller amounts of debt on their own to find a solution. Fortunately, the IRS is likely to accept a payment plan for smaller amounts of debt.

A majority (55%) owe more than $10,000 in taxes, with 28% owing between $10,000 and $19,999. Just 5% owe more than $1 million. Tax debt relief companies can help these folks negotiate an offer in compromise or installment agreement with the IRS.

Tax Debt State by State

Watch the slideshow to discover how your state compares to others when it comes to outstanding tax debt. Who is in debt in your state?

Alaska

  • Alaska reported the highest percentage of tax debt cases in nurses, almost four times the national average with 43% of all cases.
  • In Alaska, 100% of cases involved those ages 51-65.

Alabama

  • In Alabama, 6% of cases affected military personnel — significantly higher than the 2% national average.
  • Forty-two percent of cases affected those with a household income of less than $40,000, and there were very few cases of households with an annual income of $125,000 or more carrying tax debt.

Arkansas

  • Tax debtors in Arkansas on average carried higher debt amounts than other states, and had fewer than average cases of low debt amounts under $7,500.
  • Eight percent of cases reported their profession as insurance/underwriters, compared to 1% nationally.

Arizona

  • In Arizona, teachers and educators were almost three times more likely to fall into tax debt than around the nation.
  • Arizona showed a lower percentage of cases involving low debt amounts, with 39% of cases involving tax debt under $10,000, versus the national average of 46%.
  • Teachers/educators stood out with 8% of cases in the state, compared to the 3% national average.

California

  • Almost half of delinquent taxpayers (48%) in California were between the ages of 51-65.
  • Average household income varied greatly, but 61% of cases reported a household income below $75,000.
  • At 9%, California had the highest percentage of cases affecting real estate agents compared to the 3% national average.

Colorado

  • In Colorado, professional drivers were much more likely to carry tax debt and 6% of cases were attributed to this demographic, compared to just 2% nationally.

Connecticut

  • Tax debt cases in Connecticut skewed toward the professional sector, with 46% of cases affecting professional/technical and upper management/executive roles with a household income greater than $75,000. The national average for these roles was 26% in comparison.

DC

  • In Washington, D.C., cases with low debt amounts below $10,000 made up only 29% of all cases. Nationally, 45% of all cases involved tax debt below $10,000.
  • Nine percent of cases involved military personnel, compared to 2% nationally, making it one of the highest for that profession.

Delaware

  • Delaware reported a higher-than-average percentage of cases affecting self-employed individuals, with 11% of cases compared to the 4% national average.
  • Tax debt also skewed toward an older population and 47% of cases affected those over the age of 65.

Florida

  • Tax debt cases in Florida were reflective of the national averages for debt amount, household income and age.
  • Real estate professionals in Florida reported slightly more cases of tax debt than the rest of the nation, with 6% of cases attributed to this group.

Georgia

  • Seventy percent of cases in Georgia affected those with less than $75,000 in income.
  • Tax debt cases in Georgia were reflective of the national averages for debt amount, household income and age.

Hawaii

  • Hawaii reported higher than average tax debt amounts, with 16% owing over $50,000 compared to 11% nationally.
  • Thirty-six percent of cases involved tax debt under $10,000, compared to the 45% national average.

Idaho

  • In Idaho, there were no cases of tax debt for anyone under the age of 40.
  • The majority of cases (53%) involved low debt amounts under $10,000.
  • Forty-one percent of cases affected households with less than $40,000 in household income.

Iowa

  • Iowa reported a lower than average percentage of cases affecting retirees, clocking in at 4% of all cases.
  • Forty-two percent of cases owed less than $7,500 dollars, compared to 34% nationally.

Illinois

  • In Illinois, tax debt numbers fell in line with national averages.
  • There were slightly more cases of tax debt involving lower debt amounts of $7,500 or less, representing 39% of all cases versus 34% nationally.

Indiana

  • Skilled trade/machine laborers were more likely to carry tax debt in Indiana, with 22% of cases reported in these jobs, compared to the 12% national average.
  • Seventy-five percent of cases affected those making $70,000 or less, higher than the 65% national average.

Kansas

  • Kansas had debt amounts that were higher than average, with 16% of cases owing more than $50,000, compared to 11% nationally.
  • Kansas also reported a higher-than-average percentage of cases in self-employed individuals, with 11% of all cases and just 4% nationally.

Kentucky

  • People in Kentucky ages 41-50 were most likely to fall into tax debt (30%), but very few cases affected those over 75 (1%).
  • There was a slightly higher percentage of cases (71%) affecting households with less than $75,000 a year; the national average is 66% at that income level.

Louisiana

  • In Louisiana, 44% of cases earned less than $40,000 in household income.
  • Eighteen percent of cases affected those under the age of 40, which was double the national average of 9% for that age range.

Massachusetts

  • Massachusetts had a slightly higher percentage of cases (7%) of high tax debt over $100,000, compared to the national average of just 5%.
  • That mirrored a higher percentage of cases (35%) that showed over $100,000 in household income.

Maryland

  • Maryland had cases higher than average (29%) of tax debt for people with incomes over $100,000, compared to 19% at that income level nationally.
  • Cases involving less than $7,500 in tax debt also fell below the national average, making up only 29% versus 34% nationally.

Maine

  • Maine was the state with the highest percentage of cases affecting women, clocking in at 66% of reported cases.
  • Teachers were almost four times (11%) more likely to carry tax debt than the national average (3%).

Michigan

  • Michigan reported 19% of cases affecting skilled trade/machine laborers compared to 12% nationally.
  • Forty-three percent of cases had household incomes less than $40,000.

Minnesota

  • In Minnesota, only 26% of cases affected those making less than $40,000, lower than the 33% national average.
  • Only 8% of cases represented professional/technical positions.

Missouri

  • Missouri had only 4% of cases affecting those with $125,000 or more in household income, compared to 8% nationally.
  • For debt amount, age and profession, tax debt cases in Missouri fell in line with the national average.

Mississippi

  • Mississippi had few cases (6%) affecting those with incomes higher than $75,000.
  • They also reported low debt amounts, with 43% of cases involving debt under $7,500 and only 5% of cases with over $50,000 in tax debt.

Montana

  • Montana reported the highest percentage of cases affecting self-employed individuals (13%), as well as the highest percentage of cases of tax debt in middle management (19%).
  • Cases in Montana also tended to involve higher debt amounts — only 33% of all cases had less than $10,000 in tax debt, compared to 45% nationally.

North Carolina

  • In North Carolina, self-employed workers were twice as likely to carry tax debt, with 9% of cases attributed to 1099 contractors.
  • Tax debtors were also carrying lower debt amounts on average, with only 8% of cases involving high debt of $50,000-plus, compared to the 11% average.

North Dakota

  • People over the age of 76 were most likely to fall into tax debt in North Dakota than any other state, with 25% of all cases reported. Nationally, those over the age of 76 made up 7% of all cases.
  • Ninety-two percent of tax debt cases affected those over age 50, compared to 74% nationally.
  • North Dakota was also the state with the highest percentage of cases affecting higher-income households making over $125,000. These high-income individuals made up 21% of all cases in the state.

Nebraska

  • Nebraska reported the highest percentage of cases affecting professional drivers –it was 12% of cases, compared to 2% nationally.
  • Nurses in Nebraska were also three times more likely to fall into tax debt than nurses around the nation, with 36% of cases compared to the national average of 12%.
  • Forty-one percent of people with tax debt in Nebraska carried low debt amounts below $7,500.

New Hampshire

  • New Hampshire reported the highest percentage of cases affecting beauty professionals, coming in 8% higher than the national average (4%).
  • New Hampshire was also the state with the highest percentage of cases affecting sales/marketing professionals, making up 20% of all cases compared to 8% nationally.
  • Households with $125,000 of income were twice as likely to carry tax debt than around the nation.

New Jersey

  • New Jersey reported that 16% of cases involved $50,000 or more in tax debt, higher than the 11% national average.
  • Households with over $100,000 in annual income made up 35% of cases, compared to 19% nationally.

New Mexico

  • New Mexico was one of the states with the highest percentage (9%) of military personnel carrying tax debt, compared to 2% nationally.
  • Thirty-eight percent of tax debt cases affected those with a household income of less than $40,000, up 4% from the national average.

Nevada

  • Nevada had few cases of low debt amounts, with only 23% of cases compared to 34% nationally.
  • Cases amongst retirees and those ages 66-75 were also up from national levels at 20% and 32%, respectively.

New York

  • New York reported a slightly higher percentage of cases affecting high-income households over $100,000, with 28% of cases. The national average at that income level was 20%.
  • In all other areas, New York’s tax debt cases fell in line with national averages.

Ohio

  • Ohio had fewer cases of high debt amounts, with only 3% of cases involving tax debt of $100,000 or more compared to the 5% national average.
  • Skilled trade/machine laborers also made up a higher percentage of tax debt cases (18%) than the national average of 12%.

Oklahoma

  • Oklahoma had a higher percentage of cases affecting military personnel, representing 7% of all cases versus 2% of cases nationally.
  • Only 5% of cases affected those making over $125,000, versus 8% nationally.

Oregon

  • Tax debt numbers in Oregon fell in line with national averages in debt amount, household income and age.
  • Compared to the 12% national average for each profession, Oregon reported a number of cases for skilled trade/machine laborers (16%) and retirees (18%).

Pennsylvania

  • In Pennsylvania, 15% of cases affected those with income over $100,000, versus 20% nationally.
  • Pennsylvania reported a slightly higher percentage of tax debt (20%) in professional/technical positions than the 15% average.

Rhode Island

  • Rhode Island had a much higher percentage of cases (11%) affecting middle management than the rest of the nation (5%).
  • Those with higher incomes over $100,000 were less likely to fall into tax debt, representing 12% of cases, compared to the national average of 19%.

South Carolina

  • South Carolina reported lower debt amounts on average, with only 5% of cases involving tax debt over $50,000, compared to 11% nationally.
  • Those with household incomes lower than $100,000 were also half as likely to carry tax debt compared to national averages.

South Dakota

  • In South Dakota, 45% of cases affected those over the age of 65, more than double the national average.
  • South Dakota was one of the states with the highest percentage of tax debt cases affecting teachers/educators, representing 11% of cases compared to 3% nationally.

Tennessee

  • Forty-three percent of cases affected those making less than $40,000, up 9% from the national average.
  • Twelve percent of cases involved clerical/office workers, compared to 7% in that profession nationwide.

Texas

  • Tax debt cases in Texas fell in line with national averages for debt amount, income, age and profession.

Utah

  • Beauty professionals in Utah represented a higher percentage of cases, coming in at 10%. Nationally, only 4% of cases were attributed to beauty professionals.
  • Only 6% of cases involved debt amounts higher than $50,000, nearly half of the national average of 11%.

Virginia

  • Virginia reported 33% of cases affected those with high incomes over $100,000, compared to the 20% average.
  • Ten percent of cases affected those over the age of 76, compared to 7% nationally.

Vermont

  • Vermont was the state with the highest number of cases reported by upper management/executives (20%), compared to the 11% national average.
  • Forty-five percent of cases reported a household income of more than $75,000, which was more than double the national average of 20% at that income level.

Washington

  • Compared to the 5% national average, Washington reported higher-than-average tax debt amounts, with 9% of all cases involving  $100,000 or more in tax debt.
  • Seventeen percent of cases affected retirees, compared to 12% nationally.

Wisconsin

  • Clerical/office workers in Wisconsin were more than twice as likely (15%) to carry tax debt than other states (7%).
  • Sixty-two percent of cases affected those ages 51-65, compared to 48% nationally for the same age range.

West Virginia

  • Eleven percent of cases in West Virginia involved professionals in middle management, compared to 3% nationally.
  • Only 3% of all cases in West Virginia involved extremely high debt amounts over $125,000, compared to 8% nationally.

Wyoming

  • Wyoming cases involved lower tax debt on average, with most cases falling between $10,000 and $20,000. No one reported carrying tax debt over $100,000 in Wyoming.
  • Eight percent of cases reported their profession as insurance/underwriters, compared to just 1% nationally.

 

Conclusion

The Tax Debt Industry Report provides insight into who owes tax debt and the amounts owed, broken down by:

  • State
  • Tax debt amount
  • Income
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Job type

The Findings

Above all else, the report shows that tax debt spans every profession, generation and income bracket. The reasons people accrue tax debt vary widely.

Those in lower income brackets may not be able to afford professional help from tax accountants to reduce their tax burden. Those in the middle class may find themselves in a higher tax bracket and be unable to pay their tax debt. Retired folks who don’t have withholding taxes from their paycheck may not understand how to reduce their tax liability.

3 Steps You Can Take To Resolve Tax Debt

Do you fall into one of the categories of workers with unpaid tax debt? If you’re facing unpaid tax debt, this report shows you’re not alone. Tax debt is a nationwide problem that causes stress and financial hardship. Once you face the problem, you can find help paying off your debt to avoid tax liens or wage garnishment.

If you don’t seek to resolve your tax debt, the IRS can seize your assets or garnish your wages. It’s important to take action right away, as interest and fees will only continue to accrue. Here are three steps you can take to resolve your tax debt.

Get up to date on your tax filings.

If you failed to file taxes in recent years, the IRS won’t accept any offers to settle outstanding tax debt. Seek professional help to file any outstanding tax returns and to find out where you stand with tax debt. Then you can begin exploring your options for repayment or a tax settlement.

Get professional help.

Often, it pays to seek the advice of a professional tax debt relief company to assist in your negotiations with the IRS. Understand that solutions exist and asking for help can put you on a brighter financial path for the future.

A tax debt relief company can help you:

  • File an offer in compromise
  • Take advantage of the IRS Fresh Start Initiative
  • Seek innocent spouse relief
  • File for “currently not collectible” status
  • Propose an installment agreement or partial-pay installment agreement
  • Stop collections action
  • Get fees and penalties waived

Stick to the terms of your agreement.

If you owe less than $25,000 in back taxes and fulfill other requirements, the IRS may accept an installment agreement. Make sure you have money in your bank account to cover the monthly automatic payments debited by the IRS.

As you make your on-time payments, you can become tax-debt free in 72 months or sooner.

The Methodology

This report was developed by Solvable in collaboration with GoBankingRates. The dataset comprised 21,404 unique cases of tax debt from Solvable. The tax debt cases reflect a date range from January 1, 2019, through January 31, 2020.  

The total national tax debt figure of $441 billion is data provided by the IRS. There is no exact report on cumulative tax debt from state-based taxes. Solvable conservatively estimates that figure to be roughly around $146 billion. This estimate was found by extrapolating California’s reported 2018 tax gap figure that was between $20-$25 billion to the rest of the U.S. Adding the estimated state-level tax gap to the net federal tax gap of $381 billion makes a total estimated tax gap of $527 billion.

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