Take Appropriate Action To Prevent a Tax Levy

Andrea Miller
Expert Contributor
Last Updated:
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  • A tax levy allows the IRS to legally seize personal property, wages, or bank account funds to pay your back taxes.
  • A levy is the last resort for tax collection if other attempts to satisfy back taxes have been unsuccessful.
  • You can avoid a levy by arranging for a payment plan or applying for other IRS back tax assistance programs.

With a tax levy, the IRS can legally seize personal property and assets to satisfy outstanding back taxes. These property and assets can include homes and other real estate, vehicles, bank accounts, wages, and other items. If you are in danger of receiving a tax levy, you will receive an official IRS notice titled Final Notice of Intent to Levy and Notice of Your Right to a Hearing.

A levy is sometimes confused with a lien, which is the legal claim to assets to satisfy back taxes. The levy process is the actual seizure of the assets in question. You can take steps to prevent the levy by making arrangements to pay a portion of the back taxes owed to the IRS. Keep in mind that if you are unable to afford your basic living expenses and pay your taxes, you can seek back tax assistance.

When Does the IRS Issue a Tax Levy?

Taxpayers are subject to a levy only after three requirements are met:

  • You received a Notice and Demand for Payment, otherwise known as a tax bill, which indicated the amount of past-due tax assessed by the IRS.
  • You failed to pay the amount indicated on this notice.
  • You received a Final Notice of Intent to Levy and Notice of Your Right to a Hearing. The notice must be sent no less than 30 days before the levy is enacted. It can be sent to your last known address by certified or registered mail with a return receipt or delivered in-person to your home or place of business.

While receiving a Final Notice of Intent to Levy is scary, you still have time to take action to avoid a tax levy before your property is seized.

What Type of Property Can Be Levied?

The IRS can levy property you hold, such as a home, boat, or vehicle. It can also levy your assets held by someone else, including retirement funds, wages, bank accounts, dividends, rental income, licenses, cash value life insurance policies, accounts receivables, and commissions.

Take Appropriate Action To Prevent a Tax Levy

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If you owe more than $50,000 in back taxes, the IRS can place a levy on your passport which means it can be revoked or denied by the U.S. Department of State and you will be unable to leave the country.

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Bank Levies

If your bank account is levied, you have 21 days to make arrangements to pay your back taxes before the past-due amount is withdrawn from your bank account. You will receive notice of the levy through the mail. The funds in your account will be frozen when the levy takes effect.

If you are a signatory on another person’s bank account, that individual’s funds may be levied. You will have to appeal this action by having the individual or his or her power of attorney call the number listed on IRS Form 668-A(C)DO.

If you have repaid your back taxes and your bank account is levied in error, you may be eligible for reimbursement of resulting fees if the error was caused by the IRS, was not compounded by your actions, and involved timely responses to IRS notices. Submit IRS Form 8546, Claim for Reimbursement of Bank Charges (PDF), to the address on your levy notice.

Wage Levies

With a wage levy, the IRS will receive a portion of your paycheck until the back taxes is paid, you make other arrangements to pay such as an installment agreement, or the levy is released. Your employer is legally required to comply with the terms of the levy.

The part of your wages that will be taken through a levy depends on an exempt amount known as the standard deduction, which depends on the number of dependents you have. Your employer will receive IRS Publication 1494, which tells your company’s payroll department how to determine the exempt amount of pay.

You must complete a Statement of Dependents and Filing Status within three days, which is used to make this determination. Failure to do so means that your exempt amount will be calculated as if you are married but filing separately and have no dependents. If you have more than one source of income, the IRS may declare one source exempt and levy the entire income from the other source.

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If your wages are levied and you receive a bonus, the IRS will seize the entire bonus since it is above the exempt amount of your pay. If you pay court-ordered child support independently from your employer, you must request to have the monthly support amount released from the levy.

If you are a contractor or freelancer, the IRS may be able to levy 1099 payments from your clients. However, although they can levy payments for work you have already done, the IRS cannot do so for work you will perform in the future.

If you receive Social Security benefit payments, these payments can also be levied. The IRS will garnish up to 15 percent of each payment through the Federal Payment Levy Program until your back taxes is paid in full.

What Happens If My Property Is Levied?

When a home or vehicle is seized by the IRS because of federal back taxes, the item is sold, and the proceeds are applied to your back taxes. Before taking this step, the IRS will calculate a minimum bid price for the sale depending on the fair market value of the home. The minimum bid price is usually at least 80 percent of the fair market value minus any outstanding liens. You will receive this information and have a right to appeal the fair market value determination. This right to appeal involves a reappraisal by the IRS or a private appraiser.

A notice of the sale of property will be posted in public places and in local newspapers. The sale will take place at least 10 days after this notice. You can request a refund from the IRS if money is left over after the amount owed is paid off and the costs of the sale covered. However, other creditors that have a lien against your property will be paid before you receive a refund.

If the proceeds of the property sale minus the cost of the sale do not satisfy the amount of your back taxes, you will still be responsible for the outstanding balance.

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Keep in mind that the seizure of a home that serves as your primary residence is a last resort for the IRS. To seize a taxpayer’s primary residence, the agency must issue a court order in U.S. District Court and prove several conditions:

  • Your obligation has not been satisfied.
  • The agency has followed the correct administrative procedures for the levy.
  • The agency has been unable to qualify you for reasonable collection alternatives such as full payment, an installment agreement, an offer in compromise, or currently not collectible status.

Can I Reclaim Seized Property?

If you are prepared to make arrangements to resolve your back taxes, contact the IRS immediately when your property is seized and request a release. You should also take this step if the seizure is creating an immediate economic hardship.

You have the right to appeal the levy before or after the property is taken or sold. This request must be made within two years after the levy date. If the IRS denies the request, you can appeal this decision. Learn more through IRS Publication 1660, Collection Appeal Rights.

Legally, the levied property must be returned if:

  • You paid your back taxes.
  • Returning the property will help you repay what you owe.
  • The property was seized after the statute of limitations that applies to your back taxes.
  • You have entered an installment agreement to repay your taxes.
  • The seizure causes you to be unable to meet basic living expenses.
  • The value of the property is greater than the back taxes in question.

When real estate is levied and sold, anyone with interest in the property has redemption rights that can be exercised within 180 days of the sale.

Individuals with interest may include:

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  • You.
  • Your heirs.
  • The executors or administrators of your estate.
  • Anyone with a lien on the property.
  • Anyone acting on behalf of the individuals listed above.

Those with interest can attempt to reclaim the property by paying an amount established by the IRS.

To redeem the sale, you must repay the bidder his or her winning purchase price plus 20 percent per year of interest compounded daily. After you make this payment, he or she will give you the certificate of sale, which acts as a receipt.

When you reclaim the property, contact the Revenue Officer who seized your property or the Property Appraisal and Liquidation Specialist responsible for the sale. You’ll need to provide:

  • Your name and address.
  • The date of the transfer of the Certificate of Sale.
  • The amount and price breakdown for the redemption.
  • The name and address of the bidder from whom the property was redeemed.

What Is the Difference Between a Levy and a Lien?

The terms lien and levy are often confused. A lien is the legal claim a creditor has on your personal property, while the levy is the action of seizing the property in question to satisfy the owed amount. The lien does not necessarily result in a levy if you enter an installment agreement or make other arrangements with the IRS. However, it is reported to the three credit bureaus and may prevent you from qualifying for a mortgage or loan.

How Can I Avoid a Levy?

Filing your tax returns on time and paying your taxes as soon as you can is the best way to avoid a levy. You can request more time to file and pay your taxes with an extension if you are unable to file on time. If you owe more than you can pay, you can opt to enter a payment arrangement with the IRS.

Do not ignore notices from the IRS or fail to file taxes. You have options when it comes to repaying your taxes.

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Working with the IRS to settle outstanding back taxes can help prevent a levy. You may be able to establish a payment plan, negotiate an offer in compromise to pay off the back taxes for less than the full amount you owe, or request currently not collectible status if paying owed back taxes would constitute a hardship.

If you recently received a levy notice, it’s not too late to act.

Contact the IRS as soon as possible either at 800-829-1040 or at the number on your billing notice to discuss your options with an IRS agent. You may wish to enlist the help of a tax professional to negotiate on your behalf.

How Is a Levy Released?

You can request a levy release once you’ve made arrangements to pay your back taxes or if the levy is causing undue economic hardship as determined by the IRS. If the IRS does not agree to release your levy in these situations, you have the right to request an appeal either before or after your property is levied.

You can also file a claim to have levied property returned as part of the appeal process. To learn more, consult Publication 1660, Collection Appeal Rights.

The IRS is legally required to release your levy if:

  • You have paid the amount in question.
  • You will be able to pay all or part of the back taxes if your levy is released.
  • The statute of limitations on the obligation ended before the levy was issued.
  • The levy creates an undue hardship, which means it keeps you from being able to afford basic living expenses.
  • You have entered an installment agreement to pay back your back taxes.
  • Releasing the levy will not prevent the IRS from collecting the amount owed since the levied property is worth more than the back taxes.

Even if your levy is released, however, you are still responsible for your back taxes unless the statute of limitations has expired. If you don’t pay as agreed after the release of the levy, it may be reissued.

How Do I Prove That the Levy Creates Economic Hardship?

If you are unable to pay for basic living expenses because the IRS has levied your wages or bank account, you can request release of the levy for reasons of economic hardship. You will need to provide information about your income and expenses.

If your past-due taxes are causing financial hardship, you can also seek help through the Taxpayer Advocate Service. This system is designed for those who have attempted to resolve their tax issues with the IRS but have been unable to do so. If you believe the tax system is not working as it should for you and you are struggling to repay back taxes, visit irs.gov/taxpayer-advocate or call 877-777-4778.

How Can I Appeal a Tax Levy?

You have the right to appeal a levy procedure or any other IRS collections actions by following the procedures outlined in IRS Publication 1660. Depending on the status of your case, you can pursue either the Collections Due Process (CDP) or Collections Appeal Program (CAP).

In both types of proceedings, you may choose to represent yourself or you can hire an attorney, certified public accountant (CPA), or enrolled agent who is registered to practice before the IRS to advocate on your behalf. You can also choose to be represented by a family member or by full-time employees or partners if you have a business.

Some taxpayers qualify for free legal representation through a Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic. This designation applies to those who earn no more than 250% of the federal poverty threshold for their state and household size. Review IRS Publication 4134, Low Income Taxpayer Clinic List, to learn more about eligibility and to find locations in your area.

Collections Due Process (CDP)

CDP is an option when you have received one of the following notices from the IRS:

  • Notice of Federal Tax Lien Filing and Your Right to a Hearing under IRC 6320
  • Final Notice – Notice of Intent to Levy and Notice of Your Right to a Hearing
  • Notice of Jeopardy Levy and Right of Appeal
  • Notice of Levy on Your State Tax Refund – Notice of Your Right to a Hearing
  • Post Levy Collection Due Process (CDP) Notice

When a lien is placed on your property, you must be notified within five business days and will then have 30 days to request a hearing through the CDP process.

When you receive a levy notice, which can be delivered either before or after your property is seized, you have 30 days to request a hearing. You may not request a hearing if you are a federal contractor, if you meet the criteria for disqualified unemployment tax level, if the collection of the tax is in jeopardy, or if your state tax refund is the levy in question.

Complete Form 12153, Request for a Collection Due Process or Equivalent Hearing, and send it to the address on your lien or levy notice. If you received both a lien and a levy notice, you may appeal both actions by checking the boxes on line 6 of Form 12153.

You must list your reasons for disagreeing with the IRS decision. Some possible reasons for appealing the lien or levy include:

  • The availability of collection alternatives such as offer in compromise or an installment payment agreement.
  • The creation of undue economic hardship as a result of the levy or lien.
  • Subordination or discharge of lien.
  • The amount of the tax only if you did not receive a notice of deficiency or have another opportunity to dispute the amount.
  • Spousal defenses.
  • Withdrawal of Notice of Federal Tax Lien.

After you submit this form, the appeals department will contact you to attempt to work out a solution. The representative will schedule a conference either over the phone or at your local appeals office. Depending on the reason for your hearing request, you may be asked to provide additional financial information.

If you do not agree with the CDP decision for either a lien or a levy, you can appeal in U.S. Tax Court.

Collections Appeal Program (CAP)

CAP offers a quicker decision but cannot be further appealed in court if you disagree with the final decision. You can seek for assistance through CAP at the following times:

  • Before or after the IRS files a Notice of Federal Tax Lien.
  • Before or after your property is levied or seized.
  • When the IRS has terminated or proposes to terminate your installment agreement.
  • When your proposed installment agreement is rejected.
  • When you want to modify your installment agreement.

Call the IRS at the number on your notice and request to appeal your tax decision. You may wish to enlist the help of a tax professional before entering into negotiations with the IRS.

Whether you call or have a legal expert call on your behalf, a manager should return the call within 24 hours. He or she will listen to a description of the situation and make a decision based on the facts provided. If you do not agree with this decision, it will be sent to Appeals for review.

You should also complete Form 9423, Collection Appeal Request. If you are requesting the return of seized property, you must submit this form within 10 days of the date on the Notice of Seizure.

After your initial conference with the collections manager, you will have two business days to decide whether you want to continue CAP proceedings. If you opt not to do so, you should have a plan in place to repay the assessed tax or collection actions will resume.

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If you are struggling to pay your back taxes, Solvable can help. Answer a few simple questions about your back taxes and we’ll help connect you with a vetted back tax assistance


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Andrea Miller
Expert Contributor
Last Updated: