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Published: April 27, 2020   |   Last Updated: July 13, 2022

I Can’t Pay My Taxes

If you can’t pay the taxes you owe, the IRS has payment options available. Which option might work for you generally depends on how much you owe and your current financial situation. Each option has different requirements and some have fees.

What do I need to know?

If you own a business currently

If you own a business and are still “in business,” the rules for obtaining a payment arrangement are slightly different, particularly if you have employees and owe employment-related taxes. If this is your situation, you’ll need to work directly with the IRS to determine an acceptable arrangement

The most important thing you can do is take an action

Most options for paying off a tax debt work best if you are proactive. By taking an action as soon as possible, you’ll help ease the burden and keep the IRS from acting to collect the debt. This page will offer some general information and help guide you in the right direction.

If you need to file a tax return, you should, even if you’ll owe taxes when you file.

You should file your return on time, with or without a payment — the IRS can charge penalties for filing late. The IRS also charges daily interest on unpaid tax bills, so the longer you wait, the more interest you’ll owe.

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What should I do?

First: Figure out how much you can pay

You need to consider your entire financial situation. Make a list of your assets and income, and consider other debts you might owe to figure out how much you can pay on your tax debt. Before you enter into any kind of payment agreementThe IRS will typically discuss payment options with taxpayers prior to the assessment of additional tax., be sure you can pay that amount every month, on time.

Choose the payment option that fits your situation

If you can pay the full amount now. You can pay with an electronic funds transfer or with a credit or debit card, or with a check by mailing it to the address listed on your bill or bringing it to your local IRS office. 

If you can’t pay the full amount now, but can pay it within 120 days

If you can’t pay in full immediately, the IRS offers additional time (up to 120 days) to pay in full. It’s not a formal payment option, so there’s no application and no fee, but interest and any penalties continue to accrue until the tax debt is paid in full.

For information on the additional time up to 120 days, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 (individuals) or 800-829-4933 (businesses).

If you need to make monthly payments to pay off your debt

You can ask for an Installment Agreement, which is a fixed monthly payment. This is a formal agreement with the IRS and involves an application process and fees.

You won’t be able to pay off the full debt

An Offer in Compromise allows you to pay less than the full amount you owe.

For the IRS to consider an Offer in CompromiseAn agreement between a taxpayer and IRS for a taxpayer to pay less than the full amount owed., you must apply, and must generally pay certain fees and a portion of the debt. You must then file tax returns and make payments on time for five years after the IRS accepts your offer.

If you can’t make any sort of payment now

The IRS understands there may be times when you can’t pay a tax debt due to your current financial situation. If the IRS agrees that you can’t pay your taxes and pay your reasonable living expenses, it may place your account in a status called Currently Not Collectible. The IRS won’t try to collect payment from you while your account is in Currently Not Collectible status, but the debt doesn’t not go away, and penalties and interest continue to grow.


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Note: If you have another way of getting money, like borrowing from a bank or an individual, it’s worth considering. The interest rate and fees charged by a bank or credit card company are usually lower than the combination of interest and penalties imposed by the IRS.

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How will this affect me?

The IRS won’t suspend interest and penalty charges, even if it stops trying to collect the balance due.

The IRS may keep your tax refunds and apply them to your debt.

You can still make voluntary payments.

The IRS can issue a levy to satisfy a tax debt when you don’t respond to notices informing you of the debt and asking for payment.

The IRS may file a Notice of Federal Tax Lien (NFTL) even if your account is placed in CNC status. The filing of an NFTL can affect your credit rating, and your ability to sell property or other assets.

The IRS is required by law to notify the State Department if you are certified as owing a seriously delinquent debt. But, the IRS has discretion to exclude debts from passport certification that are CNC.

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Wait, I still need help.

The Taxpayer Advocate Service is an independent organization within the IRS that helps taxpayers and protects taxpayers’ rights. We can offer you help if your tax problem is causing a financial difficulty, you’ve tried and been unable to resolve your issue with the IRS, or you believe an IRS system, process, or procedure just isn’t working as it should. If you qualify for our assistance, which is always free, we will do everything possible to help you.

Visit www.taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov or call 1-877-777-4778.

Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITCs) are independent from the IRS and TAS. LITCs represent individuals whose income is below a certain level and who need to resolve tax problems with the IRS. LITCs can represent taxpayers in audits, appeals, and tax collection disputes before the IRS and in court. In addition, LITCs can provide information about taxpayer rights and responsibilities in different languages for individuals who speak English as a second language. Services are offered for free or a small fee. For more information or to find an LITC near you, see the LITC page on the TAS website or Publication 4134, Low Income Taxpayer Clinic List.

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