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From the Experts at

Must-Knows for Anyone Dealing With a Tax Lien

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How to Handle Old Tax Liens on Your Credit Report

If you’ve found yourself unable to pay your taxes at some point in the past, you may have been hit with a tax lien.

First, what exactly is a tax lien?

A tax lien is essentially the government putting a claim on your property when you fail to pay taxes owed. This doesn’t mean your property will be seized, it just means the taxing entity gets first right to your property over other creditors. It can have significant consequences on your credit since it becomes a public record and shows up on your credit reports.

For example, I once received a call from someone who had found two tax liens on his credit reports, both more than 10 years old. He had never reviewed his credit reports before and was surprised to see these items show up since he had been able to obtain mortgages and other loans without a problem. (Remember that you’re entitled to free copies of your annual credit reports, and it’s a good idea to check them routinely for accuracy. In between those annual checkups, you can review a free summary of your credit report on

Although he was confident he had taken care of the liens years ago, the caller wasn’t sure he still had his records to prove it. Looking for help to clean up his credit report, he called me, and I sent him to IRS Publication 594: The IRS Collection Process.

After we talked, his situation continued to nag at me, and I decided to investigate further. I wanted the straight scoop on how difficult it would be for him to get those tax liens off his credit reports and whether there were things he should watch out for.

To answer my questions about removing old tax liens from a credit report, I turned to Tampa tax attorney and IRS problem solver Darrin T. Mish. Here are some basics about tax liens, plus answers to the questions I asked Darrin about resolving tax liens and getting tax liens off credit reports:

Are state and federal tax liens the same thing?

Basically, yes. Bot federal and state taxing authorities can place a lien on your assets, either for unpaid property, income or other delinquent taxes.

Do tax liens affect your credit score?

Yes. Having a tax lien means the government has a legal right to your property — real estate, personal property, financial assets — because you have failed to pay a tax debt. The tax lien appears on your credit report in the public records section and can have a seriously negative effect on your credit scores, similar to a bankruptcy or a judgment. And even worse, it means they can put your home into a tax sale …

What is a tax sale?

If you do not pay your property taxes and a tax lien is placed on your home, the taxing authority has the right to try to recoup the amount you owe by seizing your home and selling it. This is known as a tax sale, and all states have laws that allow local government entities to sell your home through the tax lien process to collect your delinquent taxes.

When you pay or settle a tax debt, how long does it take the IRS to release the lien? What is the procedure for doing so?

The statute says that they have 30 days to release the tax lien. See Internal Revenue Code 6325. That’s how it’s supposed to work, but in reality they often overlook it and it doesn’t get done. If this happens, then a taxpayer can contact the Lien Desk by phone at (800) 913-6050 or by fax at (859) 669-3805. If you look at a copy of an actual Form 668(Y)(c) Notice of Federal Tax Lien, you will notice a bold black box about halfway down the page on the left-hand side. It says that if the lien is not refiled by the refile date in column (e), then the lien is releasable on its face. That sounds complicated, but what it means is that if another lien wasn’t filed before the dates in column (e), then the lien is no longer enforceable. This sometimes complicates matters because the IRS is often reluctant to issue a release for an expired lien.

Does the IRS automatically notify the credit agencies that the lien has been released? If not, what do consumers need to do to make sure their credit files are updated?

When the Certificate of Release gets filed in the courthouse where the lien was originally filed, theoretically the major credit reporting agencies should pick up the release. A much better practice would be to order three official copies of the release and proactively send them into the three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. It could take months or years for the bureaus to automatically pick up the release.

What if you find a tax lien on your credit reports and don’t recognize it as yours? How do you research it to find out if it is valid?

This is a much trickier question. What you would need to do is research the public records offices of every county that you have lived in since the issuance of the Federal Tax Lien. The official name for this records office varies by state. (Examples include the county clerk, clerk-recorder or recorder office.) Some states have most, if not all, of these records online, while others have none of them online.

What if you find an old tax lien on your credit report and aren’t sure you paid it? What is the procedure for investigating it with the IRS?

You can call the IRS to inquire, but this can sometimes exacerbate a problem that has long been dormant. The best way by far to investigate such a situation is to contact a tax professional who is well versed in handling tax controversy cases and have him or her file a Freedom of Information Act request. This is a very discreet way to inquire without setting the IRS collection machine loose on a taxpayer.

What if you find an old tax lien on your credit file, believe you paid it but don’t have records anymore? What is the procedure for investigating it with the IRS?

You will ultimately have to check with the IRS to see if the liability has been paid. It’s important to note that there is a 10-year statute of limitations for the collection of the tax. The 10-year clock begins to run from the assessment of the tax, and there are many exceptions to this rule and circumstances that can cause the statute time to be extended (sometimes very significantly). This is another situation that is best left to a professional to decipher.

How long should you expect the above to take?

Such an analysis should take 60 to 90 days. A lien release subsequent to a request: 30 to 90 days.

What can you do to expedite the process if you are in the process of getting a mortgage, for example?

You could contact the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate for your local area. See the IRS website at for the phone number for your local area. The Taxpayer Advocate is an independent branch of the IRS whose job it is to fix bureaucratic snarls and delays. There is no charge for their services. Using the Taxpayer Advocate can be very advantageous, especially from the point of view that you get one person to help you instead of speaking to anyone who answers the phone.

Are there any tips you would offer to consumers who find tax liens on their credit files?

Be very cautious about contacting the IRS about tax liens that may pop up. You can wake the sleeping giant and really turn your financial life into a living hell. It’s best to get professional help unless you are sure that you have paid off the lien and it’s just a matter of getting a release to clear up that issue.

There are a couple more things worth pointing out. According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, they can stay on your credit report for seven years from the date they are satisfied or paid. However, a few years ago the IRS developed its Fresh Start initiative that allows consumers who have paid certain tax liens — or entered into an installment agreement to pay them — to request they be withdrawn and subsequently removed from their credit reports.

And the IRS can file a lien quickly, in as little as 10 days after you are notified that you owe taxes. So if you get a notice that you owe Uncle Sam money, resolve it quickly before you end up with serious damage to your credit report! If tax liens have already been filed, resolve them as quickly as you can.

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  • Steve Clark

    Thank you , This is very helpful!

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Glad to hear it!

  • Confused

    How do I contact the 3 credit bureaus to submit a tax lien release from the state of Michigan?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Have you ordered your credit reports from yet this year? If not that would be your best bet. That way you’ll have contact info and a credit report number to use when you submit your dispute.

      I’d also suggest you get your free credit score now so you can monitor how it changes when this information is removed.

      • Mike G

        Regarding a lien that’s been released and still on my credit report: I read somewhere that if its been paid/released, the entry can no longer report after 7 years from the date it was FILED. Is this correct? because I’ve read elsewhere it can be reporting for 7 years from the date of PAID or RELEASED.. Which is it?

        • Gerri Detweiler

          The Fair Credit Reporting Act says: “Paid tax liens which, from date of payment, antedate the report by more than seven years” (cannot be reported).

          If this is a federal tax lien, you may want to find out if you qualify for the Fresh Start program to have it removed.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Ugh!! Have you tried appealing to your state or local legislator for help? It may be worth a shot…

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Have you tried filing a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? The other alternative would be to talk with a consumer law attorney with experience in credit damage lawsuits. You may have a case…

  • Debit

    what if you don’t owe any taxes and the file a lien anyway. I had a tax attorney refile my returns and they all netted out to a loss but IRS filed the lien anyway

    • Gerri Detweiler

      That’s a situation where you’ll need to get your tax attorney involved.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    The Fresh Start initiative is only for federal taxes. You will have to check with your state taxing authority or a tax professional to find out what applies at the state level.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Chained – I am really sorry to hear what you have been through. Have you looked into whether you can file bankruptcy to get rid of this debt? It may be time to revisit that if you haven’t dealt with it in a while. Unfortunately unpaid tax liens remain on credit reports indefinitely, but my understanding is that if you discharge the debt it should be off your reports since it is more than 7 years old.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Certain taxes and student loans may be discharged in bankruptcy. Talk with a tax professional who is familiar with this and other options. It may not be ideal to file, but an unpaid tax lien hanging out there indefinitely is not good either. It’s in the same general category as bankruptcy in terms of the effect on your credit.

  • Nick

    I had state tax liens on my credit report for many years, never paid them and never was bothered by the state. they have ben on my credit report for many years dating back to 1992.
    2 weeks ago I ran my credit thru all 3 bureaus, because I am looking to buy a home.
    I was surprised to find out that all of my records were cleared, no public information.
    Had the mortgage guy run a search as well and nothing showed up?
    What does this mean? I’m nervous, because I don’t want to be a week away from closing and then not be able to close if something pops up then. Can you give me some advise? Please

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Sometimes the credit reporting agencies stop reporting those very old negative items even when they are unpaid. Hopefully you are in the clear but I don’t know of a way to guarantee that before closing!

  • Bobbie Pojeta

    Was the lien placed after you were married even though it was for prior years? Or did he have the lien placed on him before you got married?

  • Stu

    I have 3 old federal tax liens from 2002 – 2004 that are unpaid and the amount I will never be able to repay. Is it possible to get these dismissed with I believe the statue of limitations being 10 years and removed from my credit report?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Stu – I would suggest you talk with a tax professional who works with taxpayers who owe tax debt they can’t pay. You may be able to get an Offer in Compromise or file for bankruptcy to get rid of this tax debt. A professional can evaluate your situation and help you come up with a game plan. See: The Complete Guide to Finding Tax Help

  • Wolf2944

    What if you have a state Tax lien for over payment of Unemployment payments. The state is Idaho ?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      This article outlines procedures for federal tax liens. You will have to check with your state to see how they handle state tax liens. I don’t have a comprehensive list of how that works in each state unfortunately.

  • Hemi

    I was looking at my credit report and see a tax lien on it, but I don’t know where it’s from. It’s not from my state, my previous state, or the Feds. How do I track it down?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Ask the credit reporting agency for more information. If they can’t provide it, dispute it. If they can’t verify it, it will be removed. It’s possible that it’s a mistake.

  • JonathanE

    Is there any way for a California state tax lien that’s been fully paid and “released”, to be removed from my credit reports? I owed money to the state of California in 2010 for 2009 taxes and entered into a payment plan. Just 58 days after they filed a lien, I was able to pay the taxes in full and the lien was released about two months later. But here it is, five years after that and it’s still on my credit reports and damaging my credit scores severely. It seems unfair to be harmed so much for 7 years because I owed some money for 58 days and paid it in full. If it was federal and not state, it would be removed from the credit reports, thanks to the “Fresh Start” program. Thanks!

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I am not sure what California offers in terms of this kind of relief. You’ll need to talk with a tax professional in California.

  • Hannah Henderson

    Hello, I was fortunate enough to include my IRS debt in my bankruptcy a few years ago. Should this not have released my tax liens and also cleared them from my credit?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      It may have released your liability but the liens can remain on your credit reports for seven years from the date they were filed. I am not sure whether you can use IRS Form 12277 to ask that it be withdrawn in this situation but it’s worth looking into.

      • Hannah Henderson

        Thank you for your help I will check into that :)

        • Gerri Detweiler

          Please let me know if it works!

  • Agni

    I got 3 federal liens and it was released now since I didn’t file my tax return. After filing the return, IRS found that I don’t owe any money for them and so they released the liens from my name. When I checked the credit report, all 3 credit agencies are showing them as released. I would like to get your help on how to remove them from the report since I never paid any of those liens.
    Thanks in advance.

  • Matt

    My ex and I have been separated for over 3 years but we still own a rental property together (Actually the mortgage is in my name, but both our names are on the title). I was going through the process of him signing a quitclaim when a title search found that there were tax liens on the property because he had not paid taxes for multiple years. We were not married (we are both men). Can I get these liens removed since I pay the mortgage and he has no real financial value in the property? How will this affect my credit and trying to buy a house in the future?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Matt – I am not sure I completely understand your question but liens remain on your credit reports for seven years if they are paid and longer if they are paid. If you want to get them removed from your credit reports you will need to a. satisfy them and get a release of lien filed and then b. make sure the time period for reporting them has passed. The exception is the IRS Fresh Start program which allows taxpayers to request removal if they are repaying their debt under a repayment program. In addition, if the tax liens came from state or local taxing authorities you will have to check with them about what their policies are.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Yes these tax liens may affect your ability to get a mortgage. The problem, as I understand it, is that with your ex on the title he has interest in the property and the IRS is trying to protect that interest with the lien. You’re going to need to talk with a tax expert who resolved tax problems to find out how/whether you can get these liens off the property so you can move forward.

  • angelina moreaux

    I went to the bank to get a loan and wasn’t able to succeed because of a state tax lien pending on my credit. my banker informed me that the lien came about in 2006 and the amount I owe is $652.00. Now my question is how can I get this problem resolved and if I don’t pay what will happen. I know that if I have any property in my name the can take it but if its in my husbands name can they still do anything. I’m already paying student loans back and this lien is the last thing I need pending against me. I need help!!! What can I do???

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Tax liens that are unpaid can remain on your credit reports indefinitely. Once you pay it, you should be able to get it removed from your credit reports since it’s so old. If you don’t pay it, interest may continue to accrue but how much depends on state law. You could try talking to your state taxing authority to find out if you can resolve it through a payment plan and get it off your credit. If it’s in your husband’s name only it probably should not be on your credit reports.

  • Virginia

    I have a released Nebraska State Tax lien which was filed om 8/26/2008. Experian and Equifax have removed the liem from the Public Records portion of my credit report. TransUnion refused to do so. They say they are reuired by law to show the tax lien for 10 years. If Equifax and Experian are able to remove the item why can’t TransUnion. Do you have suggestions? I have asked, pleased and begged to no avail. I am applying for a home mortgage and this is hurting my credit score
    Thank You

    • Gerri Detweiler

      The Fair Credit Reporting Act says that paid tax liens may be reported for seven years after they are paid. Specifically it says: “Paid tax liens which, from date of payment, antedate the report by more than seven years.” So it would depend on when you paid it, not when it was filed. (Though why they are saying 10 years I am not sure.)

    • Christina Gonzalez

      How did you get them to remove them from your record? I had a tax lien in 2010 it’s been paid but I don’t know how to get it removed.

      • Gerri Detweiler

        If it is a federal lien file IRS form 12277. If it’s a state tax lien you can contact your state department of taxation for information.

  • Elizabeth Wages

    I owned a property with my mother, she sold the home in 2013, I received no money from the selling of the home. My mother paid the lein November, 2014 but the lein still shows in my name. How do I clear my name?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Did you/she get a release and satisfaction when she paid off the lien? If so, get a copy and use that when you dispute it on your credit reports. If not, you can still dispute it but I’d recommend you also contact the court where the lien was filed and ask the procedure for requesting that. Please read: A Step-By-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Mistakes

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I was talking about the program that allows you to request a tax lien be removed from your credit. Please read: How to Make Your Tax Lien Disappear

  • Katie

    I live in wisconsin and i’m going through chapter 7 bankrupcy and my tax debts are old enough to be discarged. Will my liens get released?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      If your tax debt is discharged the liens should be released since there will no longer be a debt owed. It would be a good idea to ask your attorney to make sure there’s nothing else you have to do.

  • Keith Moles

    I have never paid income taxes in my life. The IRS filed a tax lien for 3 or 4 years when I was self employed and taxes weren’t being withheld. This has been on my credit for about 4 years now. They say I owe around $80,000 for just those years. I think it’s unfair they can charge penalties and interest for what I owe but I can’t collect interest for what they owe me or possibly not be able to collect all of what’s owed to me. I would like for this to balance out and go away. I’m 37 what should I do?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      We’ll have to suggest you talk with a professional who helps individuals resolve tax problems. It’s a complex matter and they will have to help you figure out the appropriate strategy.

  • Clondon04

    I have a tax lien recently my collections went past the 10 yr statue of limitations and the IRS dismissed my debt, when will the liens fall off my credit report? they have been on there since 8/2006.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      It sounds like you should be able to get them off there now. Do you have anything in writing from the IRS? If so you can dispute it with the credit reporting agencies by including a copy of that documentation. Read: A Step-By-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Mistakes

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