Did you know that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sends out millions of wage garnishment notices every year? If you owe back taxes to the IRS, simply put – they have the right to take a big chunk out of your wages! Is there a way to stop IRS wage garnishment? First, we’ll tell you what to expect.
See our video explanation below, then keep reading for more information.
What Is An IRS Wage Garnishment?
An IRS wage garnishment is a legal route taken by those owed a debt. This means a specific sum of money can be withheld from an employee’s wages, and then paid directly back to the one owed. Though other agencies can also garnish wages, IRS wage garnishments are not subject to equal rules and regulations that others are. Wage garnishments for non-tax issues often require a court judgment.
You could be subject to an IRS wage garnishment if you owe unpaid taxes to the IRS and do not respond to phone calls or payment notices sent to you. Before the IRS can start taking a portion of your salary, they must follow specific guidelines. Understanding the IRS wage garnishment system may allow the subject to prepare for, challenge, or even stop IRS wage garnishment.
The IRS would prefer to find an easier solution to unpaid debts through an IRS payment plan or Offer in Compromise. The IRS only garnish wages when there appears to be no other option. Follow some simple rules of thumb for a less offensive outcome.
What You Should Know If This Happens To You
If you are able to stop IRS wage garnishment – do it. Come to an agreement with the IRS, and life will be easier for everyone.
If you do become the subject of wage garnishment, understand that your employer is legally obligated to comply with the IRS. Being self employed will not help you and can make it worse. If you receive payments subject to a 1099, it is likely the IRS will take all funds from that 1099 source. Even if it’s your married partner that’s the person in trouble, you’re not off the hook. The IRS has the right to come after you. To see more about this specific issue, see here.
As mentioned above, the IRS would really rather come to a reasonable agreement with you. There may be a way to pay less and stop the IRS wage garnishment if you can get an Offer in Compromise accepted.
The Next Steps In IRS Wage Garnishments
Before garnishing your wages, the IRS must demand payment for a tax liability, and you must fail to respond to them within the stated time-frame. A final notice of intent to levy would then be sent out – 30 days before the process begins. This is the time to act if you have not yet! Call them yourself or hire a qualified tax attorney.
The IRS will take a certain amount of your income and leave you with a small remainder. Whether you have enough money left to pay bills or not, isn’t their concern. The IRS is required to leave you with some money. If it’s enough to survive on though, is another matter.
The IRS will continue to take their portion of your salary until unpaid debt are paid in full (penalties and interest will also apply). That is, unless you can stop the IRS wage garnishment.
If the IRS does succeed in a wage garnishment, the only way out of it permanently is to reach some kind of resolution on your case. The IRS will receive a portion of wages each pay-period, unless another arrangement is made. Filing a Bankruptcy or having Currently Not Collectible status approved will release the garnishment. Filing an Offer in Compromise will release it in most cases too.
Personal Exemptions from IRS Wage Garnishments
Some amount of wages can be ‘exempt’ from garnishment. The exempt amount does not go to the IRS. The amount reflects the number of personal exemptions permitted to each individual.
The IRS will mail ‘Publication 1494’ to the employer, explaining the levy. The employer will then determine the exemption amount from that publication. A Statement of Exemptions and Filing Status will be provided to the employee – by the employer. If the statement is not returned within three days, the personal exempt amount will be guessed (married / filing separately / one exemption.) The IRS may allocate exemptions to any other sources of income.
Work Bonus? IRS Might Garnish It All
Personal exemptions do NOT apply to bonus payments
Unfortunately, exemptions are not valid for bonus payments, separate from a paycheck. The IRS receives the entire work bonus. This is because personal exempt amounts are based upon the time-period that the employee works, and the wages made from that pay-period.
Child Support Payments
If you need to pay court ordered child support (ordered before your employer received the levy), the IRS will release the correct amount of wages back to you, so direct child support payments can continue as usual.
If your employer did not include child support in your exempt amount, the IRS needs to be contacted to fix this.
How To Get a ‘Release’ Or Stop IRS Wage Garnishment
To avoid this situation in general, file taxes for every year and don’t build up a debt. If caught red-handed, there are only a handful of options at this point:
Pay Your Debt In Full Right Now
Pay your debt in full and the IRS will call off the hunt, plain and simple. Do what you can (legally, obviously) to end this stressful money chase. The sooner you give the IRS what they’re owed, the sooner you can stop IRS wage garnishment, receive your full salary and get on with life. Make sure to request a first time penalty abatement if you qualify.
Make an Installment Agreement
Try to settle with an installment agreement instead of the usual hassle and you may stop IRS wage garnishment. Doing this will give you 3-years to pay off your debt. The IRS will usually let you go this route, unless you’ve had a similar previous situation where you failed to make payments. Request a first time penalty abatement on the first year that you owe, once you get close to paying it off.
Make A Good Offer
The IRS sometimes accepts less money via an Offer In Compromise. It’s wise to hire a good tax attorney to help figure out the appropriate offer in this case. This is the best option if you qualify. Recently we had a client that owed $245,000 and we got them a settlement for $100.
Claim Financial Hardship via Currently Not Collectible Status
Convince the IRS that your wage garnishment is causing financial hardship and they might go easy on you. Of course, this would only be until your situation improves, and then it would return. If unable to pay basic living expenses as a result of wage garnishment, the IRS may allow a time extension. Getting help from a tax professional is the best option. An attorney will know methods used by the IRS to determine whether a situation meets their definition of ‘financial hardship’ or not.
Quit, Switch Jobs, Or Work Part-Time
IRS wage garnishment is specific to your employer. Changing employers means that the IRS must get a new garnishment for you. This could take several months to complete, so it’s a way to stall the process, but not a real fix.
Temporarily quitting your job can have the same effect. Your employer must then inform the IRS of your departure, and the garnishment will no longer be valid. If you go back to that employer, the IRS will still have to go back to start another wage garnishment.
Find part-time work. Only working part-time hours can reduce your income to an insufficient level. The IRS may then recognize you as experiencing financial hardship and only meeting basic living needs, as mentioned above. If your case is assigned to a Revenue Officer (typically when you owe $250,000+), they may find out you changed jobs sooner than the regular IRS Automated Collections System and apply a new garnishment. If your case is in the regular IRS Automated Collections System, it might take a year for them to find you again. Once a new W2 is filed, they know where you work again.
Last Resort – Go Bankrupt
Filing for bankruptcy will stop IRS wage garnishment – for now. Bare in mind, doing this will majorly affect the credit of the one filing. Filing for bankruptcy doesn’t fix or take away more recent tax debts that are less than two years old. If you have unfiled tax returns they may not be discharged as well. Last, payroll tax debt will not get removed via bankruptcy either.
Final Advice – Fix It Before It Starts – Or If It Is Going Get Help ASAP
If you owe a small balance under $20,000 it is often best to resolve the case yourself. See our comprehensive tax help guide for options and forms on resolving it yourself. It is recommended to hire a qualified tax attorney for debts over $20,000. A tax attorney can be in any location in the country and represent you, they do not need to be local. About 90% of TRP’s clients are out of state, many from New York and California. We have extensive experience in dealing with both states as well, and charge lower rates than CA tax relief firms or NY tax lawyers. Visit our tax help start page. We offer a free comprehensive consultation and if we can’t help, we will point you in the right direction.