How Do You Repay Taxes That You Owe the IRS?

Dealing with back taxes owed to the IRS can be daunting, but it’s essential to address them promptly to avoid escalating penalties and legal actions. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the steps you can take to repay back taxes effectively. From understanding your tax debt to exploring payment options and seeking professional assistance, we’ll cover everything you need to know to navigate this process successfully.

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  • What Are Tax Debt?

Back taxes or tax debt refer to unpaid taxes owed to the IRS for previous tax years. These taxes can result from various factors, including failure to file tax returns, underreporting income, claiming incorrect deductions, or simply not paying the full amount of taxes owed.

  • Implications of Tax Debt

Tax debt carries substantial consequences that extend beyond mere financial strain. The accumulation of interest and penalties exacerbates the burden, potentially leading to severe financial distress. Moreover, the IRS has the authority to take enforcement actions to collect unpaid taxes, such as placing liens on your property, levying your bank accounts, or garnishing your wages. These actions can significantly disrupt your financial stability and quality of life.

Furthermore, unresolved tax debt can have lasting repercussions on your creditworthiness. A negative impact on your credit score can make it challenging to secure loans, credit cards, or mortgages in the future. It may also affect your ability to rent an apartment, obtain insurance, or qualify for favorable interest rates. Addressing tax debt promptly is essential not only to mitigate immediate financial consequences but also to safeguard your long-term financial well-being.

  • Assessing Your Tax Debt

The first step in addressing back taxes is to assess the extent of your tax debt. This involves gathering relevant documentation, such as tax returns, notices from the IRS, and financial records, to determine the total amount owed, including any accrued interest and penalties. Understanding the specifics of your tax debt is crucial for developing a plan to resolve it effectively.

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Paying the Full Amount

For some taxpayers, paying the full amount of back taxes owed may be feasible. This approach allows you to clear your tax debt in one lump sum, eliminating the risk of further interest and penalties. However, it may require significant financial resources, such as savings or borrowing from family or friends.

Installment Agreements

An installment agreement is a payment plan that allows you to pay off your tax debt in monthly installments. This option is ideal for taxpayers who cannot afford to pay the full amount upfront but have the means to make regular payments over time. Depending on your financial situation and the amount owed, you may qualify for a streamlined installment agreement or a formal installment agreement.

Offer in Compromise (OIC)

An Offer in Compromise (OIC) is a settlement option that allows you to resolve your tax debt for less than the full amount owed. To qualify for an OIC, you must demonstrate that paying the full amount would cause financial hardship or that there is doubt as to the accuracy of the tax debt. The IRS considers factors such as your income, expenses, assets, and ability to pay when evaluating an OIC.

Currently Not Collectible (CNC) Status

If you are experiencing financial hardship and cannot afford to pay your tax debt, you may qualify for Currently Not Collectible (CNC) status. This status temporarily suspends IRS collection activities until your financial situation improves. While CNC status does not eliminate your tax debt, it provides temporary relief by halting enforcement actions such as liens or levies.

Penalty Abatement

In certain circumstances, you may be eligible for penalty abatement, which reduces or eliminates the penalties associated with your tax debt. To qualify for penalty abatement, you must demonstrate reasonable cause, such as a significant illness, natural disaster, or other unavoidable circumstances that prevented you from meeting your tax obligations.

Tax Attorney
A tax attorney specializes in tax law and can provide expert guidance on resolving complex tax issues. They can represent you in communications with the IRS, negotiate settlements or payment arrangements, and provide legal advice on your rights and options.
Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is a licensed accounting professional who can assist with tax preparation, planning, and representation. CPAs are trained to handle various tax matters, including back taxes, and can provide valuable insight into your financial situation and tax obligations.
Enrolled Agent (EA)
An Enrolled Agent (EA) is a tax professional licensed by the IRS to represent taxpayers in matters involving audits, collections, and appeals. EAs are tax experts with specialized knowledge of tax law and IRS procedures, making them well-equipped to assist with resolving back taxes.
Tax Resolution Firm
A tax resolution firm specializes in helping taxpayers resolve tax problems, including back taxes, with the IRS. These firms typically offer a range of services, including negotiation, representation, and settlement assistance, tailored to your specific needs and circumstances.

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  • Organize Your Financial Records

    Gather all relevant documentation, including tax returns, notices from the IRS, bank statements, and financial records. Organizing your financial records will help you assess your tax debt accurately and provide necessary information when communicating with the IRS or seeking professional assistance.

  • Contact the IRS

    If you have back taxes owed, it’s essential to contact the IRS as soon as possible. Ignoring tax debt will only worsen the situation, leading to additional penalties and enforcement actions. By proactively addressing your tax debt and communicating with the IRS, you can explore options for resolution and prevent further escalation of the issue.

  • Review Your Options

    Consider the various payment options available to you, such as paying the full amount, setting up an installment agreement, or exploring settlement options like an Offer in Compromise. Evaluate each option carefully based on your financial situation, tax debt amount, and long-term goals.

  • Develop a Plan

    Once you’ve assessed your tax debt and explored your options, develop a plan to address your back taxes effectively. This plan should outline the steps you’ll take to resolve your tax debt, including the payment method you’ll use, any necessary documentation or forms you’ll need to submit, and the timeline for completing each step. Be sure to consider factors such as your financial resources, income, and expenses when developing your plan to ensure it’s realistic and achievable.

  • Implement Your Plan

    Once you’ve developed a plan, take immediate action to implement it. If you’ve decided to pay the full amount owed, make arrangements to transfer funds or submit payment to the IRS promptly. If you’re setting up an installment agreement, follow the instructions provided by the IRS to apply for the agreement and begin making payments as scheduled. If you’re pursuing an Offer in Compromise or other settlement option, gather the necessary documentation and submit your application according to IRS guidelines.

  • Monitor Your Progress

    As you work to resolve your tax debt, regularly monitor your progress and adjust your plan as needed. Keep track of your payments, correspondence with the IRS, and any updates or changes to your financial situation. If you encounter any challenges or unexpected obstacles, don’t hesitate to reach out to the IRS or seek assistance from a tax professional for guidance and support.

  • Stay Compliant

    Once you’ve resolved your tax debt, it’s essential to remain compliant with your tax obligations going forward. File your tax returns on time, pay any taxes owed promptly, and keep accurate records of your income and expenses. By staying compliant, you can avoid future issues with the IRS and maintain good standing with tax authorities.

IRS Website

The IRS website ( offers a wealth of information and resources for taxpayers, including forms, publications, and guidance on resolving tax issues. You can also use the IRS website to check your account balance, make payments, and set up payment plans online.

Taxpayer Advocate Service

The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is an independent organization within the IRS that helps taxpayers resolve problems with the IRS and ensure their rights are protected. TAS provides free assistance to taxpayers experiencing financial hardship or significant adverse actions by the IRS.

Local Taxpayer Assistance Centers

The IRS operates Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TACs) across the country, where taxpayers can receive in-person assistance with their tax issues. TACs offer services such as tax return preparation assistance, payment plan setup, and help with tax notices and letters.

Tax Professionals

Consider seeking assistance from a tax professional, such as a tax attorney, CPA, or enrolled agent, if you need help resolving your tax debt. These professionals have the knowledge and expertise to navigate complex tax issues and represent your interests in dealings with the IRS.


Managing back taxes owed to the IRS can be a challenging process, but with careful planning, proactive communication, and the right resources, it’s possible to resolve your tax debt effectively. By understanding your tax debt, exploring payment options, seeking professional assistance when needed, and taking decisive action, you can regain control of your finances and move forward with confidence. Remember that addressing back taxes promptly is key to preventing further penalties and legal actions by the IRS, so don’t delay in taking the necessary steps to resolve your tax issues today.