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Are tax liens dischargeable in bankruptcy?

There is not a simple answer to this question. First, you have to understand what a tax lien is. A tax lien is a document that is filed at the courthouse that places a lien on your property (home or land) because you owe back taxes and penalties to the IRS. If and when you sell the property, then portions of the sale of the property will go to the IRS to pay off the tax lien. However, in some extreme examples, the government can decide to execute on the lien and force the sale of the property.

Some tax liens can be discharged or waived in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing. It gets a little tricky when there is tax debt and the IRS has a lien filed against your house or property. A discharge under Chapter 7 will only discharge the debt owed to the IRS. The discharge will do nothing to the lien that covers your house or land. The lien will remain in place. The practical point of this is that the IRS cannot come after your bank account or your wages because the debt has been wiped clean. The bad news is that since the lien is still there, if and when you go to sell your property you will have to pay off the lien with the proceeds from the sale.

There are avenues that an experienced bankruptcy lawyer can do to challenge the lien, assuming there are certain facts available:

  • The lien was not filed properly in the technical sense — the document was missing things that were necessary;
  • The lien was filed at the courthouse after the protective automatic stay was issued by the bankruptcy court;
  • The lien was recorded but against the wrong property;
  • The lien is more than 10 years old.

The easiest way to remove a tax lien, however, is to pay off the debt to the taxing authority, assuming you can afford to. Often, you can negotiate with the taxing authority to lower the amount owed if you promise to pay off the remaining debt within a certain time period.

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