How to negotiate with the IRS to reduce your tax debt


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Negotiating a deal with the IRS can offer the tax debt help you need for making a payment – but you’ll need to have a strong argument and the information to support you claims.

When should I negotiate with the IRS?

Determining when it’s time to negotiate with the IRS over your debts generally comes down to your income and net worth versus the amount of money you owe in taxes.

More specifically, is your debt so large that you can’t effectively pay what the IRS demands while maintaining your living expenses? If so, it’s time to review your options.

What are my options?

You have a few, though the IRS is stringent in their requirements for eligibility.


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Apply for a payment agreement

Under certain qualifying conditions, you could apply for an individual payment agreement. This agreement allows you to pay off your tax debt over time, with long-term and short-term payment plans available.

Generally, you may qualify for a long-term payment plan if you owe $50,000 or less in combined tax, penalties and interest, and you’ve filed all of your required tax returns. Short-term plans, on the other hand, require you owe less than $100,000 in associated taxes, though you must pay these plans off in full in 120 days or less.

You may also have to pay for setting up these agreements – with fees ranging from $0 to $225.

Before you sign up with a debt relief company

Debt relief companies typically charge a percentage of a customer’s debt or a monthly program fee for their services. And not all companies are transparent about these costs or drawbacks that can negatively affect your credit score. Depending on the company you work with, you might pay other fees for third-party settlement services or setting up new accounts, which can leave you in a worse situation than when you signed up.

Consider alternatives before signing up with a debt relief company:

  • Payment extensions. Companies you owe may be willing to extend your payment due date or put you on a longer payment plan if you ask.
  • Nonprofit credit counseling. Look for free debt-management help from nonprofit organizations like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
  • Debt settlement. If you can manage to pay a portion of the bill, offer the collection agency a one-time payment as a settlement. Collection agencies are often willing to accept a lower payment on your debt to close the account.

Submit an offer in compromise

If you can’t pay your full tax liability and the IRS thinks you can’t pay the full amount, you might be eligible for a debt reduction under an offer in compromise (OIC). Eligibility depends on your financial situation, including your ability to pay, income, expenses and asset equity.

To apply for an OIC, you must be current with all of your filing and payment requirements and pay the $186 application fee. You can access a pre-qualifier tool and the necessary application forms on the IRS website.

MUST READ: The number of OIC applications the IRS approves is quite low. In fact, less than 50% of OIC applications receive approval. Here are some quick tips for improving your odds of a successful approval:

  • File all of your back returns. The IRS will only consider an OIC application if you’ve filed all of your taxes.
  • Continue to pay any new tax debt. Though it’s tempting to put off paying all of your debt until you get a decision, the IRS will want to see you’re serious about paying off your debt.
  • Have a compelling reason. The IRS won’t be swayed by the argument that you need more time. Concrete reasons you might need the OIC, such as disability, dependent care, or serious health issues are taken more seriously by the IRS.

Request currently not collectible (CNC) status

If you can demonstrate financial hardship to the IRS — meaning you can’t pay your tax debt after paying your living expenses — you might be able to apply for “currently not collectible” status. CNC status temporarily halts collection efforts from the IRS. To apply, file all prior tax returns, then fill out Form 433.

Request an extension

You might be eligible for a time extension if you would experience undue hardship by paying off the debt on time. To apply, file Form 1127 and offer a detailed explanation. If approved, you can gain an additional six months to pay off your taxes owed or up to 18 months to pay off a tax deficiency.

What are the pros and cons of negotiating with the IRS on my own?


  • Save money. Negotiating with the IRS on your own saves you from paying tax professionals.
  • Avoid scams. Some tax professionals take advantage by charging high fees with little results.
  • Find a better deal. You know your financial situation better than anyone and can apply for the tax debt relief solution that works best for you.


  • Inexperience. Navigating the paperwork and requirements can quickly become overwhelming.
  • You’re responsible for finances. Getting your finances together and presenting them with a convincing argument takes time and energy.
  • You might choose the wrong plan. Accidentally choosing a plan that the IRS won’t approve can set back your relief efforts.

Don’t want to go at it alone?

While facing the IRS head-on can save you money, not everyone has the time and means to tackle their own tax debt problems. If you’d like help building your case, a tax-relief company could be a viable solution, as well as exploring other debt relief options.

Frequently asked questions

What is the fresh start program?

The IRS implemented the Fresh Start program in 2012 to expand the tax debt relief options for taxpayers. Among the program features, the threshold for using an installment agreement without having to supply the IRS with a financial statement rose from $25,000 to $50,000 and more taxpayers became eligible for OIC agreements.

How much will the IRS settle for?

On average, the IRS settles for roughly $6,629 — though the exact amount of debt you’ll need to pay under an OIC depends on your specific circumstances, such as living expenses and income.

Can I find out what I owe the IRS online?

The IRS offers an online tool that can help you figure out how much tax debt you owe. You can also call the IRS directly to figure out your debt.

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Kabir Sehgal

Kabir Sehgal was a vice president in emerging-market equities at J.P. Morgan in New York. He has traveled to over 25 developing countries to gather and generate investment advice for large, multi-strategy institutional investors. In addition, he helped place the Alibaba IPO, the largest in history. He began his career by founding an online educational network. He is the author of six books including, "Coined:The Rich Life of Money And How Its History Has Shaped Us," "Walk in My Shoes," "Jazzocracy," "A Bucket of Blessings," "The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk," and "Festival of Colors." Sehgal is also a Grammy-winning producer, composer, musician, librettist, and liner-note writer. He has produced many albums including "The Offense of the Drum," which won the Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album. He also produced "Cuba: The Conversation Continues," that was recorded in Havana. He co-founded an arts non-profit organization that merged with the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance. Sehgal is an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He served as a speech writer on a presidential campaign. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the London School of Economics. Follow him on Twitter @HiKabir.