I owe the IRS more money than I can pay. What are my options?

When you cannot pay your federal tax debt in full within 120 days of the date of the first billing notice, you may qualify for an installment agreement or other options for resolving your debt.

Installment agreement

There are two variations of installment agreements that do not require you to give the IRS financial information:

  • If the total of all taxes you owe is $10,000 or less you will automatically qualify for a 36-month installment plan.

  • If the debt is $50,000 or less you will qualify for an installment agreement with payments of an amount that is the greater of your debt spread over 72 months or the amount that will pay in full your debt by the expiration of the 10-year statute of limitations for collections. Note: This options requires that your payments be made by direct debit to your bank account.​​

If you owe more than $50,000, you will be required to provide the IRS with financial information so they can determine the acceptable monthly payment amount. They determine this amount with an analysis and documentation of (1) the equity in your assets plus (2) your income minus (3) your allowable living expenses. These are the standards the IRS uses to determine how much money taxpayers need for basic living expenses such as housing and utilities, food, transportation, and healthcare, based on family size and where they live.. 

Partial pay installment agreement. The IRS has the discretion to approve a monthly payment that will not pay off your debt within 72 months and before the 10-year collection statute of limitations expires. That's called a partial pay installment agreement. This arrangement is subject to periodic review to determine whether you might be able to make a larger monthly payment.

Currently not collectible status

If expenses exceed income. If the total of your allowable expenses is more than your income plus equity in your assets, the IRS can classify your account as currently not collectible. The debt is not written off; but, they suspend their collection efforts and will not expect you to make payments. Important: This status is temporary. It will be reviewed periodically and the IRS can resume collection efforts they believe you have an increased ability to make payments. 

Offer in compromise


An offer in compromise is feasible if you prove to the IRS, using specific rules, that you are only able to pay an amount that is less then the total you owe. That amount is a combination of the equity you have in your assets, valued at 80% of fair market value, plus a multiple of your excess monthly income as explained above. Important. You should not expect the offer in compromise process to be a negotiation where the "bird-in-the-hand" concept might apply.