Many people don’t understand the difference between the terms “tax levy” and “tax liens”. Oftentimes they confuse a Notice of Intent to Levy with a Notice of Federal Tax Lien. Although these two terms are both related to the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) collection of back tax liabilities, they each represent different parts of the tax debt collection process. Essentially an IRS tax lien is the federal government’s statutory right that allows them to secure payment of a tax, and a federal tax levy is the actual seizure of that property.
An IRS tax lien is the federal government’s right to ensure payment of owed taxes by allowing them to place a secured debt on a negligent taxpayer’s property. Tax liens often result because of delinquent taxes and can be placed on real property or personal property. Typically, they act almost as a mortgage against the property and only come into play when the taxpayer is attempting to sell the real or personal property. At the time of sale, the IRS can then claim a right to the proceeds of the sale.
An IRS levy is a technical term used to denote an administrative action by the IRS to actually seize property to satisfy a tax liability. A tax levy gives the government the ability to impose this collection without having to get permission from a court. Typically, the IRS uses a levy to seize two types of property – income and proceeds in a bank account.
The IRS must issue a Notice of Intent to Levy at least thirty days before the IRS can actually impose the levy. However, a Notice of Federal Tax Lien is generally issued after the tax lien arises. Also, while a federal tax lien applies to all of a taxpayer’s property and rights to property, an IRS levy is subject to more specific restrictions. Often times certain property covered by a tax lien may be exempt from an IRS levy. In those instances the IRS must obtain a court judgement in order to take that property.