Of all the nasty things the IRS can do to delinquent taxpayers, an IRS garnishment is one of the worst. It’s particularly menacing because the IRS hits you where it hurts the most:
By grabbing at your fresh and hard-earned wages.
Wages that were meant to pay for school trips, healthcare or even a decent dinner.
If you have no assets or funds in your bank account that the IRS can take, then you’re much more susceptible to having your wages garnished.
Once the IRS wage garnishment has started, you might feel like you’re being strangled. With no income, it’s easy to become hopeless in the face of mounting expenses like electricity, food and rent.
I’ve designed this guide to set you on the right track in stopping an IRS wage garnishment. However, it’s only a baseline. You will need to work very hard to get your wage garnishments removed.
If you’d rather be in safe hands, I’ve included details of an honest tax relief company at the end of this article. They’ll get the IRS off your back so that you can start living freely again.
Okay, enough ado. Let’s get stuck in.
There are 7 ways to stop an IRS wage garnishment.
Paying off your debt
This is the best way to stop an IRS wage garnishment. Even if you don’t have money to pay off your debt now, DO NOT SKIP THIS SECTION.
So many people forget that they have much cheaper forms of credit than IRS debt. If it costs you nothing to take a loan from your friends and family, why wouldn’t you take it?
In fact, I would even combine this with an installment agreement, or offer in compromise. Why? Paying off part of your debt does two things:
- It proves that you’re well intentioned and keen to make your debts right. This will make it much easier for you to set up a payment plan or offer in compromise.
- Paying off even a part of your debt can reduce the penalties and interest that you’re incurring on your overdue debt every month – another relief!
Yes, it can be embarrassing to admit that you’re in a tight spot, but imagine the relief that paying off your debt can bring (even if you pay part of it.)
Often, the IRS will stop wage garnishment as one of the conditions in an installment agreement. I often advocate for getting an installment agreement to deal with IRS debt, because you can stretch your payments out over many small chunks.
Installment agreements are for people who are moderately well to do. They are not able to pay off their debt just yet, but are also not sleeping rough on the streets.
Even if you’re not starving, I know the feeling of seeing your payment deadlines loom ever nearer, constricting you. Imagine the relief of being able to have 72 months to pay off your overdue taxes!
One thing I must add is this:
One of the payment options involves payroll deductions, this means that your employer will withhold and make automatic payments to the IRS to cover your debt.
Now this can sound a lot like a wage garnishment. However, there is one important difference:
In a wage garnishment, the IRS takes as much as they can out of your income. However, in an installment agreement, you only pay a small fraction of your debt over many months.
This is critical for you to continue paying for everyday expenses and to put food on the table.
If this is the route for you, read my article on setting up a payment plan.
An offer in compromise
I see offer in compromise as the “older brother” to an installment agreement. Yes, a successful offer in compromise will stop the IRS from garnishing your wages as well. In addition though, an offer in compromise will allow you to settle your tax debt for less than what you owe.
Granted, the added benefit doesn’t come without a cost. It is far more difficult to be approved for an offer in compromise vs an installment agreement.
The IRS must believe that your financial situation does not allow you to fully pay back your tax debt. So that begs the question:
- How do you make them believe that your financial situation is dire, and
- How little can you offer the IRS to settle your debt without pissing them off?
Often a tax relief expert will be experienced in presenting your financial information in a way that can persuade the IRS to accept your offer in compromise. The specialist would also be able to fight for the minimum offer possible.
This would leave you with no wage garnishment and a lot more cash in your pocket. Read my article on offers in compromise to get a better picture of how it can save your life.
Pleading for hardships
Pleading for economic hardship, a.k.a begging for mercy, is a long shot. But successfully getting it can put the wage garnishment on hold for a long time.
Just like the “Effective Tax Administration” in an offer in compromise, you have to prove to the IRS that the garnishment would leave you with little to no money to live with.
If the result of this is economic hardship, then the IRS will likely put off the garnishment until your financial position improves.
I’ve written about how the IRS determines economic hardship in my article on how to stop a bank levy.
File for bankruptcy
Let’s face it, if you’re just looking to stop the IRS wage garnishment only, then this is super effective.
However, a wage garnishment is often the result of a larger problem – unpaid tax debt.
Your unpaid tax debt will not be wiped from the books. In fact, it will continue to accrue penalties and interest until it is settled.
In addition, a bankruptcy will have extremely unsettling effects on your life. Some negative outcomes are:
- Your credit score will tank massively,
- The black mark of a bankruptcy can stain your credit report for up to 10 years,
- It’ll be near impossible to get any sort of financing in the next few years,
- If you file for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, then some of your stuff may be taken and sold to pay off your creditors.
Now that you’ve seen what the fallout of a bankruptcy looks like, it’s easy to see why doing it is akin to kamikaze.
My recommendation for this method: being bankrupt for the sake of merely stopping a wage garnishment is not worth it.
Not in the least.
The IRS follows a strict set of rules when issuing a levy. If they fail to comply with any step in the process, then you might have grounds to get the wage levy removed.
What constitutes an administrative error? Some examples are:
- Levying your wages before sending you the proper notice (Notice of Final Intent to Levy)
- While an installment agreement, offer in compromise or innocent spouse relief arrangement was submitted, approved or in effect
- Levying your wages before giving you 30 days to respond to the notice
There are many administrative errors that the IRS may commit, and you can use that to defend your wages from being garnished. However, you must know where to look.
Again, a tax relief expert can help you here. They know all possible administrative errors the IRS can make, as well as the commonly successful ones.
This sounds like a joke, but it’s not. The IRS cannot garnish your salary if you’re no longer working for your employer.
If you are hired elsewhere, the IRS will have to prepare another garnishment plan, which can take a couple of months. This can buy you valuable breathing space.
I’d say that this is a relatively easy solution to implement.
However, this is a very short term fix and should not be used to resolve a wage levy once and for all. It may only be helpful if you were already in the process of changing jobs.
How Much Can the IRS Garnish?
The annoying answer is “it depends”. How much the IRS can garnish depends on:
- The amount of debt you owe – more owed means more garnished, and
- What the IRS determines you can live with after removing the funds from your wages.
I can only provide a more satisfactory answer on the second point. The IRS will likley consider the National Standards on Food Clothing and Other Items when deciding if they’re leaving your family enough from your wages.
Check out my article on stopping the IRS from freezing your account, where I’ve included a table of the National Standards.
It will be really tempting to implement some of the easier solutions in this guide (like changing jobs.) Admittedly, they work. However, they are short term fixes with costs that outweigh their benefits.
As you saw, they only buy you brief moments of respite before the IRS starts hounding you again.
To stop a wage garnishment once and for all, you need to put in the work. Setting up an installment agreement or offer in compromise takes a lot of research, patience and time.
If you want your wage garnishment to stop quickly, reach out to a tax relief specialist. These specialists have worked one IRS settlements for years, and they can get your wage garnishments to stop ASAP.
I recommend Community Tax Relief, which offers a free consultation to understand how complex your tax problem is. Community Tax has rave reviews and ticks all the boxes in what I look for in a tax relief company.