If you can’t pay your taxes, one option might be an IRS payment plan — if you know the rules.
What is an IRS payment plan?
An IRS payment plan is an agreement you make directly with the agency to pay your federal tax bill over a certain amount of time. There are two kinds of IRS payment plans: short-term and long-term.
Typically you'll make monthly payments to settle what you owe. So long as you're keeping up with that, the IRS usually won't garnish your wages or seize any bank accounts or property. But getting on an IRS payment plan doesn’t get you out of interest and penalties for late payment; those accrue until your balance is zero.
» MORE: See more ways to pay the IRS
Who is eligible for an IRS payment plan
You don’t need to call the IRS to get on a payment plan. You can apply online if either of these situations apply to you:
You’re applying for a long-term payment plan, you owe $50,000 or less in combined tax, penalties and interest, and you’ve filed all your tax returns.
You’re applying for a short-term payment plan and you owe less than $100,000 in combined tax, penalties and interest.
You’ll need to confirm your identity, which means having the following information on hand:
Name exactly as it appears on your most recently filed tax return.
A valid email address.
Address from your most recently filed tax return.
Date of birth.
Your Social Security number or Individual Tax ID Number.
Balance due amount.
Financial account number, mobile phone registered in your name or an activation code received by mail (takes five to 10 business days).
Here's a potential timesaver: If you’ve previously registered for a tax transcript, Identity Protection PIN or another online payment agreement, you probably can log in with the same user ID and password.
Or you can fill out IRS Form 9465 and mail it to the IRS.
Minimum monthly payments for IRS payment plans
In general, you can choose what you pay every month. That is, the IRS will ask you what you can afford. However, if you're on a long-term payment plan, you must choose a payment amount that will pay off your debt within 72 months.
What are the fees for an IRS payment plan?
The cost of an IRS payment plan depends on which plan you choose, how you apply for the plan and whether you qualify for a fee reduction.
Maximum you can owe
Short-term payment plan* (180 days or less)
$100,000 in combined tax, penalties and interest.
Long-term payment plan** (120 days or more)
$50,000 in combined tax, penalties and interest.
* On Nov. 2, 2020, the IRS extended this from 120 days.
** Also called an “installment agreement” or a Direct Debit Installment Agreement (DDIA)
You may qualify as a low-income applicant if your adjusted gross income is at or below 250% of the federal poverty level. (See if you qualify on IRS Form 13844.) If you’re a low-income taxpayer, the IRS waives the user fee if you agree to let it make automatic withdrawals from your bank account for the payments. If you qualify as a low-income taxpayer but are unable to make electronic debit payments, the IRS will reimburse you for the user fee when you pay off your balance.
If you make your payments with a debit or credit card, you’ll have to pay a processing fee. The charge for debit cards runs about $2 to $4 per payment; the charge for credit cards is about 2% of the payment.
If you owe more than $25,000, you have to make your payments via automatic withdrawals from a bank account (“direct debit”).
Making changes to an IRS payment plan
The IRS offers an online tool that lets you change your monthly payment amount, change the monthly due date, sign up for automatic withdrawals and reinstate a payment plan you’ve fallen behind on. However, that works only if you’re not making payments through direct debit.
If you’re on a plan where the payments are coming out of your bank account automatically, you have to contact the IRS directly.
There might be a reinstatement fee if your plan goes into default.
As part of the government's ongoing coronavirus response, the IRS also didn't deem any installment agreements in default between April 1 and July 15, 2020. But interest still accrued on unpaid balances.
Can I apply for an IRS payment plan myself?
Yes. You are not required to pay a third party to apply for a payment plan.
If you do hire a tax-relief company to help you settle your debt, you may have to give it power of attorney to apply for an IRS payment plan on your behalf. And proceed with caution, as the Federal Trade Commission warns on its website.
“The truth is that most taxpayers don’t qualify for the programs these fraudsters hawk, their companies don’t settle the tax debt, and in many cases don’t even send the necessary paperwork to the IRS requesting participation in the programs that were mentioned. Adding insult to injury, some of these companies don’t provide refunds, and leave people even further in debt,” it states.
Find the tax relief company that's best for you
We've weighed the pros and cons of some major players in the space.