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Why borrowing money, from a bank, your retirement, a rich uncle to pay off the IRS may be the worst idea.

Whenever you call the IRS about a past due tax bill, or a Revenue Officer makes “first contact” with you, one of the first things that an IRS employee will do is ask you, is that you pay your past due IRS tax bill in full. Once you tell them that you are  unable to pay your debt in full (and before they ask you if you want to pay it off with an installment agreement) the next thing they will ask you, is “can you borrow money to pay off the your tax bill?

Well before you go ask for money from a bank, your parents or a rich uncle, first read this article on why borrowing money to pay the IRS off in full, in some circumstances, is the worst possible idea.

IRS payoff amount

Before asking to borrow money for your rich uncle to pay off an IRS lien, read the rest of this article.

Why it may be a good idea to borrow money to pay off the IRS

Don’t get me wrong, there are great reasons to pay off an IRS tax bill. The IRS is unlike any tax collector in the world.

  • They can levy your bank accounts and wages without a court order.
  • A notice of federal tax lien filed against you? Your credit score is reduced by 100 points. Pay a lien in full and you can request a lien withdrawal, which is a good a never having a lien in the first place.
  • If you ignore them, the IRS may come to your house or place of business.
  • Penalties for non-payment can really add up.
  • Interest charges will also pile up




Why it may be a horrible idea to borrow money pay off the IRS

Now why could it be a horrible idea? Well, let me tell you a true story (names have been changed). 

Bruce Banner came to my office in 2005. He owed the IRS about $200,000 in payroll taxes. We talked and it looked like he may qualify for an Offer in Compromise.  Bruce said he would borrow money from his parents to pay our fee. We would get started the following week. But I didn’t see him. So I called. I said Bruce, what’s going on? He said “Great news! When I asked my parents for your fee they said ‘why don’t we just give you money to pay the IRS off?’ So they are taking money from their savings so and I’m finally getting rid of my tax problem. I feel great!”

So I congratulated Bruce and wished him well.

So now, why does this story not end happily ever after?

For the clue, I will point to this statement of Bruce’s:

“I’m finally getting rid of my tax problem”

Because guess what, Bruce did not get rid of his tax problem. Why?

Two reasons. First, The IRS did not go away. IRS taxes are on-going, Bruce seemed to forget about that. Fixing an old problem may not be stop an new problem from happening. Which leads us the next problem.

Because the next year, in 2006, Bruce ran up a new tax debt. He never fixed the bad habits that caused the tax problem in the first place. And now he had the additional burden of having to repay his parents each month.

So what happened to Bruce? He had a hard time paying his parents back so he shorted his payroll taxes again from 2006-2010.

Bruce never solved the underlying problem that was the root cause of his tax problem. And the root cause of his tax problem was that he has a bloated payroll expenses and a business that needed serious restructuring, and personal expenses out of control. Instead of addressing these issues in 2005, when I first met him, Bruce just “threw money” at his tax problem and hoped it would go away.

So he came back to see me in 2010, now $300,000 in debt. And the IRS in on his back. His parents were furious at him. He wasn’t repaying them on schedule and now he had another tax problem, that was even bigger!

So Bruce called me again so I sat down with Bruce and his parent and explained what happened, and that Bruce’s case is rather common. I explained how  paying off an IRS bill without solving the underlying problem is a horrible idea. I explained that the IRS is more than happy to take as much money today, regardless if there is an actual exit plan from a tax problem.


Bruce’s first priority should have been to fix his business.

See, the money Bruce borrowed from his parents to pay off his federal tax liens was really a band-aid. The truth was that Bruce’s business was failing and he didn’t want to have to face that reality. So he hoped things would turn around, they always seemed to. But this recession was unlike any other, and so Bruce continued being on the IRS bad side.


Bruce needed a recovery plan.

In 2006, it was a tough sell to explain to Bruce that he shouldn’t pay off the IRS, but rather, have someone take a look at what was going on and get an independent adviser to tell him what to do and develop a real recovery plan. But at the time, he was so relieved to get this tax problem behind hm, he admitted he acted foolishly. 

The good news is that the second time around, in 2010, his parents did agree this time to pay our fee and no longer just give Bruce money to throw to the IRS. He agreed to try it our way. So among other things, we secured the loan to his parents against Bruce house, so now that was an allowable business expense on his 433b, lowering his “collection potential.”

I’d like to say the Bruce didn’t have to make any uncomfortable changes. He had to find a new lease, he had to fire his old bookkeeper, and his wife had to cut down on her discretionary spending. But after we prioritized Bruce’s goals, we were able to get a real plan together that permanently ended his tax problems. Additionally, we were able to use our plan to demonstrate to the IRS that the amount we offered to settle Bruce’s taxes was fair.



  1. I agree with your advice to the client. Sometimes clients just get scared and will do exactly the wrong thing. Yes, you had no control over the client's decision to pay the assessments. However, this just put a band aide on the under lying problem, his business decisions. I like to caution the client to call me if he/she will not follow my recommendation so that we can discuss his/her decision before it happens. Yes I know this does not always work but at least it might put a "bug" in his mind before it happens.

    From your course of action beginning with the client's failure to initially follow your advice to his finally deciding to "do the right thing" I congratulate you. After all we representatives like to think we can help the client and you did.

  2. This article has little to do with how to handle IRS tax liens but allot about avoiding to become an enabler. No, the solution is not to hire a professional. The solution for parents is to apply tough love, by not enabling their kids to burn their hard earned money without having to suffer consequences and being forced to address the real issue – their total irresponsible behavior in running a business. Otherwise, they enable their kids to continue to do what they do know how to do best. To play their role of a victim who needs protection from "parents and what they call best friends" from their predators – the IRS, Banks, Credit Card Companies and any other lenders who were stupid enough to give them money and. They should have known that they never have money, so what's the big deal about them wanting their money back.

  3. As a career IRS revenue officer the first thing I told any delinquent taxpayer was that they had to stop the bleeding. Since retireing I went over to the Dark Side as an enrolled agent representing clients on the other side of the desk and tell them the same thing. Some things never changel.

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