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Federal Guidelines for Garnishment

Updated for Tax Year 2015


The IRS can garnish your wages if back taxes are owed, but they must follow stringent guidelines.

If you owe the IRS for back taxes, the agency has the authority to levy or seize your property. A specific type of levy is the garnishment of your employment wages each week. However, before the IRS starts to take a portion of your salary, there are specific guidelines it must follow. Understanding the IRS garnishment rules may help you prepare for the garnishment or even allow you to challenge and stop it.

IRS procedures prior to garnishment

Once the IRS assesses your tax, you will generally receive notice and a Demand for Payment of the amount due. If you fail to pay this invoice, at some point after you will receive a Final Notice of Intent to Levy and a Notice of Your Right to a Hearing.

These last two documents must be sent at least 30 days before the IRS begins to garnish your wages. Before it reaches this point, you should contact the IRS and attempt to resolve the issue, possibly by submitting a request to get on a payment plan.

How much the IRS can garnish

When the IRS moves forward with your wage garnishment, your employer has no choice but to comply with the IRS and remit a portion of your wages to the agency to pay your tax bill. The IRS has more garnishment power than ordinary creditors insofar as it is not subject to the state and federal garnishment limitations, which means it can leave you with very little money each week to live on.

During 2015 for example, a single parent with two children who files as head of household can be left with as little as $409 per week. This means that if you earn $1,000 per week, the IRS takes $591 of it, and if you earn $2,000 per week, it can take $1,591. However, the amount of your garnishment will depend on how much tax you owe.

When you can stop wage garnishments

Unless the IRS agrees to an alternative resolution, such as a payment plan, there are a limited number of circumstances that require the IRS to cease garnishing your wages before your balance is paid in full. These include:

  • The IRS discovers that the time period to collect the tax from you expired before it served the garnishment notice
  • The IRS did not provide you the full 30 days to respond to the notice
  • You declare bankruptcy
  • The agency is considering your offer in compromise or request for installment plan when an appeal is in process

Appealing the IRS garnishment

It is always possible to request an appeals conference during the initial 30-day period after receiving your final notices. This is referred to as a Collections Due Process (CDP) hearing.

However, you should be aware that this is not the appropriate forum to dispute the amount of tax you owe; the appeal only deals with issues relating to the garnishment, such as if the IRS violates one of its own procedures. Generally, you would’ve had the opportunity to dispute the tax long before the IRS sends the Final Notice of Intent to Levy.

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The above article is intended to provide generalized financial information designed to educate a broad segment of the public; it does not give personalized tax, investment, legal, or other business and professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional who knows your particular situation for advice on taxes, your investments, the law, or any other business and professional matters that affect you and/or your business.

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