Can You Buy a House If You Owe Taxes?

Couple wanting to buy a house

Navigating the complex world of real estate can become even more intricate when you’re grappling with questions like, “Can You Buy a House if You Owe Back Taxes?”. This is a situation where understanding the difference between tax lien and tax debt, their impact on your federal taxes, and how they affect your eligibility for a mortgage loan, becomes incredibly important. This article provides a comprehensive overview of these concerns and more. We will delve into the nuances of tax-related obstacles in home buying, discuss strategies for managing back taxes, and shed light on how professional tax assistance can smooth out the process.

Another aspect to consider when dealing with back taxes and aspiring for homeownership is the type of mortgage you might qualify for. For instance, FHA loans are government-insured loans that might be an option, even for those dealing with tax debt.

Whether you’re planning to clear your tax debt prior to house hunting, or looking for ways to balance payment plans with property taxes and mortgage payments, this guide is designed to assist every aspiring homeowner in their quest.

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Determining the Problem: Tax Lien or Tax Debt?

When you are faced with a housing tax-related problem, it is essential to determine whether it is a tax lien or a tax debt. This distinction will help you understand the problem and find appropriate solutions.

A tax lien refers to a legal claim that the government makes on a property due to unpaid taxes. This lien gives the government the right to seize the property to pay off the tax debt. If there is a tax lien on the property, this can complicate the home buying process and may need to be resolved before proceeding.

Tax lien on property

On the other hand, tax debt refers to the amount of money owed to the tax authorities, either at the local or federal level, due to unpaid taxes and which hasn’t necessarily ended up as a tax lien on your property. This debt can arise for a variety of reasons, such as underpayments, errors on tax returns, or failure to file returns at all. It is important to determine the extent of the tax debt and how it may affect the mortgage application process.

When applying for a mortgage or loan, lenders typically evaluate the applicant’s financial situation, including tax liabilities. Any outstanding tax debt or tax lien may affect the approval process and may require resolution before proceeding with the loan application.

What Impact Does Tax Debt Have on the Ability to Buy a House?

If you have significant tax debt, it could show up on your statements and raise concerns for lenders about your ability to take on new financial obligations, such as paying a mortgage.

In addition, lenders often require tax records, such as tax returns, W-2 forms or 1099 statements, during the mortgage application process. If you have outstanding tax debt, this may indicate financial instability and negatively affect the lender’s decision to approve your mortgage application.

Tax debt, especially if unresolved, can result in federal or state tax liens. These liens can affect your assets, including property, and affect your financial situation. Lenders may view tax liens as a risk and may be reluctant to grant a mortgage until the liens are resolved.

In addition to the mortgage itself, you must also consider closing costs when buying a home, which typically include loan origination fees, appraisal, title search and other related expenses. If you have outstanding tax debt, it can affect your ability to cover these additional costs, complicating the home buying process.

How Does a Tax Lien Affect the Process of Buying a House?

A tax lien, especially a federal tax lien, presents a legal claim by the government on your assets due to unpaid taxes, including real estate taxes. Its existence significantly influences several facets of the home buying procedure:

  • Mortgage approval: Procuring a mortgage loan may become challenging if you have a tax lien. Lenders perceive it as a risk, given that in a default scenario, the lien gets priority over the mortgage. This precedence implies that the government will be reimbursed first, reducing the likelihood of mortgage approval. Or, it could result in less favorable loan conditions like elevated interest rates.
  • Credit score impact: A tax lien not only mars your credit report but can also cause a substantial dip in your credit score. This decrease can negatively affect your loan approval process and the stipulations of your loan, given that a lower score often translates into higher mortgage interest rates, reducing your chances of claiming a mortgage interest credit.
  • Title search and insurance: In real estate transactions, a title search is commonly performed to ensure the property isn’t burdened with any liens. Discovery of a tax lien necessitates its resolution before the transaction can proceed. Additionally, many title insurance firms might hesitate to issue a policy for a house burdened with an active tax lien, a requirement that many lenders insist upon.
  • Home sale complications: If the seller of the house you’re buying has an outstanding tax lien on the property, they’ll need to clear it before the sale can continue. This situation can extend the closing process as the IRS must receive and process the payment to clear the lien.

Mortgage approval process

In conclusion, a tax lien can make the process of buying a house more complex by impacting your mortgage approval, affecting your credit score, interfering with title insurance, and potentially causing delays in closing. However, enlisting the aid of a tax professional could help you manage these complexities and potentially negotiate a resolution with the IRS to lift the lien.

Tips for Buying a House when Owning Back Taxes

Buying a home when you have back taxes can be a challenge, but with proper planning, it can be done. Before embarking on the process, it is crucial to assess your current financial situation and consider your tax debt. You must understand your income, expenses and overall debt in order to plan for monthly mortgage payments and manage your tax debt at the same time.

It is critical to address your back taxes before or during a home purchase. Leaving that debt unresolved can affect your financial stability and credit worthiness. You should consult with a tax professional to develop a strategy to resolve your tax obligations. This may include setting up a payment plan with the tax authorities or negotiating a payment agreement.

Tax help cta

When calculating your monthly payments, consider the mortgage amount, interest rate and payment term. Make sure you can comfortably afford these payments while meeting your tax obligations and other expenses. Maintaining a balanced budget is essential to avoid further financial stress.

Be sure to check for local or federal homeowner assistance programs that may be able to help you. These programs are designed to provide financial support or resources to homeowners facing various challenges. Visit government websites or check with housing agencies to explore possible options that fit your needs.

Some additional tips to keep in mind when you’re thinking of buying a house may include:

Clearing Your Tax Debt as a Priority

If you have a tax debt and want to prioritize its settlement, there are several steps you can take to effectively manage the situation. It is important to assess your current financial situation, including your income, expenses and savings. Understanding your financial situation will help you develop a plan to pay off your tax debt.

Once you have assessed your financial situation, it is important to review the tax penalties that have been applied to your tax debt. Familiarizing yourself with the specific penalties and interest and their amounts will allow you to create a payment strategy.

Couple stressed by tax debt

Maintaining open communication with the tax authorities is essential. You should contact them to discuss your situation and explore possible options. In many cases, tax authorities offer Installment Agreements that allow you to settle your debt in monthly installments. These agreements require regular payments over an extended period of time. Talk to the tax authorities to learn the terms and conditions of this type of agreement and determine if it is appropriate for your situation.

Another option to consider is an Offer in Compromise. Depending on your financial circumstances, you may qualify for an Offer in Compromise. This option allows you to settle your tax debt for less than the full amount owed. However, proof of financial hardship is generally required. Consult with the tax authorities or a tax professional to determine if you are eligible for this program.

To prioritize paying off your tax debt, you may want to adjust your budget. Look for areas where you can temporarily or permanently reduce expenses to allocate more funds for tax payments.

Setting Up a Payment Plan with the IRS

If you have tax debts and need to set up a payment plan with the IRS, there are several options available to you. However, it is important to keep in mind that transfer taxes, tax expenses and mortgage-related issues may have specific rules and regulations, so it is advisable to consult a tax professional or CPA for personalized guidance. These are some steps to take when setting up a payment plan with the IRS.

  • Determine your eligibility: Before setting up a payment plan, make sure you meet the requirements. In general, individuals who owe $50,000 or less in combined taxes, penalties and interest, and businesses that owe $25,000 or less, may qualify for an online payment agreement.
  • Online Payment Agreement: The IRS offers an online payment agreement tool called the Online Payment Agreement (OPA). You can access it through the IRS website and request a payment plan. This method is suitable for those who meet the eligibility criteria and wish to set up a monthly payment plan for a fixed period.

IRS Payment plan

  • Installment Agreement request: If you do not qualify for the online payment agreement or prefer to handle the process offline, you can complete Form 9465, Installment Agreement Request, and mail it to the IRS. This form allows you to request a monthly payment plan.
  • Offer in Compromise: In certain cases, if you are unable to pay your tax debt in full or through a payment plan, you may be eligible for an Offer in Compromise (OIC). This program allows you to pay off your tax debt for less than the full amount owed. However, OICs are generally difficult to qualify for and require substantial evidence of financial hardship.
  • Seek professional advice: Depending on the complexity of your tax situation, it may be beneficial to consult a tax professional or CPA. They can provide personalized guidance based on your specific circumstances and help you navigate the process of setting up a payment plan with the IRS.

Seeking Assistance from a Community Tax Professional

Facing the challenges of unpaid taxes, especially when you’re looking to buy a home, can feel daunting and complicated. However, our Community Tax professionals are here to simplify this process and guide you towards the best possible solutions.

As your trusted advisors, we are skilled in dealing with all tax-related matters. We’re proficient in liaising with the IRS, understand the nuances of tax legislation, and are equipped to put in place strategies to manage unpaid taxes and their ensuing consequences.

One of the methods we can help with is facilitating a repayment agreement with the IRS. Such an agreement allows you to pay back your unpaid taxes in manageable increments, easing the immediate financial burden while ensuring you meet your tax obligations.

Furthermore, we can assist you in establishing an Installment Agreement with the IRS. This agreement can be pivotal in preventing further penalties, sidestepping the filing of a tax lien, and keeping you on track towards your dream of homeownership. An Installment Agreement enables you to pay off your tax debt over a longer period, making it an attainable part of your financial planning.

Community Tax Professional

Remember, the aim is to clear any tax hurdles standing in the way of your new home. At Community Tax, we provide the guidance and expertise to help you do just that, navigate through the complexities of unpaid taxes, and assist you in finding the most appropriate resolution tailored to your situation.

In conclusion, owning back taxes doesn’t necessarily prohibit you from becoming a homeowner. However, the journey can become challenging and involve some significant roadblocks if you don’t navigate your path wisely. Identifying whether you’re dealing with tax debt or a tax lien is the first crucial step to understanding the extent of your situation and the potential implications on your house purchasing process.

Tax debt can create difficulties when trying to secure a mortgage loan as lenders often consider your financial responsibility and creditworthiness. Having tax debt can affect your credit score and signal financial instability, making lenders hesitant. Clearing your tax debt or establishing a solid payment plan with the IRS can significantly improve your standing and increase your chances of successfully obtaining a loan.

On the other hand, a tax lien, can make the home buying process even more complex. It affects your credit report directly, hinders the mortgage approval process, and can limit your options in the real estate market. The lien can remain in place until the tax debt is settled, or it may lead to a bank levy, where the IRS can seize your funds to pay the tax debt.

Nevertheless, with the right strategy, these obstacles can be surmounted. Paying off your tax debt should be a priority if it’s within your means. However, setting up a payment plan with the IRS can be a beneficial alternative if you need more time to fulfill your obligations. This not only shows your commitment to resolving your financial obligations but also may make potential lenders more comfortable with granting you a mortgage loan.

Lastly, seeking assistance from a Community Tax professional can be invaluable. Our experts are here to offer advice and guidance, help you navigate the intricacies of tax laws, and assist in establishing repayment or Installment Agreements. We’re committed to helping you tackle your tax challenges, paving the way for your journey into homeownership.

Visit our FAQ section below to find answers to some common questions related to this!


What varieties of tax debt exist?

Several varieties of tax debt exist, each with its own specificities:

  • Income tax debt: This is likely the most common type, originating from unpaid taxes on your earned income. If you underpay or fail to pay your income taxes, you’ll accumulate income tax debt.
  • Federal tax lien: This is not a debt itself but rather the government’s legal claim against your property when you neglect or fail to pay a tax debt. A lien protects the government’s interest in all your property, including real estate, personal property and financial assets.
  • State tax debt: This is debt owed to your state of residence and can encompass income taxes, sales taxes, or other state-specific levies. The regulations and rules regarding state tax debt can vary widely from state to state.
  • Noncompliance penalties: If you don’t file your tax returns or fail to pay taxes, the IRS can impose penalties, which then become a part of your tax debt. These penalties can quickly add up and compound the original amount you owe.
  • Payroll tax debt: If you’re a business owner who has employees, you’re responsible for withholding, reporting, and paying payroll taxes. If you fail to do any of these, you could be hit with a payroll tax debt.
  • Sales tax debt: This applies to businesses that fail to remit the appropriate amount of sales tax they’ve collected from customers.

In all these cases, it’s essential to manage and address tax debt promptly to avoid compounding penalties and interest.

Is it possible to obtain a mortgage with a tax lien?

Obtaining a mortgage with a tax lien is challenging but possible. A tax lien affects your creditworthiness and may require resolving the debt before obtaining a mortgage. Some lenders are more flexible, and government-backed programs may have more lenient requirements.

How do lenders know if you owe back taxes?

Lenders can determine if you owe back taxes in several ways. One is by accessing your tax records and reviewing your financial documents, such as tax returns and W-2 or 1099 forms. These records provide a detailed look at your income, deductions and tax liabilities. By reviewing this information, lenders can identify any outstanding tax debts.

In addition, lenders can also check your credit history. Credit reports collect information from a variety of sources, including public records. If you have unpaid taxes, tax liens or other tax-related problems, they may appear as negative items on your credit report. Lenders may consider this information when evaluating your creditworthiness.

Couple checking their credit history

When you apply for a mortgage loan, lenders are likely to ask for updated financial documents, including tax-related documents. This allows them to assess your current financial situation and determine if you have any outstanding tax liabilities.

Another way lenders can find out if you owe back taxes is through IRS notifications. In certain cases, the IRS may inform lenders of a taxpayer’s outstanding tax debt. This usually occurs when a federal tax lien is filed against the taxpayer’s property. The IRS notifies creditors to ensure that they are aware of the potential claim against the property and can take appropriate action.

It is important to note that lenders have different policies and procedures, so their methods for verifying tax debts may vary. However, reviewing tax records, financial documents, credit reports and receiving notices from the IRS are common ways lenders determine if a borrower owes back taxes.

Can you purchase a house if you haven’t filed your taxes?

The ability to purchase a home is generally influenced by several factors, and your income tax status can have an impact. While it is not a legal requirement to have filed your taxes in order to purchase a home, there are several considerations to keep in mind.

When you apply for a mortgage loan, lenders generally require documentation of your financial situation, including proof of income. This documentation is commonly provided in the form of tax returns. If you have not filed your taxes, it may be difficult to provide the necessary income verification to lenders, which could affect your ability to get approved for a mortgage.

Lenders use tax returns to evaluate the stability of your income and your ability to repay the loan. If you have not filed your taxes, lenders may request alternative methods of income verification. This may involve providing other financial documents, such as bank statements, pay stubs or employment contracts. However, each lender’s requirements may vary, so it is essential to check directly with them to understand their specific criteria.

Filing taxes is crucial to correctly determine your tax liability. If you haven’t filed your taxes, it can be difficult to know how much you owe or whether you are eligible for any deductions or tax credits. This uncertainty can affect your financial planning and your ability to manage your mortgage payments effectively.

Can you purchase a house if you owe state taxes?

If you owe state taxes, the ability to buy a home will depend on several factors, including the laws and regulations of the specific state, the amount owed, and the taxpayer’s individual circumstances.

When you owe a state tax debt, the state government may place a tax lien or encumbrance on your property. This means that the government has a legal claim on your property as security for the tax debt. A tax lien can potentially affect your ability to sell or transfer the property until the tax debt is resolved.

Another important consideration is that a state tax debt can negatively affect your credit score. This is a significant factor that lenders consider when approving mortgage applications. A lower credit score can make it more difficult to obtain financing to purchase a home or result in higher interest rates.

However, many states offer payment plans or other options to help taxpayers pay off their tax debts. By entering into a payment plan with the state taxing authority and making regular payments, you may be able to pay off tax debt and still be eligible for a mortgage. Each state has its own rules and procedures for this type of arrangement.

In some cases, you may also be able to negotiate a payment arrangement with the state taxing authority. This could involve paying a reduced amount to pay off the debt. It is important to consult with a tax professional or an experienced tax attorney to explore this option and determine its feasibility.

What sets apart a tax lien from a tax levy?

A tax lien and a tax levy, while similar, are different steps within the process of debt collection by the IRS. Both can come into play when dealing with unpaid taxes, but they are applied in different ways and carry distinct implications.

A tax lien is essentially the government’s claim against your assets due to unpaid taxes. It’s the initial step taken by the IRS to secure its interest over your property. When a tax lien is in place, it can make it difficult for you to sell your assets or acquire new credit because it signals to other creditors that the government has the first right to your assets. However, it’s important to note that a tax lien doesn’t mean the IRS will seize your property; it just secures the government’s claim.

Priority claim lien

On the other hand, a tax levy is a more aggressive action and is the actual process by which the IRS seizes your property to settle the tax debt. When a tax levy is enforced, the IRS can take your property directly, sell it and use the proceeds to pay off your tax debt. They can also levy financial accounts, wages, or any other income. Essentially, a levy is the action taken after a lien that physically takes the property to satisfy the tax liability.

In short, a tax lien secures the government’s interest in your property due to unpaid taxes, while a tax levy is the actual seizure of that property to pay off the debt. Both are serious matters and require immediate attention to resolve. If you find yourself facing a lien or levy, it’s strongly recommended that you seek professional tax advice to navigate the process and explore possible resolutions.

Can you use a credit card to buy a house?

In most cases, it is not possible to buy a house directly using a credit card. While credit cards can be used for various purchases, including large expenses, buying a house typically involves a much higher price tag that exceeds the credit limit on most credit cards. Additionally, the terms and conditions of credit card issuers usually prohibit using credit cards for purchasing real estate. 

When it comes to buying a house, it is more common to use traditional financing options such as a mortgage loan. A mortgage is a specific type of loan designed for purchasing real estate. It allows borrowers to secure funding based on their creditworthiness, income, and other factors. Lenders consider various factors, including credit scores, credit reports, and financial history, to determine eligibility and loan terms. 

Credit scores and credit reports play significant roles in the mortgage application process. Lenders review these factors to assess an individual’s creditworthiness and determine the interest rate and loan terms they are willing to offer. A higher credit score and a positive credit history generally increase the chances of qualifying for a mortgage and getting more favorable terms. 

Therefore, while a credit card cannot typically be used directly to buy a house, maintaining a good credit score and a positive credit history can help in securing a mortgage loan with favorable terms when purchasing a home.

Are home improvements eligible for tax deductions?

The eligibility of home improvements for tax deductions largely depends on the nature and purpose of these improvements. Generally, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) does not allow deductions for typical home improvements on your personal residence if they simply add to the value of your home or prolong its useful life. However, there are specific cases where you can get a tax benefit.

If you’ve made improvements to your home for medical purposes – such as installing ramps or modifying bathrooms for better accessibility, these costs can potentially be deducted as medical expenses. But, these deductions are subject to certain limitations and it’s important to keep detailed records and receipts.

Home improvements can also have tax implications when you sell your home. Capital improvements, like a new roof or an upgraded kitchen, can increase the cost basis of your home, thus potentially reducing the amount of capital gains tax you might owe when you sell.

If you’re using part of your home regularly and exclusively for business purposes, you may be able to deduct a portion of your home improvement costs through the home office deduction.

Lastly, certain energy-efficient home improvements can qualify for tax credits. The Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit, for example, offers a tax credit for installation of alternative energy equipment in your home.

Tax laws can be complex and change frequently, so it’s always a good idea to consult with a tax professional to understand how home improvements can impact your specific tax situation. 

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