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Tax Lien


A tax lien is a legal claim imposed by a government agency on an individual or entity’s property due to their failure to pay taxes owed. This claim grants the government authority and priority over other creditors to seize and sell the property as a means of recovering the unpaid tax debt. The tax lien remains in effect until the debt is paid in full, or it is otherwise removed through legal action.


The phonetic pronunciation of “Tax Lien” is /tæks liːn/.

Key Takeaways

  1. Tax liens are legal claims by the government on a property due to the property owner’s unpaid taxes. They provide the government assurance that their unpaid taxes will be collected.
  2. Investors can purchase tax liens during tax lien sales or auctions, potentially earning interest or even acquiring the property if the owner fails to pay the outstanding taxes.
  3. Tax liens may pose risks and challenges for both property owners and investors, such as the owner losing their property or the investor facing hidden costs, property disputes, or needing to learn about local tax lien laws and regulations.


The term “Tax Lien” is important in business and finance because it refers to a legal claim initiated by governmental authorities on a person or business’s assets as a result of unpaid or delinquent taxes. This claim provides the government first priority over other creditors for the payment of debt and can impact an individual’s or company’s credit rating, borrowing capacity, and ability to sell or refinance assets. When a tax lien is in place, it can cause financial strain and restrict access to capital, potentially hindering a business’s growth or an individual’s financial goals. Understanding and managing tax liens effectively can help protect assets, improve financial stability, and maintain a healthy financial reputation.


Tax liens serve as a legal claim on a debtor’s property to secure the payment of overdue taxes. They are typically imposed by the federal, state, or local government on properties whose owners have failed to pay their taxes in a timely manner. The primary purpose of a tax lien is to ensure tax compliance and prompt people to fulfill their tax obligations. It is an effective risk management tool for governments since it dissuades taxpayers from avoiding their financial responsibilities and encourages them to prioritize their tax debts.

When a tax lien is placed on a property, the property owner cannot sell or refinance their asset without first clearing their outstanding taxes, penalties, and interest. Moreover, tax liens have the potential to negatively affect an individual’s credit score, making it difficult for them to obtain loans or financing in the future. In certain situations, a government may decide to sell a tax lien in the form of a tax lien certificate at a public auction. Investors may purchase these certificates, essentially buying the right to collect the delinquent taxes, plus the accrued interest and penalties. This provides the government with the funds it needs to maintain public services and incentivizes the property owners to pay their debt sooner.


1. Property Tax Lien: A homeowner in Florida failed to pay their property taxes for two consecutive years. As a result, the local county government placed a tax lien on the property. In this case, the homeowner must pay the overdue taxes, along with interest and penalties, before they can sell their property or refinance their mortgage. If the homeowner fails to settle the debt, the county may eventually auction off the tax lien to investors, who can then attempt to collect the debt from the homeowner or foreclose on the property.

2. IRS Tax Lien: A small business owner in California did not pay their federal income taxes for three years, accumulating a significant tax debt. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) filed a Notice of Federal Tax Lien against the business owner, making it a public record. This lien has a negative impact on the business owner’s credit rating, making it difficult for them to obtain credit or loans. If the business owner fails to pay the tax debt, the IRS can seize their assets or force the sale of their property to satisfy the debt.

3. State Tax Lien: A self-employed individual in New York neglected to pay their state income taxes and consequently had a tax lien placed on their personal assets by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. The lien attaches to all the individual’s assets, including their bank accounts, real estate, and personal property. To get the tax lien removed, they need to either pay the tax debt in full or negotiate a payment agreement with the state, agreeing to pay the debt in installments. If the individual fails to resolve the debt, the state can take further collection actions, such as wage garnishment or asset seizure.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is a Tax Lien?

A tax lien is a legal claim made by the government upon a property due to the property owner’s unpaid taxes. This can include federal, state, or local taxes. It gives the government the right to repossess the property or sell it to retrieve the outstanding tax amount.

How is a Tax Lien created?

A tax lien is created when a property owner fails to pay his/her taxes, and the government files a public document, known as a “Notice of Tax Lien.” It informs other creditors about the government’s claim on the property and restricts the owner’s ability to sell or refinance the property.

How does a Tax Lien affect a property owner?

A tax lien can severely impact a property owner’s credit score, making it difficult to obtain loans or refinance existing debts. It also restricts the owner’s ability to sell or transfer the property freely, as the lien must be cleared before any real estate transaction can be completed.

How can a Tax Lien be removed?

A tax lien can be removed by paying the outstanding taxes in full or negotiating a payment plan with the taxing authority. Once the debt is settled, the lien is released, and the property owner can proceed with selling or refinancing the property.

Can a Tax Lien be disputed?

Yes, a property owner can dispute a tax lien if they believe it was filed in error or if the taxes have already been paid. It is essential to provide evidence to the taxing authority to support the claim and work diligently to resolve the issue.

What is a Tax Lien Sale?

A tax lien sale occurs when a government authority sells the tax lien or the property to recover the unpaid tax amount. The purchaser of the tax lien can collect interest on the debt from the property owner or, in some cases, foreclose on the property.

Are Tax Liens publicly recorded?

Yes, tax liens are a matter of public record and are usually filed with the local county clerk or recorder’s office. These records can be accessed by the public or during a title search before any real estate transaction.

How long do Tax Liens stay on a credit report?

Unpaid tax liens can remain on a credit report indefinitely, but once the debt is paid, the lien should be removed from the credit report within seven years.

Can a Tax Lien be transferred to a new property owner?

No, tax liens are attached to the property and not the individual. If a property is sold, the lien must be cleared by the seller before transferring the title. However, if a property is inherited, the new owner may become responsible for resolving the lien.

Related Finance Terms

  • 1. Property Seizure
  • 2. Tax Delinquency
  • 3. Tax Lien Certificate
  • 4. Tax Lien Auction
  • 5. Tax Lien Redemption

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