Tax Lien Certificates

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What is an IRS Federal Tax Lien?

An Internal Revenue Service (IRS) federal tax lien arises when a taxpayer fails to pay any tax after a demand by the IRS for payment. This is a statutory lien based on section 6321 of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). The lien is sometimes called a “secret lien” because it exists as a matter of law; the filing of a notice publicly announcing its existence is not required.

Even though the lien can be perfected without the filing of a notice, filing is important in establishing the IRS’s priority against other claimants to the taxpayer’s property. IRC 6323(f) provides the rules for filing a notice of a federal tax lien against real property. For real property, the notice is filed in the office designated by the state where the property is located. For most states, the notice is filed with the land records in the county where the property is located. The residence of a corporation of partnership is the place where the principal office is located. A notice of federal tax lien for a taxpayer who resides abroad is filed with the Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia.

The IRS has created the Automated Lien System (ALS) to generate notices and releases of federal tax liens. The information is released to the state recording offices and the District of Columbia Recorder of Deeds.

When a notice shows an assessment is more than ten years old, the IRS is required to refile its notice of tax lien within a one year period ending ten years and 30 days after the date of the assessment.

Links to all of the county recorders by state can be found by visiting the All Things Political website. Under County and Local Websites, click on County Recorders. Click on the state you are interested in, and on the next webpage scroll down a little to find links to the county recorder offices.

Example: Brevard County, Florida Clerk of Court

  1. Go to the Florida Clerk of Court website.
  2. Under Public Records at the bottom of the page, click on Official Records.
  3. Click on Search January 1981 – Current.
  4. Enter your search criteria. In the field Document Type, enter the letter “L” for Lien (you can select Lien by clicking on the three dots and selecting this item).
  5. To see an example of information provided for liens, you can click on Search Records with the only search criteria entered being the lien document type and any first name/last name example (such as Smith,Joe).
  6. On the results page, click on one of the First Direct Names that shows the US IRS as a First Indirect Name. You can then click on View Image to see a copy of the Notice of Federal Tax Lien.

Example: Travis County, Texas County Clerk

  1. Go to the Travis County or Travis County Clerk webpage.
  2. Click on Records Search under On This Site.
  3. Click on the Travis County website to go to the county’s public access website.
  4. Under Official Public Records, click on Search Official Public Records.
  5. Enter the search criteria. In the Document Type field, select Federal Tax Liens and Notices. (There is also a Federal Tax Releases and Waivers selection.) Click on Search.
  6. To see an example of information provided for federal tax liens and notices, you can click on Search with the only search criteria entered being that document type.
  7. On the results page, click on the Instrument # for more details, including tabs for Legal Description, and Related Documents.

Example: District of Columbia Recorder of Deeds

  1. Go to the District of Columbia's Recorder of Deeds website.
  2. Register (free of charge) to access the online records.
  3. Once your account is activated, log in on the Recorder of Deeds site by clicking on Login/Begin Search.
  4. Select Land Records from Application Menu.
  5. Choose one of the Searches Available (e.g., Data/Document Type).
  6. Select US Tax Lien under Available Types and then click on the right-facing red arrow to move that selection to the right under Selected Types.
  7. Input the Filing Date range (note: do not type in the forward slash – that is done automatically). You may only search a maximum range of one year.
  8. Click on Go Search.

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