Tuesday, December 16, 2008

IRS to help homeowners refinance or sell homes

WASHINGTON – The Internal Revenue Service said Tuesday it will try to make it easier for homeowners in financial straits to refinance or sell their homes.

The plan announced by IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman would speed up a process where financially distressed homeowners may request that a federal tax lien be made secondary to liens by the lending institution that is refinancing or restructuring a loan.

Taxpayers will also be able to ask the IRS to discharge, or remove, its claim to a property in certain circumstances where the property is being sold for less than the amount of the mortgage lien.

"We need to ensure that we balance our responsibility to enforce the law with the economic realities facing many American citizens today," Shulman said, stressing that "we don't want the IRS to be a barrier to people saving or selling their homes."

He said the program will focus on those people who ordinarily pay their taxes in full but "because of these extraordinary times are getting behind in their tax payments."

A tax lien occurs when the government makes a legal claim to property as security or payment for a tax debt. The government thus notifies other creditors that it has a claim on the property.

The IRS can rule that its lien will be secondary to another lien, such as that of a lending institution, if it determines that taking a subordinate position will ultimately help with the collection of the tax debt. Taxpayers or their representatives may apply for a "subordination" of a tax lien if they are refinancing or restructuring their mortgage.

Lending institutions generally want their lien to have priority on the home being used as collateral.

Taxpayers may also request a certificate of discharge if they are giving up ownership of the property at an amount less than the mortgage lien if the mortgage lien is senior to the tax lien. A discharge does not relieve a person of the tax that is owed, but it does remove the lien on a particular property such as a home. The IRS would still maintain its lien on other possessions of the taxpayer.

Normally it takes about 30 days to rule on a request for a discharge or subordination of a tax lien, but Shulman said the IRS will work to speed up that process so there would be no delays for people trying to obtain new mortgage loans. The IRS urged people to contact the agency's Collection Advisory Group early in the home sale or refinancing process.

The agency said it issues more than 600,000 federal tax lien notices annually and that currently there are more than 1 million outstanding tax liens tied to both real and personal property.

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