Managing Debt

Will the IRS Start Hiring Debt Collectors to Come After You?

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The idea of combining taxes and debt collectors sounds like something off a list called “Consumers’ Worst Nightmares.” As terrible as that may sound, the taxman and debt collectors have joined forces before, and it could again become a reality, The Washington Post reported last week.

A measure in a bill before the Senate would require the IRS to pass millions of back taxes to private debt collectors. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) championed the measure, which is part of a bill renewing a slew of expired tax breaks, with the goal of rounding up outstanding taxes IRS agents cannot collect, because they failed to locate or contact the person who owes the money.

The program could wrangle $4.8 billion in delinquent taxes, according to a congressional estimate cited by Schumer’s aides, and private debt collectors would get a quarter of that ($1.2 billion). Two of the four collections agencies authorized to collect debts for federal agencies are in New York. One is in Iowa and the other is in California.

Previous attempts to shift tax debts to private collectors in the late 1990s and from 2005 to 2009 were costly and unsuccessful, but the tax-break bill containing Schumer’s measure seems unlikely to get that far. Debtors would probably be happy with that, because consumers complained of harassment during previous IRS/debt collector partnerships. (It’s important to note that this type of behavior is one of many that are prohibited under federal law.)

People struggling to pay taxes or outstanding debts understandably feel antagonized by their situations: Not only do they have people pushing them to pay money they may not have, their credit standings are taking a hit at the same time. Collection accounts and tax liens drag down your credit (you can read more about what hurts your credit score here), and paying or settling the debt doesn’t wipe the slate clean, though there are some exceptions.

The situation is certainly stressful, but it’s important to remember you have rights, and you don’t have to feel like the IRS or debt collectors are controlling your life. If you’re unfamiliar with the rights you have as a consumer in debt, here’s a list you need to read.

If you’re worried about how unpaid taxes or collection accounts are affecting your credit, you can see two of your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com.

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