IA Eligibility Requirements

Who is eligible to pay back taxes to the California Franchise Tax Board via an installment agreement?  It can be a little complicated.

It’s difficult not to compare FTB and IRS collection tactics.  Both almost always first demand/request payment in full.  The collection notices are worded in a way that if you don’t read beyond the first sentence, it will appear that full payment is your only option.  And when you call them up, that’s the first thing out of their mouth.  IRS will usually say “Do you have the ability to pay your tax bill in full?” If you cannot write them a check, then the discussion typically shifts to what is required for an installment agreement.  However, the FTB will often (at least at first) demand full payment without regard for your ability to pay and then very reluctantly tiptoe around the option of paying back your taxes in installments.

The eligibility requirements for an FTB installment agreement are more stringent than the IRS requirements.  First and foremost, it is very difficult to obtain an installment agreement with FTB if you have an active earnings withholding order (EWO).  An EWO is just another word for “wage garnishment” or “wage levy.”  Once the FTB has brandished this collection tool, and they have a steady stream of payments coming in, it is very difficult to convince them that they should trade these “guaranteed” payments for a promise to pay from the taxpayer.

Like the IRS, the FTB does require that all back tax returns have been filed so there is no question as to how much is owed.  Also, like the IRS, FTB requires that the entire tax debt be paid off within a specified time frame.  They give as much as 60 months for some tax debts, but only 36 months for others.  The IRS will allow a full 72 months for tax debts under $50,000.

Both FTB and IRS recognize certain events that will cause an installment agreement to default.  Some of these events include (a) failure to make timely payments, (b) failure to timely file a future tax return, and (c) incurring a new tax debt.

Whether you owe FTB or IRS (or both) it would be a mistake to think that you can always just request an installment agreement to avoid enforced collection action.  It’s not always that simple.

IA Set-Up Fees

The IRS charges a one-time processing fee for setting up an installment agreement (IA). The fee is $105 for most people. However, if you agree to a “direct debit” IA — meaning that you allow the IRS to automatically debit your bank account each month — then the IRS charges only $52. This option is attractive, but some taxpayers are reluctant to give the IRS their bank information and would rather just send them a check. The IA set-up fee is even lower ($43) if your income is below the IRS’ poverty threshhold.

The IRS is usually willing to take the set-up fee out of your first payment as long as the payment amount is sufficient to cover the fee. For example, if your set-up fee is $105 and your monthly payment is $200, then the IRS will take $105 out of your first month’s payment and apply $95 to your back tax debt.

If you can afford to pay your entire tax debt in 3 months or sooner, then the best option is to obtain a “120 day extension to full pay.” You only have 3 months to pay, but you completely avoid having to pay any kind of set-up fee.

Partial Payment Installment Agreements

Most IRS installment agreements are set up so that the payments will satisfy the total amount due before the Collection Statute Expiration Date (CSED), affording minimal tax relief to the cash-strapped taxpayer. However, in some situations this is not possible. Sometimes the taxpayer’s financial situation is such that the debt will not be satisfied before the CSED, even if minimum monthly payments are consistently made. This is called a Partial Payment Installment Agreement (PPIA).

For instance, suppose the taxpayer owes $10,000 for tax year 2001 and the financial statement reveals that the highest payment that can be made is $100 per month. If the 2001 liability expires in 36 months, then taxpayer will pay only $3,600 over the life of the statute. Obviously the IRS does not like to enter into these types of arrangements unless absolutely necessary. Here are some of the PPIA prerequisites:

  • All back tax returns filed
  • No equity in assets (or assets liquidated and paid to the IRS prior to PPIA approval)
  • Full Collection Information Statement (IRM 5.14.2)