Tax liens are part of the public record, so anyone can access them. They are legal claims against a piece of property to secure payment of taxes or another type of debt. A property can’t be sold until the lien is satisfied.
Finding Tax Lien Records
Liens aren’t only put on a house because of unpaid property taxes, although these are among the most common types of liens. The IRS may place a federal tax lien on the property of those who owe back income taxes. Often, these liens force a sale of the subject property. If a homeowner has a court-ordered judgment lien against him by a creditor, a judgment lien is attached to the property and may also force a home sale.
States may file child support liens against property owners who do not pay the child support owed, and a few states allow the filing of liens for past-due alimony payments. If you live in a community property state, one spouse of a divorcing couple may file a marital tax lien to make sure legal and other fees are paid. The only way to remove liens, unless the taxpayer can prove a mistake was made, is by satisfying the debt.
To find tax lien records, visit the website of your state’s Secretary of State or its equivalent to conduct either a federal tax lien search or a state tax lien search. You may have to create an account to search, but that doesn’t require a fee. Whether or not you have to pay for the information depends on the state, but fees are generally reasonable. Once you are on the website, look for the link stating Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) search, or any link relating to finding liens. If you have the tax lien number, you may enter it. Otherwise, you can enter the name of the debtor into the database, or the property address. You may also enter the name of the municipality to see which properties currently have tax liens.
The IRS compiles a listing of business tax liens available on CD that includes the lien identification number, the taxpayer’s identification number, the taxpayer’s name and address and the lien status. Currently, the charge for such a CD is $130. You must file a written request with the IRS to receive a CD.
Visit the County Recording Office
All tax liens are recorded at the county level. You can visit the recording office of the county in which the property is located and request information about the tax lien.
Tax Lien Search Services
If you’re pressed for time or want information about multiple properties, you can hire a tax lien search service to do the legwork for you. The amount charged for a tax lien search depends on the provider.
- Registered Agent Solutions: Tax Lien/Judgment Lien Searches
- Minnesota Secretary of State: How to Search Tax Lien Filings
- Idaho State Tax Commission: Liens
- Courthouse Direct: Property Tax Lien FAQ, Part 1: The 5 Most Common Types of Federal Tax Liens
- IRS: Understanding a Federal Tax Lien
- Investopedia: Investing in Property Tax Liens
- IRS: Automated Lien System (ALS) Database Listing
A graduate of New York University, Jane Meggitt's work has appeared in dozens of publications, including PocketSense, Zack's, Financial Advisor, nj.com, LegalZoom and The Nest.