IRS Installment Agreements 101: Pros, Cons, and All You Need to Know

IRS Installment Agreement: The Good, the Bad, and What You Need to Know

/ 09:21 AM September 01, 2023

Navigating the complex web of tax laws is no small feat. For those swimming in a sea of back taxes, seeking tax relief becomes essential. Enter the IRS installment agreement—a potential lifesaver for many.

This agreement allows taxpayers to settle their tax debt in manageable installments rather than a burdensome lump sum. But like any lifebuoy, it’s crucial to understand its structure, strengths, and weaknesses. Herein, let’s take a closer look at installment agreements, weighing their pros and cons.

What Is an IRS Installment Agreement?

At its core, IRS installment agreements are a structured payment plan between a taxpayer and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It’s designed for individuals or businesses that owe taxes and cannot pay the full amount immediately. Entering this agreement means the IRS may permit you to pay your taxes in monthly installments.

To qualify, taxpayers must file all required tax returns and apply online or by mail. The application’s approval isn’t guaranteed and often hinges on the specifics of your tax debt, ability to pay, and your payment history. The online payment agreement tool can guide you through the process. However, transparency and accuracy are paramount, as the IRS doesn’t take kindly to misinformation.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

You may also like: Exploring Deductible Taxes: Your Key to Smarter Financial Planning

Advantages of an IRS Installment Agreement

Person preparing documents for tax
The IRS installment agreement offers a range of benefits, extending much-needed relief to taxpayers across the spectrum. Let’s explore the myriad advantages that this agreement brings to the table.

Financial Relief and Versatility

The primary advantage of installment agreements is their ability to break down the intimidating sum of tax debt into manageable monthly payments. Instead of paying in full and feeling the brunt of the debt immediately, you can spread the burden over a period.


Moreover, the IRS has made it convenient for taxpayers by offering multiple payment options. Taxpayers can choose from direct debit and credit card payments or even an online payment, increasing flexibility and ensuring they find a method best suited to their financial situation.

Protection from Aggressive Collection Tactics

Opting for installment agreements helps taxpayers avoid aggressive IRS actions such as tax liens or wage garnishments. These can affect your financial stability and leave a negative mark on your credit history.

In addition, owing the IRS, especially when unable to pay, can severely harm your credit score. However, you demonstrate financial responsibility when you enter into a payment agreement, especially a direct debit installment, and consistently make your monthly payment.


Over time, this consistent payment behavior can help stabilize, if not improve, your credit score.

Flexibility in Terms and Conditions

The IRS has facilitated an online payment agreement tool, allowing taxpayers to apply online easily. The online process ensures transparency, convenience, and a quicker response time.

Depending on the amount you owe and your current financial situation, the IRS offers different payment plans, including a short-term payment plan and long-term payment plan. Such diverse payment periods ensure taxpayers have ample time to settle their balances.

A notable advantage of IRS installment agreements is the consideration of future taxes. If you incur more tax liabilities during the payment period, adjusting the agreement to include this new debt is possible. This way, the IRS ensures you aren’t overwhelmed by accumulating debt.

Ensured Communication and Clarity

Once you enter an installment agreement, the IRS will send notices updating you about your balance, penalties, and interest that continue to accrue. This ensures you’re always aware of your standing and can make informed decisions about your payment plan.

Furthermore, you can always contact the IRS for clarification if any concerns arise regarding your installment agreement or if circumstances change. Their services ensure that all taxpayers’ queries are addressed via mail, visit to an office, or even a phone number provided for direct communication.

Facilitation for Low-Income Taxpayers

For taxpayers with low income, the IRS provides special provisions. Such taxpayers can qualify for reduced setup fees or even partial payment installment agreements, ensuring they aren’t unduly burdened.

Taxpayers with a balance of 25,000 or less, who can pay the full amount within a certain period, might find it easier to get their installment agreement approved. Especially when combined with a good payment history, their chances of being granted an installment plan are relatively higher.

You may also like: Tax Credits for Small Businesses: A Comprehensive Guide to Maximizing Benefits

Disadvantages of an IRS Installment Agreement

Man and woman professionals checking documents
While the IRS installment agreement offers a lifeline to many taxpayers struggling with their tax liabilities, it’s essential to be aware of the potential downsides. By understanding these disadvantages, taxpayers can make a well-informed decision about whether this payment option is right for them.

Accumulation of Interest and Penalties

Even as you’re chipping away at your tax debt through monthly payments, interest and penalties continue to accrue. Over time, what you owe can grow, meaning you’ll ultimately pay more than the original tax liability.

If you don’t adhere to the terms of your installment agreement or if you miss a payment, the IRS can levy combined tax penalties and interest on your balance. This can add a significant amount to what you owe.

Impact on Credit Score

When entering an IRS installment agreement, it might appear on your credit report. While it’s better than facing collections, it can impact your credit score, especially if you’re unable to pay consistently.

Also, potential lenders might consider you a higher risk upon seeing the installment agreement on your credit report. This can make obtaining new credit or loans challenging while you’re paying off the IRS debt.

Commitment to Long-Term Payment

Once you agree to a payment plan, be it a short-term or long-term payment plan, you’re expected to stick to it. If your financial situation changes, adjusting the agreement might not be straightforward.

Remember, if you owe a substantial amount and opt for a shorter payment period, your monthly payment might be higher than expected. Taxpayers need to ensure they can manage these payments alongside other financial commitments.

No Guarantee of Agreement Approval

Just because you apply online for an installment agreement doesn’t mean the IRS will approve it. The Internal Revenue Service will review your financial situation, tax history, and the amount you owe before granting an agreement.

Additionally, you may need to provide extensive details about your income, expenses, and assets, especially if you owe a large amount. This can be invasive and time-consuming for some taxpayers.

Restrictions on Future Refunds

If you expect a tax refund in the future, the IRS might apply it to your tax debt until you pay it in full. This can be disheartening for those counting on their refund for other financial needs.

Any additional payments or overpayments made during the duration of the installment agreement will typically be applied to your tax debt, leaving no option for refunds or adjustments.

You may also like: IRS Penalty Relief: Your Comprehensive Guide to Reduce Financial Burden

Key Considerations Before Opting for an IRS Installment Agreement

IRS Individual Income Tax Return form
Before saying yes to any installment agreement, pause and consider the alternatives. Options like the Offer in Compromise might be viable for some, allowing taxpayers to settle their debt for less than the full amount owed. Here are a few more things to consider before getting installment agreements.

The Underlying Costs of the Agreement

The allure of dividing your tax liability into manageable portions is tempting, but the financial terrain of such agreements is intricate. Remember that while your principal debt may seem substantial, it doesn’t stay constant. As time passes, this debt accrues penalties and interest, increasing your debt.

Additionally, initiating an installment agreement can come with its expenses. The IRS often charges setup fees, and these costs can vary. For instance, choosing methods other than direct debit could result in higher fees, adding to the total cost.

Adherence to Tax Regulations

Consistency and compliance are critical when in an IRS installment agreement. Before considering such an arrangement, you must file all your previous tax returns. The IRS demands regularity, and any oversight can complicate the agreement process.

Moreover, once the agreement is in place, the IRS mandates that you file and settle all subsequent taxes on time. Any deviation or delays can jeopardize the whole agreement.

Payment Modalities and Their Flexibility

The method you choose to settle your dues is pivotal. For a hassle-free experience, a direct debit installment can be ideal, ensuring regular deductions from your account. However, this means providing your bank details to the IRS.

On the digital front, the IRS offers extensive online payment systems. Taxpayers can apply online, use the online payment agreement platform, and receive prompt updates. While this digitization makes processes smoother, users should prioritize online security.

Your Personal Financial Landscape

Ensuring that an installment agreement aligns with your financial situation is crucial. Before entering into such a commitment, take a hard look at your economic stability. Ask yourself if you can consistently manage the monthly payment without financial strain.

It’s also worth exploring other avenues. In certain cases, particularly for those facing severe financial constraints, the IRS might entertain an offer in compromise, potentially a more feasible route to settle tax debt.

Implications of Agreement Duration

The length of your commitment is not a decision you should make lightly. There are options in terms of agreement length.

Generally completed within 120 days, short-term payment plans offer a swift resolution. On the other hand, long-term plans might demand smaller monthly payments but can lead to higher interest and penalties over their duration. Given life’s unpredictability, reflect on potential future financial shifts when contemplating a longer-term agreement.

Information Flow and Regular Updates

Maintaining clear lines of communication is pivotal for a successful agreement. Engaging with the IRS is an ongoing process, even after initiating an agreement. They routinely send notices detailing your remaining balance and any new interest or penalties.

Keeping track of these notices ensures you remain informed. Additionally, as tax laws are dynamic and can change, staying updated is vital. If alterations might impact your agreement or concerns arise, contacting the IRS proactively may provide some benefits.

If an IRS installment agreement seems the best fit, evaluate your financial situation holistically. Consider factors like the total amount you owe, your current and future taxes, and your ability to make consistent payments. Remember, while the IRS offers solutions like short-term payment plans and long-term payment plans, the onus lies on the taxpayer to keep up with their end of the bargain.

You may also like: Tax Relief Programs: Your Essential Guide to Financial Reprieve


Woman helping older individual with laptop
While a lifesaver for many, the IRS installment agreement isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Its advantages, like financial flexibility and protection against severe collection actions, make it appealing. Yet, drawbacks, such as prolonged debt and the potential for accruing interest and penalties, emphasize the need for careful consideration.

The agreement can offer a structured path forward for those teetering on the edge, unable to pay in full, and facing a mountain of tax debt. However, remember that tax resolution services exist, and seeking professional advice before deciding can be invaluable.

Whichever route you choose, the importance of addressing your tax situation head-on cannot be understated. Whether through monthly installments, paying in full, or seeking an alternative solution, charting a course toward tax resolution ensures peace of mind and financial health.

Don't miss out on the latest news and information.
For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.
Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.