Tax Lien v. Tax Levy: What’s the Difference? | Axiom Tax Resolution Group

If you don’t work for the IRS, then jargon like “lien” and “levy” might be hard to understand and differentiate between. It’s just not something we use in normal, everyday life. Tax lingo just doesn’t come naturally. Many think liens and levies are the same thing, but the two terms are not interchangeable, rather they are linked. Let’s break down what there is to know about these IRS penalties!


Lien– A federal tax lien is the government’s legal claim against your property when you neglect or fail to pay a tax debt. The lien protects the government’s interest in all your property, including real estate, personal property and financial assets.

Levy– An IRS levy refers to the legal seizure of your property to satisfy a tax debt. It can garnish wages, take money in your bank or other financial account, seize and sell your vehicle(s), real estate and other personal property.

More About Liens

A lien is considered a “warning” from the IRS. However, it is far from an empty threat and should be taken seriously. An IRS Notice of Federal Tax Lien, a public record, serves the purpose of alerting creditors to the fact that the government has a legal right to your property. As a taxpayer, you have the right to appeal a tax lien. If you’ve received a notice, but haven’t called us yet, now is the time to do that before things move toward a levy situation. 

More About Levies

The IRS is lawfully entitled to seize your personal property, real estate, cash, bank savings, and other assets. They can also activate a wage levy (garnishment) that forces your employer to hold back a certain percentage of your pay each pay period until your debt is satisfied. The government wants what you owe them and they will go to great lengths to get it if you continue to avoid the IRS. Typically, a notice of intent to levy will arrive about 30 days prior to a levy actually being initiated. Thankfully, levies can be avoidable if you work with your tax resolution specialist at Axiom to figure out a relief option for your specific situation. 

So What’s the Difference?

The easiest way to look at it is that a lien refers to the IRS’s statement of intention for seizing your property while a levy is the actual seizure process. A lien precedes a possible levy. Thankfully, a levy does not hit you without warning. You will be notified of a lien prior to a levy being activated. This is an important distinction because you’ll need to get assistance from Axiom Tax Resolution in between these two in order to try to prevent a levy from being activated. 

Getting Help Before a Tax Lien or Levy

The one thing that a levy and lien do have in common is that no one wants to deal with either issue. There’s good news for those who haven’t paid federal taxes- you can get help before the IRS begins taking your stuff, whether that be your vehicle or income. When you don’t pay your taxes in time, you could have anywhere from a few days to a few months before the IRS tracks you down with a lien notice. But the honest truth is that you can begin suffering the consequences before a lien notice ever arrives. The consequences of not paying taxes or being late don’t start at a lien. Interest rates and penalty fees can and will be accruing too, and much sooner. Don’t wait until you have a lien notice to call us.  


Our Axiom tax specialists are ready to help you RIGHT NOW! We’re able to help you address or appeal liens and levies, but we prefer to begin helping you with payment options before it gets to that point. Let us help you explore options for tax debt forgiveness. Call us at 844-8-TAX-PRO for a consultation. To learn more about levies and liens, check out or feel free to ask us questions during our consultation.