Federal, state and municipal governments place thousands of tax liens per year on the property of taxpayers. The Internal Revenue Service, for example, levied more than 708,000 tax liens in fiscal year 2012, according to U.S. News and World Report. If you think you have a tax lien on your property, knowing how to find out for sure you avoid having it seized.
A tax lien is a security interest levied against your property for the amount of taxes you owe. A tax lien can be levied by any federal, state or municipal government to whom you owe taxes. A lien is removed once you pay your debt in full. If you don't pay, the amount owed is recovered from sale proceeds when you sell your property or from seizure and sale of the property. In some instances, such as with IRS debt, a tax lien applies to all your property, including personal property, vehicles, real and business property. It may also apply to any property you acquire while the lien is in place.
How Tax Liens Happen
Property tax liens are triggered by tax debt. First, the government to which you owe the tax debt must determine how much tax debt you owe. Then it must send you a notice of the debt and bill for the amount owed with a deadline for payment. If you fail to pay the amount owed by the deadline, a lien may be placed on your property for the total amount of the debt.
Researching an Existing Tax Lien Through Court Records
A tax lien is written notice of tax debt filed with the court clerk in the county where the property is located. Or it may be filed directly with your county's tax assessor. To find out whether a tax lien has been filed against any of your property, you must search those court or assessor records. The search process varies from county to county. While paper records, microfilm and microfiche still exist, the trend is increasingly toward electronic record-keeping and even online access. Many counties explain the process they follow on their websites. If not, a quick call to your county court or assessor to ask what process to follow will give you the direction you need to proceed with your search.
Other Search Options
There are web-based services that search multiple jurisdictions simultaneously for liens against your property. These services charge a fee, but it may be worth it if you fear you may owe taxes in multiple jurisdictions. Title companies are another resource many people don't think of when researching liens. Title companies have access to property records across the country and for a fee can quickly research liens for you.