IRS Collection Statute

IRS Collection Statute for Expats

A few days ago I wrote an article on dealing with the IRS as an expat.  Apparently, a number of you are carrying tax debt and are concerned with the IRS collection statute – how long the IRS has to collect that tax debt.  This article is specifically for those living abroad that owe the IRS.  The IRS collection statute might just be the fresh start you have been looking for.

The basics of the IRS collection statute are these:  They have 10 years to collect from you once a tax is assessed.  A tax is assessed when you file a return, an audit is completed and your appeals run their course, or the government computers prepare a return for you based on whatever information they may have (called a substitute for return).

If you never file a return, and the IRS doesn’t prepare one for you, the IRS collection statute never starts.

The IRS collection statute is placed on hold whenever the IRS is prohibited by law from collecting from you.  This is usually when you file an Offer in Compromise, a Collection Due Process request, or bankruptcy.  These can delay the IRS collection statute for many months or years.

Not to hurry the lead, but the IRS collection statute is put on hold while you are out of the United States.  More specifically, Sections 6502 and 6503(c) of the U.S. Tax Code work together to extend the collection statute if you are out of the U.S. for “a continuous period of six months or more.”

That is to say, if you are out of the U.S. for any six month period, the IRS collection statute is extended.  If you return every few months, so you are never gone for six months, then the IRS collection statute is never tolled.

Application of the IRS Collection Statute

If you incur a U.S. tax debt while living abroad, and you never set foot in America, the collection period never starts.  If you incur a tax debt and then move abroad, again never visiting your country, the collection period (basically) never starts.

Conversely, if you’re visiting family in the U.S. every few months, even for a day or two and thus never out of the country for a continuous period of at least six months, the IRS collection statute is running and the debt will expire in 10 years.

If you incur a U.S. tax debt while abroad, and then return to the U.S., the collection statute starts when you touch down.  So, if you are traveling to America from time to time, you might want to make sure you are never out for six months.

There is one more minor issue for expats.  If you are out of the U.S. for six months or more, and when you return the IRS collection statute is about to expire, the statute is automatically extended for six months.

Basically, if you are out of the country for six months or more, the IRS will always have six months after your return to get you and your assets.

Now let’s talk about the practical implications of the IRS collection statute on expats.  Most of you will find that the IRS computers stop sending you bills, and that your debt will drop off and out of the system, after ten years.

If the great collector ever gets its act together, and compares the travel days claimed on IRS Form 2555 filed with your personal return, expats with tax debts might well have an issue.  So far, this has not happened and the collection statute is running… at least the computers are processing bills as if the debts have expired.

If you want to know how much you owe the IRS, you can phone them and ask for a Transcript of Account.  This will tell you which years show a balance due, as well as the tax, interest and penalties that have accrued.

If you know you owed for a particular year, and think the 10 year collection statute may have run, you can call the government and ask the status of a particular year.  Though, I wouldn’t mention to them you are living abroad.

I hope this post helps to clarify the IRS collection statute and how it applies to expats.  If you have any questions, feel free to call or send an email to