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What happens when the IRS takes away your passport for severe tax debt?

Jo Willetts, EA

Director, Tax Resources

Updated on: August 09, 2023

Not paying your taxes can have harsh consequences. This makes it important for you to understand the consequences and how to resolve these issues. One major consequence is passport restrictions. Let's take a look at how that happens, and what that means for you.

Passport denial or passport revocation

If you have what the IRS classifies as a seriously delinquent tax bill, the government can stop you from getting, renewing, or using your passport.

Since 2018, the IRS has been able to flag (or certify) anyone who owes the IRS a large amount of money. This certification allows the State Department to deny a passport application or revoke a current passport.

What qualifies as a seriously delinquent tax bill?

The IRS considers a seriously delinquent tax bill to be an unpaid, legally enforceable federal tax bill totaling more than $59,000 (in 2023). The taxes remain outstanding even after the IRS has pursued all collection options, such as levies, to try to collect the balance.

Notification process: How do I know if I have a seriously delinquent tax bill?

If you have a seriously delinquent tax bill, you’ll get a CP508C Notice from the IRS. It’s important that you open the letter right away. It will tell you why you received the letter and what steps you can take to pay your bill, set up a payment plan, or request an abatement. It is extremely important that you address the situation quickly.

Remember, scammers often try to disguise themselves as the IRS. If you get anything other than a letter (like a phone call, email, or social media post), it may be fraud, and you should take a closer look. The IRS does not initiate contact by phone, email, or social media.

If you get this notice, the State Department will give you 90 days before it places any restrictions on your passport. You should use that time to fix any certification issues, fully pay your tax bill, or set up a payment agreement with the IRS.

The IRS won’t send certain tax situations to the State Department, including taxpayers who:

  • Are in bankruptcy.
  • Are victims of tax-related identity theft, as identified by the IRS.
  • Are currently in not collectible status.
  • Are living in a federally declared disaster area.
  • Have a pending installment agreement request with the IRS.
  • Are serving in a designated combat zone, or participating in a contingency operation.

The IRS provides a more in-depth list on

Resolving very late unpaid taxes

You can fix the issue by paying your late tax bill in full, setting up an IRS payment plan, getting an offer in compromise, or other options.

The IRS will reverse your certification if:

  • You pay your late tax bill.
  • Your tax bill is legally unenforceable.
  • Your tax bill is not seriously delinquent.
  • The certification is incorrect.

Keep in mind that paying your tax bill to less than $59,000 doesn’t automatically reverse your certification. You also have to set up an agreement with the IRS to get back in good standing. This means initiating a payment plan or other qualifying agreement.

What if the certification was made in error?

If you think the IRS certified you by accident or that your tax bill is wrong, call the number in the top right of your notice. If you have already paid your taxes, send proof of the payment to the address on your notice.

How will I know if the IRS reversed my certification?

You’ll get a CP508R Notice, which means the State Department knows about the reversal and you don’t need to respond.

However, it’s important that you keep this notice in your records, continue to pay on time, and meet all the requirements of any installment agreements or other option that you agreed to.

How long will it take to get my passport after the IRS reversed my certification?

As soon as you resolve your tax issue with the IRS, the IRS will reverse your certification and notify the State Department within 30 days. The IRS has special rules if you need to resolve a passport issue in less than 30 days.

Questions? A Jackson Hewitt Tax Pro may be able to help. Make an appointment today.

About the Author

Jo Willetts, Director of Tax Resources at Jackson Hewitt, has more than 35 years of experience in the tax industry. As an Enrolled Agent, Jo has attained the highest level of certification for a tax professional. She began her career at Jackson Hewitt as a Tax Pro, working her way up to General Manager of a franchise store. In her current role, Jo provides expert knowledge company-wide to ensure that tax information distributed through all Jackson Hewitt channels is current and accurate.

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