We here at Swift field tons of travel questions on a regular basis, and a fairly common on is “Can I get a passport if I owe the IRS?” It’s a good question – with a not-so-good answer. And the question is a particularly valid one since a law that went into effect in December 2015 can indeed result in passport denial and even revocation if you owe “seriously delinquent” taxes to the IRS.
It’s a good question – with a not-so-good answer. And the question is a particularly valid one since a law that went into effect in December 2015 can indeed result in passport denial and even revocation if you owe “seriously delinquent” taxes to the IRS.
Detailed Answer: Can I Get a Passport if I Owe the IRS?
To answer your next question about what counts as “seriously delinquent,” we’ll lay out the details of the IRS provision found in Public Law 114-94, officially known as Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or the FAST Act.
The provision says the U.S. Department of State (DOS) shall not issue a passport to those who:
- Owe federal taxes of more than $50,000, including penalties and interest
- Have a tax lien notice or garnishment filed against them by the IRS
In addition to denying a new passport or passport renewal to those with significant IRS tax debts, the DOS also has the authority to:
- Revoke an existing passport
- Limit the passport to be valid only for a return trip to the United States
Exceptions may be made for those traveling for emergency purposes or humanitarian reasons. You may also get a pass if you’re in the midst of challenging your IRS debt or working out a payment plan or compromise.
The IRS is required to send a notice to those to which the law applies, letting them know the DOS will receive a certification that authorizes the department to deny or revoke the passport. You also get a chance to head to court to challenge the certification.
Once payments are made, or a payment plan or compromise established with the IRS, the IRS will send another notification to the DOS, this one giving the green light to issue, renew, or return the passport.
What Does Fixing Roads Have to do with Owing Taxes?
The FAST Act, which is about roads as well as other surface transportation infrastructure, authorizes $305 billion over a four-year period to go toward surface transportation issues. And the money has to come from somewhere.
Getting people to pay off their past-due federal tax bills can help defray some of the cost of the rather costly bill, especially since the provision is expected to bring in nearly $400 million over the next 10 years.
Those Most at Risk
While the average U.S. traveler may be able to live without a passport, as long as they don’t mind staying home, U.S. citizens living abroad may have a tougher time of it. About 8 million Americans live overseas, and their finances are generally much more complicated than their U.S.-based counterparts.
This complication may be compounded even further with yet another regulation, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. This act requires overseas banks and other financial institutions report information on accounts held by U.S. taxpayers.
Making sure your taxes are paid, or at least an agreement in the works is probably the best way to deal with the provision. And the best way to deal with passport renewals, of course, is with expedited passport services from Swift.