Tax Blog

What is a State Tax Lien?

Demystifying tax lien meaning, tax lien property, IRS or Federal tax liens, county tax liens, and liens in the public record

As a property owner, understanding tax liens and their implications is crucial. Whether you’re a homeowner or a real estate investor, having a state tax lien on your property can lead to severe financial consequences. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore what a state tax lien is, its impact on property, the difference between federal and county tax liens, and how to address liens in the public record. At the end of this article, we invite you to call The Tax Defenders for a free attorney consultation at (312) 345-5440 to discuss your specific tax lien situation and learn about your options.

I. Tax Lien Meaning

A tax lien is a legal claim placed by a government entity on a property due to unpaid taxes. This claim grants the government the right to seize or sell the property to recover the unpaid taxes. A state tax lien is specific to taxes owed to the state government and is separate from federal and county tax liens. It’s essential to address state tax liens promptly, as they can lead to significant financial and legal issues.

II. Tax Lien Property

When a property has a tax lien attached to it, it is referred to as a tax lien property. The existence of a tax lien on a property can cause various problems for the property owner, including:

A. Difficulty Selling the Property

Tax liens can make it challenging to sell the property, as they must be settled before the property can be legally transferred to a new owner. In many cases, potential buyers may be hesitant to purchase a property with a tax lien due to the associated financial risks.

B. Reduced Property Value

A tax lien can reduce the property’s value, as it signifies that the property may be seized or sold to recover unpaid taxes. This can negatively impact the property owner’s financial stability and reduce their overall net worth.

C. Inability to Refinance

A property with a tax lien may be ineligible for refinancing, as lenders may be unwilling to approve a new mortgage on a property that carries a significant financial risk.

III. IRS or Federal Tax Liens

While state tax liens pertain to taxes owed to the state government, federal tax liens are claims made by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for unpaid federal taxes. These can include income taxes, payroll taxes, or other federal taxes owed by the property owner. Like state tax liens, IRS federal tax liens can lead to the seizure or sale of the property to recover the unpaid taxes.

IV. County Tax Lien

County tax liens are claims made by the county government due to unpaid property taxes. In some cases, a county tax lien can lead to a tax lien auction, where the property is sold to the highest bidder to recover the unpaid taxes. Failure to pay county property taxes can result in significant financial consequences and the loss of the property.

V. Liens in the Public Record

A. How Liens Become Public Record

When a tax lien is filed, it becomes part of the public record. This means that anyone can access the information, including potential buyers, lenders, and other interested parties. The public record serves as a notice to creditors and potential buyers that the property is encumbered by a tax lien.

B. Impact on Credit Score

Having a tax lien on the public record can significantly damage the property owner’s credit score. Tax liens can remain on a credit report for up to seven years, even if the lien has been paid off. This can make it difficult for the property owner to secure loans, credit cards, or other forms of credit, limiting their financial options and opportunities.

C. How to Remove or Release Liens from the Public Record

To remove a tax lien from the public record, the property owner must pay the outstanding taxes and any associated penalties or interest. Once the debt is settled, the property owner can request a lien release or withdrawal from the government entity that filed the lien. After the lien release or withdrawal is processed, the lien will be removed from the public record, helping the property owner restore their credit and regain financial stability.

VI. Dealing with a State or Sales Tax Lien: Steps to Take

If you find yourself dealing with a state tax lien, taking immediate action is crucial to minimize the potential damage to your finances and property. Here are the steps you should take:

A. Verify the Lien

Start by verifying the tax lien’s legitimacy, as mistakes can occur. Contact your state’s tax department to confirm the lien and obtain detailed information about the amount owed, including any penalties and interest.

B. Explore Payment Options

Determine whether you can pay the outstanding taxes in full or if you need to explore alternative payment options, such as installment agreements or offers in compromise. Be proactive in communicating with the tax authorities to find a solution that works for both parties.

C. Consult a Tax Professional

Given the complexity of tax liens and the potential financial consequences, it’s essential to consult with a tax professional who can help you navigate the process and provide guidance on the best course of action. A tax attorney can help you understand your options and advocate on your behalf.

D. Stay Compliant with Future Tax Obligations

Once you have resolved the state tax lien, it’s crucial to remain compliant with your future tax obligations to avoid additional liens or penalties. Ensure that you file your taxes accurately and on time, and promptly address any issues that may arise.


Understanding the meaning and implications of a state tax lien is vital for property owners. By being proactive in addressing state tax liens and seeking professional guidance, you can protect your property and financial stability. If you’re dealing with a state tax lien or have concerns about your tax situation, contact The Tax Defenders at (312) 345-5440 for a free attorney consultation. Our team of experienced tax professionals is here to help you navigate the complexities of tax liens and find the best solution for your unique circumstances.

How do tax liens work in Illinois?

In Illinois, tax liens work similarly to other states, but with some specific procedures and regulations. Here is an overview of how tax liens work in Illinois:

  1. Unpaid Taxes: If a property owner in Illinois fails to pay their property taxes, the county government can place a tax lien on their property. This lien serves as a legal claim against the property, allowing the county to collect the unpaid taxes, along with any penalties and interest.
  2. Tax Sale: If the property owner does not pay the outstanding taxes within the specified period (typically around two years), the county will hold a tax sale, also known as a tax lien auction. During this auction, investors can bid on the tax liens by offering to pay the outstanding taxes on behalf of the property owner. In Illinois, the bidding process focuses on the interest rate, with the winning bidder being the one who accepts the lowest interest rate.
  3. Redemption Period: After the tax sale, the property owner enters a redemption period, which lasts for 2.5 years in Illinois. During this time, the property owner has the opportunity to repay the outstanding taxes, along with the winning bidder’s interest and any additional fees, to remove the tax lien from their property.
  4. Loss of Property: If the property owner fails to redeem the tax lien within the redemption period, the investor who purchased the lien can petition the court for a tax deed. If granted, the tax deed transfers ownership of the property to the investor, and the original property owner loses their rights to the property.
  5. Surplus Funds: If the winning bid at the tax sale exceeds the amount of unpaid taxes, penalties, and interest, the surplus funds are held by the county. The original property owner can claim these funds, but they must do so within a specific time frame.

Property owners in Illinois should understand the tax lien process and their rights during each stage. If you’re facing a tax lien in Illinois, consider consulting a tax professional or attorney to help you navigate the process and protect your interests. The Tax Defenders, based in Chicago, can provide expert assistance to Illinois property owners dealing with tax liens. Call (312) 345-5440 for a free attorney consultation.

What is a tax lien an example of?

A tax lien is an example of a government’s legal claim on a property due to the property owner’s failure to pay taxes. It represents a type of security interest that the government holds over the property to secure payment of outstanding tax obligations. When a tax lien is in place, the government has the right to seize or sell the property to recover the unpaid taxes. Tax liens can be placed on real estate, personal property, and even financial assets. 

In essence, a tax lien is an example of a debt collection mechanism used by government entities, such as the IRS for federal taxes, state governments for state taxes, or local county governments for property taxes. Tax liens prioritize the government’s claim on the property over other creditors and ensure that the government can recover unpaid taxes before other debts are paid.

What does a tax lien mean?

A tax lien means that the government has a legal claim on a property due to unpaid taxes, which can lead to financial and legal consequences for the property owner if left unresolved.