5) Over-the-Counter Investing

Let’s talk about one of the greatest opportunities in tax lien investing: over-the-counter investing.

Over-the-counter investing refers to the point in time that an investor makes a purchase in relation to the tax sale.  Over-the-counter investing happens after the auction has already taken place and investors are buying tax liens and deeds that were not purchased at the auction. 

There are advantages and disadvantages to this strategy. Let’s start by discussing the advantages.


  • Maximum Rate
  • Invest Anywhere
  • Avoid the Live Auction
  • Foreclosure Opportunities

Maximum Interest Rate

The very first advantage is that the investor receives the full interest rate when buying over the counter. When an investor purchases at the auction, other investors also have the opportunity to purchase the same tax lien. In that case, the most common bidding method used by tax lien counties to determine the winner of the certificate is to bid down the rate of return until no one is willing to bid any lower. Investors essentially bid away their return based on the level of competition on that certificate.

When purchasing after the auction, the investor is not bidding against other investors, he or she is simply picking the tax liens that he or she wants, and then sending in secured funds to the county to make the purchase. The county then sends a receipt back to the investor, which shows the full interest rate for that state. The interest rate is not reduced in any way. 

Invest Anywhere

The second advantage is that the investor can invest from the comfort of his or her home.  As an over-the-counter investor you do not attend the auction and there is no need to leave your home. The process is simple. You acquire the over-the-counter list, which can usually be done online, then you research the list and find investments that you like, and finally, you send in certified funds to the county along with a note describing the tax certificates that you would like to purchase. Many counties even allow these purchases online! At that point you can sit and wait until the county sends you a check in the mail with your initial investment plus interest.

Avoid the Live Auction

The next advantage to over-the-counter investing is that the investor can avoid the hassle of the auction. Some investors really enjoy the auction. They like the competition and excitement, or they want the opportunity to buy all available tax liens. However, many people would prefer to avoid the auction altogether. As was mentioned before, over-the-counter investors don’t ever need to attend the auction. They can make all of their investments from the comfort of home or from anywhere with an Internet connection. 

Foreclosure Opportunities

The final advantage that we will discuss is that foreclosure opportunities on over-the-counter tax liens can be greater. The redemption period, in most cases, starts at the time that the tax lien is offered at the auction, whether or not the certificate is sold at the auction. So investors can time the purchase of the tax lien so that they buy after the redemption period has ended or right before the redemption period ends and then begin the foreclosure process right away. If you are interested in foreclosing on tax lien properties, then buying over-the-counter towards the end of the redemption period might be a great solution for you.


  • Leftovers
  • Accessibility
  • Not Always Available


There are some disadvantages to investing over the counter. The first and most notable disadvantage is the quality of investments that are found on over-the-counter lists. Investors that attended the previously held auction had a shot at every tax lien certificate on the list. If they did their due diligence then they would have fought hard to get properties that most people would consider desirable; for example, single-family residential homes with significant values. 

Chances are fair that investors that attended the auction picked up most of the properties that typical investors would get really excited about. Did they buy all of them?  Probably not, but finding an awesome single-family residential home is less common when investing over the counter. 

When looking at over-the-counter lists, you will typically find vacant land, improved lots, commercial properties, and single-family residential homes with lower values. That isn’t always the case, but that tends to be the norm. Those can all be fantastic investments, though.


The second disadvantage of investing over the counter is the accessibility of the lists.  More and more counties and putting their over-the-counter lists on their websites. They are usually listed as County Held Certificates. Some of the smaller counties, however, will not post the list online, so the investor would have to seek out the list by contacting the county directly and making the request. In some cases, depending on the size of the list, counties may charge a small fee to package and send the physical list to the investor.  In many cases, though, the county will describe to the investor how to acquire the list through the county website.

Not Always Available

Along the same lines, the third disadvantage is that some counties will not even offer over-the-counter investments. This is more common with tax deeds than it is with tax lien certificates. In that case the county will hold onto the investment until the next auction date, and then the county will offer the leftover investments back to investors. Most of your more popular counties and states will offer over-the-counter investments like Arizona, Florida, and Illinois.

Secondary Market

Another interesting thing to consider is the secondary market. As you attend auctions you will notice some institutional investors that buy large numbers of tax liens. They will spend millions at some of these auctions. It has become more popular to buy directly from these institutional investors. Let us know if you’re interested in that. You can potentially get even better deals from them than you would from the county.

Steps to Invest Over the Counter

Investing over the counter is very simple to do and very similar to preparing to invest at the auction.

  1. Select a State/County
  2. Find the List
  3. Quickly Narrow the List
  4. Perform Due Diligence
  5. Pick and Invest

Let’s quickly show you an example of how you can purchase tax lien certificates over the counter in Florida.