05/12/2011 at 12:00 PM EDT
Marlee Matlin is proving she has a head for business as a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice
this season. But like many Americans, the actress has been affected by the economy and the recession.
Matlin, 45, confirms to PEOPLE that she owes $50,000 in back taxes from 2009, and is working out a schedule to make good on her commitment to the IRS.
"I'm paying it back. I'm not shying away from it and I'm certainly not ashamed of it," Matlin says. "It doesn't mean I'm a bad person. It's reality. It's the reality that a lot of people in America are facing."
Matlin, who shot to international fame after being awarded the Best Actress Oscar for the 1986 film Children of a Lesser God
, says many people assume she lives an extravagant lifestyle. The truth is, she says, that being a working actor has its inconsistencies in income from year-to-year and as a result, budgeting can sometimes can run amok.
"Living modestly in a suburban neighborhood while trying to support four children through private school is not extravagant or living large," Matlin says. "My husband is a Los Angeles area police officer and between the two of us we have always made ends meet in the past – and we will in this circumstance as well."
Matlin says the family's home is up for sale and they plan to move to a community with a good public school.
"At the end of the day, it's about the best interests of the children," she says. "Transitioning out of a private school environment will certainly relieve some of the financial pressures but hopefully this will not compromise the kids."
Matlin assures, "I'm not broke. Like everybody else, I owe money." In the end, she says she's lucky because, "My family is healthy and happy."