© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) building is seen in Washington, U.S. September 28, 2020. REUTERS/Erin Scott//File Photo
By Chris Taylor
NEW YORK (Reuters) – For most Americans, this past April 18 was a day to get those tax forms in and perhaps reluctantly write some checks.
For others, that day came and went like any other – and now they are in a bit of a pickle.
Being late on your taxes isn’t ideal, but it happens. In fact, more than 19 million Americans submitted requests for extensions last year, according to the IRS.
For people in that predicament, the big question is: What now?
“Don’t panic,” says Anna Sergunina, president and CEO of MainStreet Financial Planning in Los Gatos, California. “Falling behind happens to the best of us. It’s always better to face reality and take action, rather than hide and avoid the problem.”
Just know that delaying will only hurt yourself. “If you don’t file and you owe taxes, you will end up owing even more,” says Kay Bell, a tax expert and blogger in Austin, Texas (on Twitter as @taxtweet). “Penalties and interest charges kick in the next day, and keep adding up. It can quickly become a disaster area.”
Here are tips from the tax pros:
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THAT EXTENSION
If you had the foresight to ask for more time, by submitting for an extension by April 18, you now have a little breathing room. (Although if you had a rough idea of how much is owed, you should have sent that in along with the extension.) The new filing date you have to worry about is Oct. 16.
If you didn’t file for an extension, then it is too late to do that now, says Bell. In that case, the best option is to get the returns in as soon as possible.
A couple of things to remember: You don’t get a free pass for those additional months, which means interest is accruing on whatever you end up owing. And you are already on the clock for next year, too – so if you are an independent worker paying quarterly estimates, keep up with those payments as well.
BE AWARE OF PENALTIES
If you need some motivation, there are a number of ways in which this situation will only get worse. There is the interest, right now over 7% and accruing daily, says Bell (the federal short-term rate plus 3%). Then there is the non-payment penalty, which is 0.5% of the total owed for every month late, up to 25%.
Then there is the non-filing penalty, which is 5% of the unpaid taxes for every month late, up to 25%. The total penalty maximum is 47.5% of the tax owed.
CONSIDER POTENTIAL REFUNDS
Here is some potential good news: Depending on factors like how much tax was already taken out of your paychecks, you may actually be owed some money by the government. But you certainly won’t get it if you don’t file.
“It’s important to note that there is no penalty for filing a late return after the tax deadline if a refund is due,” says Michelle Petrowski, a financial planner in Anthem, Arizona. “So just file, so you can get your money back.”
But wait too long, and you run into trouble. Typically, if you are late by more than three years, your window for claiming any potential refund closes.
PUT TOGETHER A PAYMENT PLAN
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is well aware that most of us don’t have huge sums of money on hand, to pay all tax debts right away. That is why it offers payment plans, so we can chip away at those sums over time.
That schedule can be personalized with short-term or long-term installments, depending on your circumstances. Find out more here.
GET PROFESSIONAL ASSISTANCE
One reason that some taxpayers keep getting further behind is that they’re scared and don’t know what to do. You can address that issue by hiring a tax professional to guide you through the process and get you back on track.
It makes particular sense if there are larger sums involved, or multiple years of non-filing, at which point serious legal consequences can start to loom. Find a tax pro in the searchable database of the National Association of Tax Preparers.
It may be burdensome, and it may be uncomfortable. But for those who are late in filing taxes, there really is only one path forward.
“People have a lot of reasons for not filing taxes, and the main one is that they can’t pay,” says Bell. “My best advice is to file something – and then start worrying about how to pay it.”