It’s easy to understand why so many people procrastinate about doing their tax returns.
It’s a tedious process that involves pulling together a lot of documents and crunching a lot of numbers. Even if you’re having someone else prepare your return, it can be overwhelming because hopefully you plan to review your return before it’s filed.
Some folks wait because they aren’t sure how they will pay the tax bill that is due. And if you owe, why rush to pay, right?
However you feel about the tax-filing process it’s important to file on time. And here’s why.
— There’s a penalty for not filing on time. Even if you can’t pay what you owe you should still file your tax return by April 15.
“The failure-to-file penalty is usually 5 percent of the tax owed for each month, or part of a month that your return is late, up to a maximum of 25 percent,” the IRS points out.
By the way, filing an extension does not give you more time to pay your tax bill. It just gives you more time to file your return.
— There’s a penalty for failing to pay your entire tax bill on time. The late penalty is one-half of 1 percent for each month, or part of a month, up to a maximum of 25 percent of the amount of tax that remains unpaid from the due date of the return until the tax is paid in full, according to the IRS.
Even if you can’t afford to pay your bill in full, send the IRS as much as you can. For the rest, you can get on a payment plan.
— There’s the fear factor. I've counseled a number of people who, suspecting that they owe taxes, don’t want to file. But if you've completed your tax return and realize you owe but can't pay, the worst thing to do is nothing. You may be fearful of what lies ahead, but if you don't do anything, eventually the IRS may track you down, and by then, the penalties and late fees will make your debt that much larger. The interest on unpaid tax debts compounds daily and is charged from the due date of the return until the date of payment in full.
Do you really want to spend the rest of this year or years scared of getting a letter from the IRS? File your return on time and call the IRS for help if you can’t pay your bill. Don’t let your fear of filing cost you more than what you may already owe.
Also read: Don’t duck an IRS notice
— There’s a chance you may miss out on getting a refund. An estimated 1.2 million taxpayers have not filed their 2015 tax return, according to the Internal Revenue Service. They are owed $1.4 billion. If they don’t file by April 15 they lose out on collecting that money, the agency says. If you live in Maine or Massachusetts you have until April 17 to file your 2015 return.
The IRS estimates that the median potential refunds for 2015 is $879.
“In cases where a federal income tax return was not filed, the law provides most taxpayers with a three-year window of opportunity to claim a tax refund,” the IRS says. “If they do not file a tax return within three years, the money becomes the property of the U.S. Treasury.”
I’ve helped a number of people who were scared to file their returns only to find out that once they did, the IRS owed them money. In several cases, people couldn’t collect the refunds they were due because they didn’t file the older returns in time.
Color of Money question of the week
Do you always file your taxes late or close to the deadline? If so, why? Send your comments to email@example.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line, put “Tax Season 2019.”
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Tax season 2019
Here’s input from some members of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants on what’s been frustrating people during this tax season.
“One of the big complaints I have heard this tax season has been how late tax information has arrived, even the 1095s regarding health insurance came late — and they continue to receive ‘corrected’ 1099s from brokerages,” shared CPA Julie Welch in Leawood, Kan.
CPA Michael Landsberg of Atlanta wrote, “The limiting of itemized deductions such as $10,000 for state and local taxes has, in some cases, caused taxpayers to end up taking the standard deduction rather than their normal itemized deductions. This has surprised some but one potential solution for the charitably inclined would be to ‘bunch’ charitable contributions. That strategy entails making a few years’ worth of contributions in one year so that itemizing becomes realistic.”
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