Here's What Really Happens When People Don't File Their Taxes
What actually happens to those lawless Americans who either forget or flat out refuse to file their taxes?
The simple answer is it's nothing good. In fact, after doing some digging I'm pretty sure you'd be better off filling out your forms in crayon than sitting on your hands and letting the IRS have at you.
"Doing nothing is the worst thing," says Bob Meighan, vice president of TurboTax. "Let's just say you inadvertently forgot, which is hard to believe but it does happen, then by that time you're looking at some significant penalties and interest, particularly if you have a large balance due."
Strike 1: Failure to file. This fee is 10 times harsher than the late payment penalty and starts at 5 percent for each month or partial month you're behind. Wait more than 60 days after Tax Day to file and the least you'll pay is whichever of these two options is smaller: $135 or 100% of your unpaid balance. The only bright side here is that the whole fee's capped at 25 percent of whatever you owe.
Strike 2: Failure to pay. On top of the aforementioned penalty, you'll get popped with a 0.5% fee on your unpaid taxes every month till the balance is paid. The fee doubles if the IRS issues a letter demanding immediate payment.
Your only way out. You're going to have to come up with a better excuse than a sick day. Per the IRS:
"You will not have to pay a failure-to-file or failure-to-pay penalty if you can show that
you failed to file or pay on time because of reasonable cause and not because of willful neglect. ''
And don't kid yourself into thinking you're off the hook if a month goes by and no IRS lackey's come calling. It can take anywhere from six months to a year for the agency to catch up to late payers, Meighan says.
If you're reading this now, you've still got time to cover your bases before tonight's deadline at midnight. Otherwise you'll have a lot more than a dented bank account to worry about, including possible jail time for some tax evaders.
And if you've decided to ignore Uncle Sam because you think you won't be able to afford your payment, you're better off at least knowing what you're up against. There are plenty of refund estimate tools available which will give you an idea of what you'll owe or be owed.
Once you've got that number – no matter how stomach-turning it might be – don't stop there. Either file ASAP (you'll need to pay 90% of the balance by April 17 to avoid fees) or see about getting an extension from the IRS.
Here's how: File a Form 4868 request through IRS Free File. That'll buy you six months, until Oct. 17, to file the tax return. See IRS.gov for more details on late fees and our guide to filing taxes at the 11th hour .
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