Published April 2006

Filing or paying taxes late:
what you need to know

The reasons for failing to file and/or pay taxes are many ó personal problems, illness, a death in the family, loss of financial records and so on. But you canít ignore the IRS forever. Eventually, it will catch up with you, and the outcome can be harsh. So what do you do?

Late filing
File as soon as possible to stop the late filing penalty of 5 percent per month from running up to its maximum of 25 percent of the tax due. Donít let lack of funds prevent you from filing the return. If you had a good reason for late filing, include a statement regarding your situation and request waiver of the penalties. Excuses that may work include death, serious illness, unavoidable absence or inability to obtain records.

For complex returns, get professional help preparing delinquent returns. If you donít file, the IRS can prepare a ďsubstituteĒ return for you, which might not give you credit for all your rightful deductions and exemptions. Also, you may have a refund coming, which will be lost if you donít file within three years of the due date. If youíre self-employed, you must file within three years of the due date in order to get Social Security credits toward your retirement.

Late payment
The IRS is like a loan shark when it comes to financing. If you can get the money elsewhere, do it. The late payment penalty is 0.5 percent per month, up to 25 percent of the tax due. Late filing and late payment penalties together can run up to 47.5 percent. The IRS also charges interest on unpaid tax and penalties, currently at a 7 percent annual rate.

If you donít pay, the IRS could take serious collection action, such as levying bank accounts, wages or other income, or taking other assets. A Notice of Federal Tax Lien could be filed, negatively affecting your credit rating.

Consider use of credit cards, home equity, 401(k) or life insurance loans to pay the tax. Pay as much as possible to minimize the interest and penalties. Then, write to the IRS to explain your situation and request an extension of time to pay or an installment agreement. The IRS can offer extensions from 30 to 120 days depending on the situation.

Use IRS Form 9465 to request an installment agreement. An installment agreement for up to three years is generally approved if the tax you owe is not more than $10,000. Interest and penalties continue to apply.

For very large tax bills, consider an offer in compromise. This is a sophisticated technique that amounts to a negotiation with the IRS to pay less than the total tax due. Professional consultation is strongly advised.

The moral of the story is to file all tax returns that are due, regardless of whether or not you can pay the tax due. Pay as much of the tax on time as you can, and donít ignore Big Brother ó he will catch up with you!

Mary Decker is a CPA, Certified Financial Planner and a principal of Hascal Sjoholm & Co., a full-service CPA firm in Everett. She specializes in tax and estate planning. She can be reached online at or at 425-252-3173.

Back to the top/April 2006 Main Menu


© 2006 The Daily Herald Co., Everett, WA