Everybody knows the old saying about death and taxes, yet a surprising number of people fail to file an income tax return. If you’re one of those people and you think you’ll be able to slide by, you need to reconsider your position. Even if you’re unable to pay your taxes, you need to file a return. Not doing so will eventually lead to a domino effect of negative consequences.
No matter how many people have told you that it’s no big deal, or that the IRS has “bigger fish to fry” than you, the employees of the Internal Revenue Service have a job to do and a process that they follow. Even if no legal action is taken against you, failure to file a return will end up working against you. Let’s take a look at the rules regarding filing your taxes and the various outcomes that you risk:
Most are Required to File Tax Returns
If your income is less than the standard deduction and you don’t owe self-employment taxes, ACA penalties or refunds or qualify for a refundable credit, then you probably don’t have to file a tax return. However, these days with health and family assistance all tied to the tax return the number no required to file a return is shrinking. So just about all individuals, estates and trusts have to file a return and may have to pay taxes. Those are two different things, and there are penalties involved with ignoring or rejecting each of them. Even people who don’t have the money available to pay the tax that they owe are better off sending in a tax return rather than skipping the process. Here’s why:
- The IRS imposes a fee for not paying your taxes, and they impose a separate fee for not filing. The larger of the two is imposed for not filing – it’s 4.5%, compared to just 0.5% for not paying, and that fee gets charged every single month. You can end up paying up to 22.5% for failure to file and 25% for not paying (plus interest on unpaid taxes accrues from the return’s due date until you pay). The bottom line is that whether you can pay or not, you’ll save yourself big fees by submitting the required paperwork.
- In addition to incurring fees, consideration must also be given to the actions that the IRS takes when they haven’t received a tax return from a taxpayer. The process involves the preparation of a substitute return which will be completed without consideration of tax advantages, deductions or write-offs, which leads to a higher calculated amount owed than would be the case if you prepared and filed your return for yourself.
- The IRS is limited by a rule known as the “statute of limitations” that gives them just three years from the date that you file to perform an audit. The three-year clock starts when you file a return, so the sooner you get the paperwork in, the sooner your risk of being audited expires. That statute also applies to any refund you might have coming, after three from the date of filing you forfeit any refund. Beyond audit, if the IRS allows ten years from the date of your filing to go by without pursuing your taxes owed, they lose their ability to collect taxes, penalty or interest. The same is true of your ability to include your tax debt, interest debt or penalty debt in a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy discharge is based upon the date of your tax filing (generally two to four years after your tax return is filed).
What happens if you file your return without submitting the money you owe?
Once the IRS processes a return that is not accompanied by payment or discovers a taxpayer’s failure to file and pay taxes, they issue a Notice of Tax Due and Demand for Payment that will detail how much you owe in taxes, interest, and penalties. You are able to submit payment via cash, money order, credit card, check or electronic funds transfer, and the sooner you submit payment the better, as penalties and interest will continue to accumulate. If you don’t have the funds available, it is better to contact the IRS and discuss your problem with them than to ignore the notification. Options for resolving your payment issue include:
- Allowing a temporary delay. This is generally offered after a review of your situation, during which time the agency may file a Notice of Federal Tax Lien. This document will allow the government to put a placeholder on the amount that you owe them until such time that you are able to pay.
- Setting up an installment agreement. This allows you to make smaller monthly payments based on what you can afford.
- Settling through an Offer in Compromise. This is an agreement that is only possible after all other options have been exhausted, allowing you to pay a lower amount than what is owed. It is issued after a complete review of your financial situation and addresses penalties and interest along with the original tax amount itself. Reaching an Offer in Compromise requires filing an application that costs $150.
It’s important to remember that if you receive a tax bill that you think is incorrect, ignoring it is just as big a mistake as not filing a return. Instead, take positive action by contacting your local IRS office, taking all pertinent documentation along with you to prove your case.
The bottom line
Perhaps more important than all other reasons, you need to be aware that if you fail to file a tax return and you owe income tax, there is a possibility of consequences that go beyond the financial. You could end up vulnerable to criminal prosecution, as well as a whole lot of stress. By following the rules and staying in touch with the IRS, you’ll save yourself a huge headache, and a fair amount of money too.