Help! I'm not ready to file my taxes. What should I do?
You didn't get your tax documents in order yet. You're still waiting for a lost W-2. You just flat-out haven't felt like tackling your taxes. Whatever the reason you don't have your tax return completed yet, there's no need to stress about it. Filing for a tax extension is a quick and painless experience that will give you an extra six months to file.
There are several important things you'll want to keep in mind, though, if you're filing a tax extension.
1. A filing extension is not a payment extension.
If you think you're going to owe the IRS additional taxes this year, you'll need to estimate on your extension (Tax Form 4868, which you can free file) what you're going to owe and go ahead and pay that amount by this year's deadline of April 18.
If you end up overpaying, you'll get a refund. If you under-pay, you could owe penalty and interest on the amount you didn't pay.
2. Can't afford to pay? Review your options.
If you've been putting off filing because you know you owe and just can't afford to pay your taxes due, you should immediately contact the IRS to ask for an installment agreement, so you can pay what you owe in smaller amounts over time.
When you enter into the payment plan, the fees and interest will be assessed to the end of your agreement, so if you plan to pay off the debt before the end of your agreement, contact the IRS to adjust your installment amount.
Consider all your options: Using a personal loan or credit card to pay your taxes on time may be cheaper than what you'd owe the IRS by the time you factor in all the penalties, though generally a payment plan with the IRS is your best bet.
Also, failing to file your extension by April 18 results in a late-filing penalty, which is why it's important to file on time.
3. Don't bury your head in the sand.
The worst thing you can do when dealing with unaffordable taxes is ignore them. If you owe tax debt, the IRS can take serious enforced collection action, such as taking money from your bank accounts, wages, or other income. In general, they have many more options available to collect your tax debt than do other companies you may owe money to.
The IRS may send a debt collector to retrieve the funds you owe, or if you owe $10,000 or more and can't pay it right away, the IRS may file a Notice of Federal Tax Lien. Tax liens are reported to the major credit bureaus, and are considered very negative information so your credit scores can drop significantly as a result. If you're concerned about how tax debts might be affecting your credit, you can get a free credit report summary on Credit.com.
Under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, tax liens can be reported longer than any other type of negative information — seven years from the date they are paid. However, under the IRS Fresh Start initiative, you may be able to get a tax lien withdrawn and removed from your credit reports once you pay it, or enter into an installment agreement, which we'll discuss in a moment. That's all the more reason to find a way to work with the IRS rather than avoid paying.
This article originally appeared on Credit.com.
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