Attention tax procrastinators: If you got an extension to file your 2009 tax return, you have just a few days let to complete that task.
Your Form 1040 must be on its way to the IRS by Friday, Oct. 15.
If you mail your tax return, make sure it's postmarked by that day. Better yet, spend the few extra dollars to send the filing via certified mail. That way you can prove to the IRS that you met its deadline.
If you go the electronic tax-filing route, you can hit "send" any time on Oct. 15 before midnight. But don't push the deadline too much. What if your Internet service provider has problems -- lots of last-minute filers overloading its capacity -- and crashes late Friday just as you were getting reading to e-file your form? Then you are in trouble.
Don't forget about Free File. This IRS option lets taxpayers with 2009 adjusted gross incomes of $57,000 or less submit their returns at no cost and is still accepting tax returns that are due this week.
Of course, all of you late-filers did already pay the IRS any 2009 taxes you owe when you requested an extension earlier this year, right? Remember, the filing extension is for the paperwork only, not for any tax bill.
But you still have to get the forms in on time now. The reason: The IRS penalty for not filing is actually stiffer than the one for not paying what you owe.
When taxpayers don't file on time and owe the IRS money, the agency can charge a failure-to-file fee of 5 percent of your total tax bill, which consists of a 4.5 percent late-filing fee and a 0.5 percent late-payment penalty. It's assessed for each month, or part of a month, that tax is due and can accumulate until it hits 25 percent of the tax bill.
Before the Oct. 15 deadline, the IRS isn't allowed to impose both a late-filing and a late-payment penalty. So the agency waives the nonpayment fee for the months that a filer procrastinates. That provides a bit of a break, if you consider a 22.5 percent nonfiling penalty a break.
But if you continue to ignore your tax-filing duties beyond the October deadline, the eventual assessments could mean you have to hand over a considerable check to Uncle Sam.
The agency could ultimately slap you with a total penalty charge of up to 47.5 percent (22.5 percent late-filing fee plus 25 percent late-payment charge) of the tax owed. For returns that are more than 60 days late, the minimum failure-to-file penalty is the smaller of $135 or 100 percent of the tax due.
So dig out your tax receipts and other documentation and get to work on that 1040!
And if you need some extra help, all the tax tips and advice in Bankrate's 2010 Tax Guide still apply to the 2009 return you're now finally completing.
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