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The tax deadline is quickly approaching. As you prepare to account for last year’s earnings to the IRS, be sure to avoid these five boneheaded tax mistakes.
1. Neglect to file a tax return because you don’t have the money you owe.
Always file, even if you can’t afford the taxes you owe. The Internal Revenue Service considers not paying on time and not filing as two separate offenses, with a penalty for each. The stiffer penalty is imposed for not filing at all.
When you file your tax return, you have several options if you can’t pay right away. You can:
- Apply for an “offer in compromise.”
- Make monthly payments through an IRS installment plan.
- Temporarily delay paying.
Whatever you decide, make sure to contact the IRS right away to let them know you cannot pay. You should pay as much as you can when you file because the IRS assesses penalties and interest on the amount not paid.
2. Ignore any letters you get from the IRS.
Do ignore phone calls or emails purportedly from the IRS because those are scams. But do not ignore mail that arrives via USPS from the tax agency.
Those who don’t communicate with the IRS when they can’t pay can expect a “Notice of Federal Tax Lien” to be filed against their property. This is a lien about the size of an elephant. It attaches all your property, including your house, car and any future property you might obtain.
A levy, which is a legal seizure of property, is another legal means the IRS can use to collect taxes. The IRS can seize your car, boat or home and sell it to satisfy your tax debt, or it can take from your wages.
3. Pay your tax bill with a high-interest credit card.
Although this is a better approach than not paying your taxes at all, you should investigate the best way to borrow the money. Compare the interest rate of your credit card with that of a personal loan from your bank or credit union. The idea is to incur the least amount of interest. Try to pay off the loan as soon as possible and do what you can to avoid the same situation next year.
A personal loan can be a cheaper way to borrow than credit cards. Search rates at Bankrate.
4. Get a refund-related loan.
Tax refund products are advertised heavily at this time of year, even late in the filing season. While the fees for these products have been declining, some still come with a significantly high annual interest rate — up to 36 percent, for example.
Also, don’t forget this is a loan; if the IRS turns down any deductions or credits on your return, you generally will still be responsible for the full amount of the loan.
You do have other options, such as filing electronically and, if you have a checking account, having your refund direct-deposited. The IRS says most refunds are issued in under three weeks.
Did you know that 70 percent of Americans qualify to file their taxes for free? Check out the IRS’ Free File option.
5. Spend your refund as fast as possible.
Spending your refund may not be such a good idea, no matter how tempting. If you have large credit card debt, inadequate savings or a limited retirement fund, a better use of the money may be to pay down debt, open a savings account or establish an IRA.