Personal Finance
April 5, 2016

What to Do if You Can’t Pay Your Taxes

Simple. Thrifty. Living.

Has a bad financial season left you high and dry this year, unable to pay the income taxes you owe? There’s no need to panic; you’re not alone, and the IRS wants you to know you have options. Here’s a quick review of how to move forward while preserving your peace of mind.

If you expect to be able to pay your full tax debt within the next six months, filing for an extension (Form 4868) is your simplest option. You can do this online through the IRS e-file system. It is important to note that choosing this option will cost you a bit extra: Penalties and interest on the amount due will begin on April 18, so the amount of your owed taxes will be higher when you do file your return.

If you go to the IRS website and search for “Payment Plan,” you will find links to their online application. To qualify for the simplest type of payment plan, you must owe less than $50,000 in taxes and you must have filed all of your tax returns (even if you haven’t paid what you owe). After you complete this process, you will receive instant notification of whether your plan has been accepted.

Even if you don’t qualify for an instant online payment plan, you can apply for an individualized plan by filing out an Installment Agreement Request (Form 9465) and a Collection Information Statement (Form 433-F). You can also initiate a personalized repayment plan by calling the IRS number: 800-829-1040. In some cases, the IRS will accept an “offer in compromise,” which means they will agree to settle your past tax debt by accepting a smaller lump sum payment. You can make an appointment at your local IRS branch office to go in and speak with a representative if you have questions about how to proceed. It’s best to wait until after April 18 to contact the IRS, because they are likely understaffed and may not be available during tax season.

The IRS is willing to accept payment via credit card. Depending on your credit card’s interest rate and the penalties that the IRS is levying, this may not be your cheapest alternative. Some taxpayers choose this option simply because they find dealing with the credit card company less intimidating than dealing with the IRS.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to watch filing deadlines and communicate with the IRS; they are willing to be flexible as long as you keep in touch. Still feeling overwhelmed? Check out out this post about what happens when you can’t pay your taxes (yes, you have options)! 

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