Tap on the profile icon to edit
your financial details.

5 Things You Shouldn't Do If You Owe the IRS at Tax Time

Owing any amount of money to the IRS – large or small – is a scary prospect. And ignoring the debt won’t make it go away any faster. If you’ve completed your income tax return for the tax year and you’re looking at a huge tax bill, it’s best to take care of it right away. Here’s a look at what you don’t want to do if you’re trying to avoid making the situation worse in the long run.

Check out our free income tax return calculator.

Mistake #1: Not Filing a Return

If you owe taxes and you can’t afford to pay, you may think that the best thing to do is just not file a return at all. But that’s not a good idea. When you don’t file your return on time, the IRS automatically tacks on a 5% failure to file penalty for every month you owe taxes, up to a maximum of 25%. On top of that, you’ll also pay interest on the bill until you pay it in full.

Mistake #2: Not Filing an Extension

Requesting an extension gives you an additional six months to get your return completed. If you file an extension request before the April tax deadline (for tax year 2019, the extended deadline is July 15, 2020), you won’t have to worry about the failure to file penalty. You will, however, still owe a failure to pay penalty on any outstanding taxes, which comes to 0.5% of the balance. This penalty is also capped at 25%.

Mistake #3: Not Setting up a Payment Plan

5 Things You Shouldn't Do If You Owe the IRS at Tax Time

The IRS really doesn’t want to have to come after you to get the money you owe. To make it easier for taxpayers to pay up, Uncle Sam offers payment plans. If you owe taxes and you can’t pay, it’s a good idea to find out whether you qualify for an installment plan.

You may be eligible for an online payment plan if you owe the IRS less than $50,000 in income taxes, penalties and interest. If you fit that criteria, you can apply for a payment agreement online. Otherwise, you’ll need to fill out Form 9465 and mail it to your local IRS office to see what kind of plan you qualify for.

The IRS gives eligible taxpayers up to 72 months to get their tax debt paid in full. Keep in mind that interest and penalties will continue to pile up until the balance is paid off. If you’re owed a refund in any subsequent tax years while you’re on the plan, the IRS can apply those to what you owe.

Mistake #4: Ignoring the Consequences

Aside from the penalties and the interest, there are other things the IRS can do to make you regret skipping out on paying your taxes. Your passport could be canceled, for example, which can throw a wrench in your travel plans. In the worst case scenario, the IRS could place a lien against your property or garnish your wages. Knowing what’s at stake can motivate you to pay up.

Mistake #5: Choosing the Wrong Way to Pay

5 Things You Shouldn't Do If You Owe the IRS at Tax Time

If you don’t have enough cash to cover your tax bill, you might be thinking about taking on more debt to do it. Depending on your situation, that could mean borrowing against your home equity, taking out a personal loan or charging it all to a credit card.

The one thing you don’t want to do is make your decision in a rush. It’s a good idea to take the time to compare interest rates, fees and repayment terms for each option so you’ll know exactly what borrowing to pay your taxes is going to cost you.

Final Word

Paying taxes is never pleasant, especially when you aren’t expecting to get hit with a bill. Facing it head-on instead of sticking your head in the sand is the best approach if you don’t want to get in even deeper trouble with the IRS.

Update: So many people reached out to us looking for tax and long-term financial planning help, we started our own matching service to help you find a financial advisor. The SmartAdvisor matching tool can help you find a person to work with to meet your needs. First you’ll answer a series of questions about your situation and your goals. Then the program will narrow down your options to three fiduciaries who suit your needs. You can then read their profiles to learn more about them, interview them on the phone or in person and choose who to work with in the future. This allows you to find a good fit while the program does much of the hard work for you.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/CreativaImages, ©iStock.com/bernie_moto, ©iStock.com/Danchenko

Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She's worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
Was this content helpful?
Thanks for your input!

About Our Taxes Expert

Have a question? Ask our Taxes expert.