All About Tax Penalties

dealing with tax penalties

Tax Day is the date by which you need to submit your individual tax return to the IRS (usually April the 15th each year). If you have all the money to pay your debt, then all is great. But, what happens when you lack the necessary funds? In this case, the IRS may charge tax penalties. The same applies to some other occasions. All of that will be discussed in depth here, so you know exactly what to expect and what to do if you are called to pay tax penalties. 

 

Do You Have to File Taxes?

You must file a tax return if you:

Note that for individual taxpayers under 65 years of age, the standard deductions are $12,000 (single filers), $24,400 for joint filers, and $18,350 for single parents (2019 IRS rules). For single filers over 65 years old, the amount climbs to $13,850 or $20,000 if you are the head of the household. For joint filers where one or both spouses are over 65, the deduction is $25,700. 

 

What is a Tax Penalty?

The IRS charges both interest and penalties in several different instances. For example, you will be called to pay some additional costs for:

  • Failure to file – This means that you did not manage to file your tax return by April 15. Do note, though, that you can request a deadline extension. If it is approved, you won’t be charged any failure-to-file tax penalties. 
  • Failure to pay – You don’t have the money to pay the taxes on your return or are unable to make the needed payment before the expiration of the due date (April 15). Beware, in this case, because you will still have to pay your taxes within the given deadline even if your deadline extension (to file your tax return) request has been approved. 
  • Failure to pay tax – If you don’t make tax payments as you earn income (quarterly), you are penalized for late estimated tax payments. 
  • Dishonored check – You have submitted a preferred payment form (i.e., check), but your bank does not honor it.  Or in other words, your check bounces. 

If you owe money to the IRS, the Internal Revenue Service will send you a Notice of Tax Due and Demand for Payment, which includes not only the owed taxes but also the penalties and interest. 

 

What is The Penalty for Filing Taxes Late?

There are two different scenarios here, according to the Internal Revenue Code §6651(a)(1). 

If you owe taxes and fail to file your tax return on time, the IRS will start charging 5% of every unpaid tax you have to report on your return for every month you are late to file (0.5% for not paying and 4.5% for not filing). The total penalty you may be asked to pay for not filing taxes on time can add up to nearly 48% of the tax owed, plus interest. 

So, basically, the IRS begins to accumulate charges in your name. If you are more than 60 days late, the minimum penalty you will be called to pay equals to the lesser of two sums – either a specific dollar amount (for 2020, it is set at $435) or 100% of the tax required to be paid on your return (plus interest). 

Now, if you are expecting a tax refund and do not file your tax return within the due date, you won’t be charged any fees. However, you won’t be able to receive your refund until you do file your tax return.

Bear in mind that the late filing penalty is NOT the same as the penalty you get for making late payments. You are charged a late filing penalty when you don’t turn in essential tax documents on time, such as your Form 1040. The late payment penalty is applied when you are late in making your tax payments and is 0.5% of your unpaid taxes for every 30 days you do not pay your outstanding taxes. 

 

What is the Penalty for Not Filing Taxes?

If you fail to file, the IRS may file a substitute return for you, which will NOT include your standard deductions included in your return. The only exception to the substitute return is married filing separately or single filing. Under IRC § 6651(a)(1), the penalty is 5% of the due balance, plus an extra 5% for every 30 days (or a fraction thereof) during which you continue to fail filing taxes. The maximum penalty is 25%. 

Notes:

  • As soon as you pay your balance, both interest and penalties stop accruing. 
  • Even if you pay your tax in full before the month ends, the IRS will still apply full monthly charges. 
  • If you cannot pay your balance in full, you could apply for an Installment Agreement to help repay the remaining debt
  • You may be eligible for penalty relief if you have complied with the law requirements but were not able to meet your obligations toward the IRS. 
  • If you disagree with your balance, you can call 1-800-829-1040. Make sure you have all the required paperwork ready (i.e., amended return, canceled checks, etc.) when you make that call to the IRS. 

 

How is the Tax Underpayment Penalty Calculated?

Taxpayers in America pay taxes the moment they make money rather than a lump amount. And, they can pay taxes either by making estimated tax payments or via withholding. The penalty for underpayment of estimated tax is usually applied to individuals that have skipped some tax payments the previous fiscal year. To put it simply, a tax underpayment penalty is a penalty that you owe if you fail to pay enough in estimated tax payments or through withholding during the year. 

Failure to pay proper estimated tax usually comes with a penalty if you owe at least $1,000 when you file the return, per the Internal Revenue Code §6654. You might be able to make unequal payments and annualize your income as a means to lower or even avoid the penalty, though. This typically happens when you receive your income unevenly during the year. 

In some instances, you can waive this penalty:

  1. Your tax payments were (1) 90% or more of the tax liability during the year or 
  2. Your tax payments were 100% of the tax liability of the previous year. 
  3. You did not make a payment due to an out-of-the-blue event, such as a disaster or casualty. 

The IRS may also waive a tax underpayment penalty for retirees over 62 years of age or individuals that became disabled either during the current or the previous tax year. Some exceptions apply for some household employers and fishers. Ask us to give you all the details or read the IRS Publication 505

The IRS calculates your penalty for every installment separately, where they first determine the number of days you are late and then multiply that number by the interest rate that is effective for the installment period. However, you may also check whether you owe a tax underpayment penalty by using Form 2210 (Underpayment of Estimated Tax by Individuals, Estates, and Trusts) or Form 2220 (Underpayment of Estimated Tax by Corporations) depending on your case – look for the flowchart. 

If you do owe a penalty, you will need to figure out what you owe in taxes per quarter (and what you have paid in taxes during this time) to calculate the per-quarter penalty sum. Then, you will get your total penalty amount by totaling your quarterly penalties. According to the IRS, the following interest rates on underpayments apply:

  • 2.5% for the portion of an overpayment over $10,000 (for corporations).
  • 5% for underpayments and overpayments (not for corporations).
  • 4% for corporation overpayments.
  • 7% for large corporate underpayments. 
  • The federal short-term rate + 3% for taxpayers besides corporations (for underpayments).
  • The federal short-term rate + 2% for taxpayers besides corporations (for overpayments). 

Remember that all rates are determined on a quarterly basis. 

 

Tax Penalty and Fee Abatement 

Taxpayers that fail to file, pay, or deposit penalties may qualify for the first-time penalty abatement (FTA) waiver (only applies if there is reasonable cause for not paying or filing taxes on time). The IRS may grant relief to relieve this administrative waiver if certain criteria are met, such as having a clean compliance history (no penalties owed) for at least three years. You may also be eligible for the FTA waiver if you have:

  • Paid all tax due.
  • Made arrangements to pay all tax due (i.e., via an installment agreement – applies to current payments). 
  • Filed all necessary returns and cannot file an outstanding claim for a tax return.
  • Filed a valid extension for the necessary returns and cannot make an outstanding request for a tax return. 

To request penalty abatement over the telephone, you need to provide your tax practitioner with a Power of Attorney authorization to request the penalty on your behalf, especially if your case is being handled by a specific compliance unit. If you don’t receive a letter from the IRS indicating that you meet the FTA criteria and that your penalties have been removed within 30 days from the day you (or your tax practitioner) called them, it is strongly advised to follow up with the IRS. You may, nevertheless, request a penalty abatement by letter or mail, provided that you attach all relevant documents and information, such as transcripts that prove payment or filing compliance and/or a valid power of attorney, among others. 

Important Notes:.

  • If you have paid the penalty, you can file Form 843 and ask for a refund
  • First-time penalty abatement applies to one tax period. If you request for penalty relief for more than one year, your penalty relief will apply to the earliest tax period, as long as you meet the FTA criteria. The subsequent tax years may have a penalty relief based on reasonable cause criteria and other relief provisions. 
  • You may take your case to Appeals if you believe that you can receive penalty relief on hazards of litigation on other factors.

 

Conclusion 

Filing your tax returns and paying your tax bill on time is key to avoiding getting penalties. Nevertheless, in any other case, there are always reasonable IRS payment plans that you could consider. These offer significantly lower interest rates and may even allow you to settle your bill for less than the due amount, such as the Offer in Compromise.

Let’s talk about your options and see what is the best course of action based on your individual case so that you can enjoy a happier and more stress (and debt)-free life from now on. Contact us now and schedule your appointment for a free consultation.