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I didn't pay my tax bill back in April. Am I going to owe a ton of money? Help! -- P.L.
That depends on your final tax bill.
If you put your 2005 tax return on extension back in April, like yours truly, the drop-dead deadline to file is midnight on Monday, Oct. 16.
Now you know that extending your return did not excuse you from paying the bill. It was due, in full, back in April.
But if, by chance, you didn't send Uncle Sam a dime back then, don't panic. He's not coming to get your kids or throw you in jail. He'll just charge you penalties and interest.
To start, you will have to pay a failure-to-pay penalty of 0.5% of your unpaid taxes for each month after the due date that the tax isn't paid, according to the
Ernst & Young 2006 Tax Guide
. That penalty can't exceed 25%, thankfully.
In addition, you'll get hit with an interest charge of close to 8% on the outstanding balance. So the size of your tax bill will determine exactly how much you owe.
So don't worry, just pay by this deadline.
But what if you don't have the money? Fortunately, you still have two decent options.
As much as I hate to recommend extraneous credit card use, you're in dire straits at this point. So you could consider charging your tax bill.
The IRS has relationships with two companies that allow you to pay your bill with your credit card.
Official Payments and
Link2Gov will let you pay using your American Express, MasterCard, Visa or Discover Card.
The companies charge a small processing fee, but at least you'll rack up airline miles. Just make sure the miles outweigh the fees and corresponding interest your credit card company will charge if you don't pay your bill on time.
If you don't want to charge your bill, though, the IRS will let you establish a payment plan.
To watch the first part of Tracy Byrnes' video take of this column, click here
To watch the second part of Tracy Byrnes' video take of this column, click here
Uncle Sam will pretty much let you decide on your monthly payment amount, so think it through: Once you pick a number, it must be maintained over the life of the agreement.
Then you can opt to have your payment debited from your bank account, deducted from your paycheck, or made directly by you each month. The first two options at least ensure that you're not going to default on your payments.
You must fill out
Form 9465 Installment Agreement Request
or submit your own written request. Be sure to specify the amount you can pay and the day you wish to make your payment each month. Whichever method you choose to notify the IRS -- the official form or your own letter -- attach it to the front of your tax return.
The IRS will respond to your request, usually within 30 days, letting you know if it is approved, denied or if additional information is needed. And if approved, you'll be hit with a one-time user fee of $43, which will be deducted from the first payment.
And since we're talking taxes, here are a few more reminders if you're filing your 2005 return this weekend:
If you're self-employed and extended your return, you have until midnight on Monday to make a contribution to your self-employed retirement account ... so go do it!
If you received a corrected
-- the form that reports your interest, dividends and stock proceeds -- on or before April 15, be sure to use the most current, corrected version, reminds Bob Scharin, editor of
Warren, Gorham, & Lamont/RIA's Practical Tax Strategies
, a monthly journal for tax professionals.
If you had a casualty loss in the early part of 2006 that prevented you from finishing your 2005 tax return and you live in a place that was dubbed a "residentially declared disaster area," you could elect to take your casualty losses on your 2005 tax return, says Scharin.
Don't forget that you had the option to take the sales-tax deduction on your 2005 return.
As a refresher: When you itemize your deductions on Schedule A -- Itemized Deductions, you get to deduct any state and local income taxes you paid in that year.
But for 2005 (and hopefully 2006), you have the option to deduct either the amount you paid on state and local income taxes or your total sales tax paid. So tally all the sales tax you paid on furniture, artwork, clothes and jewelry.
Remember, you can't take both. Typically, you would deduct whichever is higher, but there are other considerations, so run the numbers.
And on the off chance you don't have your receipts from 2005, the IRS created
Publication 600 -- Optional State Sales Tax Tables
And one more big thing for 2005: The year saw horrific damage from major hurricanes, and the IRS wanted to reward your generosity, so hopefully you donated big money to the hurricane relief funds.
Typically, your total charitable contribution deduction is limited to 50% of your adjusted gross income. But because of the extreme devastation, Congress lifted that AGI limitation. So any cash contributions made between Aug. 28, 2005, and the end of the year were totally exempt from that 50% AGI rule. (Stock gifts don't qualify.) But the sky was the limit, so hopefully you were charitable.
But even better, your contributions didn't have to go to a hurricane-relief agency to qualify for this perk. So if you gave a big chunk to your church or synagogue during the holidays, that will count, too.
Just make sure you have written documentation from the charity for any donation you made that was $250 or more, in case Uncle Sam comes knocking.
So good luck getting your 2005 tax return done in between apple-picking outings and football games -- I'll be struggling right along with you.
Just make sure you pay the bill this time!
Tracy Byrnes is an award-winning writer specializing in tax and accounting issues. As a freelancer, she has written columns for wsj.com and the New York Post and her work has appeared in SmartMoney and on CBS MarketWatch. Prior to freelancing, she spent four years as a senior writer for TheStreet.com. Before that, she was an accountant with Ernst & Young. She has a B.A. in English and economics from Lehigh University and an M.B.A. in accounting from Rutgers University. Byrnes appreciates your feedback;
to send her an email.