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Resist the Urge to Charge Your Taxes

It may be convenient, but the fees will come back to haunt you.

Pay your taxes with plastic and you'll pay the price.

No doubt you use a credit card for the great majority of your purchases. This comes with

obvious advantages -- if you pay off the bill in full each month.

Credit cards are accepted for fast food, cell-phone bills and even for church donations these days.

So it's no surprise that you can also use plastic to pay your federal taxes.

With tax season approaching, those who haven't set enoughaside from their earnings can find that they don't have enough cash on hand to cover their tax bill.

One solution is to put the taxes due on a credit card. The Internal Revenue Service even has a list of features and benefits of

paying your taxes by credit card, whichinclude convenience, safety, availability, security, quickconfirmation and the chance to gain rewards.

But paying your taxes by credit card in most cases is a poor option, says Curtis Arnold, founder of

CardRatings.com. "The only time it makes sense is if you just don't have the money topay for your taxes and have exhausted all other financing options."

Many people see paying by credit card as convenient, but it costs money. Unlike retailers that absorb the credit-card charges levied by the bank when you pay by credit card, the IRS has an exemption from this policy.

So guess what? You end up paying the fees.

That comes to a minimum of 2.49% of your payment. If you owe $10,000 in taxes, you would be charged $249 when using a credit card. Even if you are able to put your taxes on a 0% interest credit card, you will still be charged this fee for using a credit card.

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If you place the tax you owe on a typical credit card, the damage can be even more, Arnold says. "You are 2.49% in the hole out of the gate," he says, "andif you aren't able to take advantage of a 0% promotional APR, theinterest charges could quickly be devastating."

While a credit card may be your only option if you don't have themoney available to pay for most goods and services, this isusually not the case with taxes.

"It's important to note that the IRSoffers

financing options," which typically offer much better terms than the averagecredit-card offers, Arnold says. The IRS installment plan does comewith a one-time user fee of $105, but the interest rate charged (thefederal short-term rate plus 3%) is much lower than the typicalcredit-card rate.

The combination of the lower interest rate and nothaving to pay the 2.49% credit-card fee will almost always be a betteroption for those who need to pay their taxes over time.

The IRS also mentions the rewards you can earn by paying with a credit card. But the math rarely supports this. People assume they are being smart by putting their taxes onto their reward credit card to earn airline miles or other perks, but the 2.49% fee makes even using reward cards a poor option most of the time.

"It doesn't make sense to pay for your taxes strictly for reward purposes,because there aren't any standard credit cards which offer a rebate ashigh as 2.49% for tax payments," says Arnold. (There are cards that offer rebates ashigh as a 5% on certain other types of purchases.) "The only exception would be with a credit card promotion. If an issuer offers a promo deal, then you'd just have to do the math to see if it is worthwhile."

For example, the

Citi Cash Returns credit card offers 5% cash back on all purchases made the first three months you own the credit card. Since the 5% cash back is more than the 2.49% fee, you actually can earn a bit of money by paying your taxes in this instance.

In the end, it's important to realize that the credit card companiesand the IRS have selfish reasons for promoting payment by creditcard.

The IRS knows that it is "more likely to get paid if they offer more payment options," Arnold says. "It's also a very lucrative business for the companies that accept credit card payments for the IRS

as well as the card issuers."

Jeffrey Strain owns SavingAdvice.com.