Benjamin Franklin once wrote in a letter, “[i]n this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Franklin’s words capture the distain many people hold for paying taxes. Few people appreciate having to file income tax returns with the federal government, but people who fail to file returns run the risk of a variety of punishments. However, people can mitigate some of the damage by filing past due returns.
Consequences of Failing to File Returns
People who do not file income tax returns open themselves up to the possibility of several penalties, including:
- Imprisonment: If the IRS believes that a person is not filing tax returns to avoid paying taxes, the IRS may choose to pursue criminal prosecution.
- Failure to File Fines: The IRS may fine a person who files late 5 percent of the total amount the filer owes, plus interest, up to 25 percent of the total amount a person owes.
- Failure to Pay Fines: If a person owes income tax and does not pay it, the failure to pay penalty is 0.05 percent of the unpaid amount for each month the tax is unpaid.
- Liens: The IRS may put a lien on a person’s property for unpaid taxes and failure to file fines, securing the government’s interest in case of sale or bankruptcy.
- Levies: A levy is a seizure of assets, such as on wages or bank accounts. The IRS may choose to levy a filer’s property for unfiled returns fines and unpaid taxes.
- Loss of Refund: People have a limit of three years from the date the return is due in which to claim income tax refunds they are due. After three years pass, unclaimed refunds are forfeit.
Filing Past-Due Returns Can Help
Filing past-due tax returns can help reduce some of the penalties a person faces. Once a person files a past-due return, the IRS is less likely to view the person as trying to avoid paying taxes and prosecute criminally. Also, the clock stops on the time that the return is late for the purpose of calculating fines. Finally, the filer can work out a payment plan for the amount he or she owes. After doing so, the IRS is less likely to put a lien or levy on the filer’s property, since the filer will have made an effort to begin paying the debt.
If you have questions about past-due taxes, contact an experienced tax attorney who can advise you of what steps to take.