Feeling Crunched at Tax Time? CCH Says You Have Options

(RIVERWOODS, ILL., April 7, 2009) – With April 15 approaching, you may feel crunched for time to figure your taxes, finding the money to pay them, or both. Perhaps your records are in a mess and you just don’t have time to figure out what to put on every line of every schedule. Or perhaps you’ve just taken a first look at your taxes, and it’s not good news. You owe more than you had withheld, more than you paid in estimated tax, more than you can afford to pay. It’s very tempting to go to bed, pull the covers over your head and hope that the IRS will go away. But that’s one temptation that has to be resisted at all costs, according to CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business and a leading provider of tax, accounting and audit information, software and services (CCHGroup.com).

“The one thing that can make a bad situation worse is not filing your return or requesting an extension. That brings on a failure-to-file penalty, in addition to possible penalties and interest for failure to pay,” said Mark Luscombe, JD, LLM, CPA and CCH principal federal tax analyst. “It’s smart to file even if you can’t pay, and pay even if you get an extension to file.”

Extension Allows More Time to File

If you aren’t able to fill out a complete return – because you need more information or more time to cope with the information you have – you should file for an extension, using Form 4868, estimating your ultimate tax liability and paying as much of it as you can by the normal due date of April 15.

“With an extension, you can get more time for filing, but you will owe interest on any underpayment, starting on the original date. If you underpay by more than 10 percent, you may be subject to a penalty,” Luscombe noted. “In addition, if you’re due a refund or the stimulus rebate, you won’t get them until after you actually file your return.”

Automatic Six-month Extension

An extension will automatically give you six additional months to file your 2008 taxes – until October 15, 2009. Not so long ago, an automatic extension allowed only four months, and you had to state a reason for getting an additional two-month extension.

“Increasing the length of the automatic extension saves taxpayers some time and trouble, but it’s still smart to file as soon as you can, especially since you won’t receive any incentive rebate you’re entitled to until after you file,” Luscombe observed.

Failing to get an extension, or not filing by the extended date, can subject you to a failure-to-file penalty. The penalty is 5 percent of the tax due for every month or any fraction of a month that the return is overdue, capped at 25 percent. However, there is a minimum penalty for any return not filed within 60 days of the due date (plus any extensions) of $100 or 100 percent of the tax due, whichever is less.

“The bottom line is that if you don’t file, you’ll almost certainly pay more in the end, and you aren’t likely to sleep very soundly knowing that the IRS may be looking for you, either,” Luscombe said.

Just Charge It

If you can’t pay your entire tax bill with what money you have at hand but can pay the full amount within 120 days, you can ask the IRS for a short-term administrative extension by calling 1-800-829-1040.

If you need more than 120 days to pay your taxes, there are two options for paying off your full tax debt over time – using a credit card or arranging an installment agreement with the IRS.

For several years now, it has been possible to pay your taxes with a credit card, and there are some advantages to taking this route. One is that the “convenience fees” of 2 to 3 percent charged for making the credit card transaction may be lower than the fee charged by the IRS for setting up an installment agreement. Another is that you may earn frequent flyer miles or other perks by using your card. If you owe a relatively small amount and if you pay it off within a few months, the total costs can easily be less than if you deal with the IRS directly.

All credit card payments have to be made electronically, through personal tax software, a paid tax preparer or through credit card service payment providers that you contact by phone or over the Internet.

Installments with the IRS

There are some good reasons to deal directly with the IRS itself, however. One is that costs can be lower in the end because the IRS charges relatively low interest on installment payment agreements. The other is that you may be able to convince the IRS to accept less than the full amount due – a so-called “offer in compromise.”

“Until 2004, with the installment agreement, you were agreeing to pay the full amount, with interest, whereas with an offer in compromise, you and the IRS reach an agreed upon amount you will pay,” said Luscombe. “However, the American Jobs Creation Act now permits the IRS to enter into installment agreements for less than full payment.”

Under a 1998 law, the IRS is required to accept installment payments if you have a good filing and payment record, the amount owed is not more than $10,000 and it can be paid off within three years, but they can charge you interest, which varies with the federal short-term rate and is adjusted quarterly. Also, they can assess a 0.25-percent penalty for failing to pay in any month the installment payment is in effect. Any installment agreement that the IRS is required to accept must still be for full payment.

The “good filing and payment record” means you’ve filed and paid your taxes on time for the last five years and that your current withholding and estimated tax payments are sufficient to cover taxes for the current tax year.

You apply for an installment agreement on Form 9465, detailing the amount you owe, the monthly amount you propose to pay and the date of the month (no later than the 28 th) on which you’ll make the payment. You’ll be charged a one-time fee, usually $52 or $105, when the IRS accepts your installment payment agreement. The lower fee is for a direct-debit arrangement. In addition, people who fall beneath poverty guidelines need only pay a $43 fee.

If you owe $25,000 or less in taxes, interest and penalties, you can set up a payment agreement online, but the IRS can have a say in the amount of your monthly payment. Go to irs.gov and choose “Set Up a Payment Plan” from the “I need to…” drop-down menu.

If you owe more than $25,000 in taxes, interest and penalties, you may be able to set up an installment plan, but you have to file Form 433F, “Collection Information Statement,” in addition to Form 9465.

You can have installment payments made directly from your paycheck. You have to call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 to set up this payment option.

Let’s Make a Deal

Offers in compromise normally arise because you convince the IRS that the tax debt in its entirety could never be collected or there’s a dispute between you and the IRS as to how much is actually owed, but neither party wants to enter into a legal battle to resolve the issue. In rare instances, you may be able to work out an offer in compromise even when there’s no doubt about the amount you owe and its collectibility, but you can convince the IRS that collecting the debt in full would impose an undue hardship.

Taxpayers should be prepared to bare their financial souls when they apply for an offer in compromise on Form 656 and truly make a serious offer.

The IRS has indicated that it will have little patience with taxpayers who propose settling their tax debts for “pennies on the dollar” and warns that many unscrupulous promoters are urging people to make such offers, while charging them excessive fees for their dubious advice.

There’s a $150 fee charged for offers in compromise. People who fall below certain income levels based on Department of Health and Human Services poverty guidelines can ask for a waiver with an “Application Fee Worksheet,” which is now included in the basic offer-in-compromise package.

You must make an initial payment with your offer. If you are proposing to pay in five installments or fewer, you have to include 20 percent of the total amount you propose to pay when you submit the offer. If you propose a longer payment period, you have to include an amount equal to your first payment under your proposed plan. You must also continue to make payments in accordance with the proposed plan while the offer is being considered.

If You Can’t Keep Up Payments

The IRS has announced that it will try to go easy on people who can’t keep to their original installment agreements of offers in compromise due to a change in their personal finances. Anyone having difficulty is advised to call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040.

“There may be real help for people, but the IRS has not revealed just how far it will go to accommodate taxpayers in difficulties before they resort to measures such as liens and levies,” Luscombe said.

Avoiding Future Problems

Anyone who feels stretched to pay this year’s tax bill is likely to have another problem looming on the horizon: next year’s tax bill. Painful as it may be, taxpayers should use Form W-4 to adjust their withholding and make estimated tax payments, if necessary, to keep debts to the IRS from snowballing.

“It’s tough to have additional amounts withheld from your paycheck when you’re already in an installment agreement or tapped out from last year’s taxes, but the IRS is one creditor that most people don’t want to have,” Luscombe said.

About CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business

CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business (CCHGroup.com) is a leading provider of tax, accounting and audit information, software and services. It has served tax, accounting and business professionals since 1913. Among its market-leading products are The ProSystem fx® Office, CCH® TeamMate, CorpSystem®, IntelliConnect™, Accounting Research Manager® and the U.S. Master Tax Guide®. CCH is based in Riverwoods, Ill.

Wolters Kluwer is a leading global information services and publishing company. The company provides products and services for professionals in the health, tax, accounting, corporate, financial services, legal, and regulatory sectors. Wolters Kluwer had 2008 annual revenues of €3.4 billion, employs approximately 20,000 people worldwide, and maintains operations in over 35 countries across Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and Latin America. Wolters Kluwer is headquartered in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Its shares are quoted on Euronext Amsterdam (WKL) and are included in the AEX and Euronext 100 indices. Visit www.wolterskluwer.com for information about our market positions, customers, brands, and organization.

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