Friendly Reminder: A Tax Extension Doesn’t Give You More Time to Pay

Haven't filed your taxes yet? Good news: You can get a six-month extension to do them.

Haven’t filed your taxes yet? Good news: You can get a six-month extension to do them. Bad news: You still need to pay your taxes by April 18 (this year’s deadline), or you’ll owe interest and fees for making a late payment. You have to do your best to estimate what you owe and make or postmark the payment by April 18.

How to Get an Extension to File Your Taxes

You can request an extension from the Internal Revenue Service by either submitting an electronic payment of your estimated tax due, filing an electronic Form 4868 or filing a paper Form 4868. Each option automatically gives you a six-month extension for filing your tax return, meaning you have until Oct. 18 to send in your paperwork.

To make an electronic payment to the IRS, you can make an online direct payment from your bank account, use the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (requires enrollment) or use a credit or debit card. Making an electronic payment means you do not have to file a Form 4868, as the payment triggers an automatic six-month extension. If you file a paper Form 4868, you should include your payment.

What to Do If You Owe But Don’t Have the Money

People often want an extension from the IRS because they don’t have enough money to pay their tax bill. But that’s not how it works.

If you don’t have the cash to pay your taxes, you can make a partial payment, though the unpaid balance will be subject to interest and a late-payment penalty (generally one-half of 1% of the unpaid tax each month the balance goes unpaid, up to 25%). You could also pay your taxes with a credit card, though there’s a processing fee to do so, plus the interest you’d owe your credit card company. You can learn more about paying your taxes with a credit card here. While the IRS offers installment plans, you must file your tax return to apply for one.

Not only can paying your taxes late get expensive due to interest and fees, it could potentially damage your credit: The IRS could place a lien against your property for unpaid tax debt, which will show up on your credit report as a derogatory item. That can drive up the costs of other things in your life, like loan rates and insurance premiums. (You can see what’s affecting your credit by getting a free credit report summary every 14 days on Credit.com.)

Whether you decide to get an extension or file your tax return under deadline pressure, do your best to not rush through your work, because mistakes can cost you, too. Check out this list of 50 things to know if you haven’t filed your taxes yet.

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5 Things to Think Twice About Putting on Your Credit Card

Want to keep your credit card debt in check? Avoid charging these five things.

Credit cards are useful financial tools. They can fund large purchases, build credit and help consumers establish financial independence. But they can also get cardholders into major financial trouble when used improperly. Not all credit card purchases are created equal, and some should be completely sidestepped to avoid unmanageable credit card debt.

Not only can that debt stress you out, it can hurt your credit scores, which can limit your ability to get future credit for things like a mortgage or an auto loan. You can see how your current debt is impacting your credit using our free credit report summary. It provides you with two of your credit scores, completely free and updated every 14 days, plus a summary of how you’re managing your credit in five key areas.

Here are five ways you probably don’t want to use your credit card if you want to be better equipped to manage your credit card balance.

1. Pay Monthly Utilities

Paying monthly utility bills may be especially appealing to cardholders with rewards credit cards — after all, those bills are another way to maximize rewards. In that scenario, it could make sense to pay your bills using a credit card.

But many companies charge convenience fees to pay with a credit card, so you’ll end up paying more than necessary. If you can’t pay off the bill balance in full each month, you could end up paying a lot in interest charges. As interest accrues and your bills continue to stack up, it could become very easy to fall far behind.

If you’re having trouble paying your bills, you might be better off reducing your spending or working with your service providers to come up with an alternative payment plan.

2. Pay College Tuition

There are many ways to pay for college. Student loans, scholarships and part-time jobs can all fund your education. These options are either free or far cheaper than using a credit card. If you wince at the idea of taking out a student loan, remember that a loan will come with much lower interest than a credit card payment. What’s more, most student loans are deferred until after graduation, while you will making monthly payments on your credit card debt almost immediately.

3. Settle Tax Debt

If you find yourself with an unexpected debt to the IRS, it could be tempting simply to charge it. This is usually a bad call.

Paying the IRS with a credit card may result in a convenience fee, and unless you can pay off the balance immediately, you’ll wind up paying interest on that debt quickly. The IRS offers a number of solutions for taxpayers with substantial tax debt, including repayment programs and settlements for less than the original amount owed.

4. Take Out Cash Advances

Cash advances let you take out cash against your credit card balance, but can be far more expensive than the ATM fee you’d pay using your debit card. The cost varies, but some credit cards will charge you a one-time cash advance fee and even an ATM fee if applicable. What’s more, most cards charge a higher APR for cash advances, and you start accruing interest immediately.

The only time a cash advance may make sense is in the case of an emergency where your only alternatives are over drafting at your bank or taking out a payday loan. Even then, it’s a good idea to try to avoid all these scenarios.

5. Charge Your Business Startup Expenses

If you’re starting a new business, you may have a lot of upfront expenses. But the problem with using credit cards to fund your startup is that it could take years for your business to succeed and turn a profit. During that time, you could end up paying thousands of dollars in interest. And if your business fails you’ll still be stuck with credit card debt.

You may be better off finding alternate sources of funding, which could include small business loans or investors.

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The IRS Is Hiring Debt Collectors. Here’s What You Need to Know

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The Internal Revenue Service will soon begin using private collection firms for some overdue federal tax debts, the department announced Monday.

The new program, authorized under a federal law enacted by Congress last December, is slated to begin next spring. Four private, debt-collection contractors — CBE Group, Conserve, Performant and Pioneer — have been designated to collect outstanding tax debts, the IRS said in a prepared announcement.

“As a condition of receiving a contract, these agencies must respect taxpayer rights including, among other things, abiding by the consumer protection provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act,” the announcement said.

Several factors contribute to the IRS assigning these accounts to private collection agencies, the announcement said, including older, overdue tax accounts or lack of resources preventing the IRS from working the cases.

Look For Written Notice From the IRS

It was unclear from the announcement if these companies will be allowed to call taxpayers about their debts, something the IRS has never done and has previously been a surefire way of spotting a scammer. Calls to the IRS Taxpayer Advocate office were not immediately returned, but the announcement did provide some details regarding the private companies’ IRS debt collection practices that could prove helpful in determining whether any correspondence is legitimate. For instance, the IRS will provide affected taxpayers and their representatives with written notice that an account is being transferred to one of the agencies.

“The agency will then send a second, separate letter to the taxpayer and their representative confirming this transfer,” the announcement said. “Private collection agencies will not ask for payment on a prepaid debit card. Taxpayers will be informed about electronic payment options for taxpayers on IRS.gov/Pay Your Tax Bill. Payment by check should be payable to the U.S. Treasury and sent directly to IRS, not the private collection agency.”

The announcement acknowledged potential confusion with phone tax scams, which involve people posing as IRS agents in order to scare someone into turning over their payment or personal information.

“The IRS will do everything it can to help taxpayers avoid confusion and understand their rights and tax responsibilities,” the agency wrote. “The IRS will continue to keep taxpayers informed about scams and provide tips for protecting themselves. The IRS encourages taxpayers to visit IRS.gov for information including the ‘Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts’ page.”

Protect Yourself

Remember, if you are ever concerned about the legitimacy of debt collectors, particularly those trying to collect a tax debt, it is best to err on the side of caution. If you receive an email, for example, do not open any links. Rather than answer, forward the email to phishing@irs.gov.

If you’re worried you may have already compromised your identity by falling for a tax scam, you may want to monitor your credit to make sure your information hasn’t been used to commit new account fraud. You can pull your credit reports (here’s how to get your free annual credit reports) and you can also check your credit snapshot, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com for any unexpected changes, which could be a sign of identity theft.

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Help! I Owe Money on My Taxes & I Can’t Pay

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If you know you owe taxes but can’t pay right away, don’t despair. There are options, although some are admittedly better than others. Here a few ways to take care of your tax debt so it doesn’t come back to haunt you. Failing to pay your taxes can lead to a tax lien on your credit reports, which can not only be costly, it can severely damage your credit scores.

Arrange an Installment Agreement 

Even Uncle Sam understands not everyone has readily available funds to put toward their taxes. If you’re unable to pay your tax debt immediately, you can arrange to make monthly payments through an installment agreement. If you ultimately pay your tax debt in full, you may be able to ditch the fee for setting up the agreement and other penalties or interest, depending on your specific agreement.

To apply for a payment agreement, you’ll need to file your tax returns. You must also owe $50,000 or less in combined individual income tax, penalties and interest. If you’re ineligible for an online payment agreement, you can still pay in installments by completing and mailing Form 9465, Installment Agreement Request, and Form 433-F, Collection Information Statement.

Get a Personal Loan

A personal loan is another way to cover a hefty tax bill, though you’ll pay interest on the financing and the loan amount and your monthly payment record will be noted in your credit reports. Also, the loan application will count as a hard inquiry into your credit, which will temporarily lower your score.

Keep in mind, you need good credit to qualify for a personal loan at the best interest rates. (You can find tips for improving your credit here.)

You can strive to minimize loan applications by researching a lender’s minimum credit score requirements in advance; the idea is to choose a lender whose requirements are in line with your credit score. (You can see where your credit stands by viewing your free credit report summary, updated each month, on Credit.com.)

Pay With Credit Card

The IRS authorizes many companies to accept credit card payments on its behalf, but these companies charge major fees, starting at 1.87% of the amount paid and running as high as 2.25%. (Debit cards also are typically charged between $2.50 and $3.95 per transaction.) Paying with credit card can be convenient, but it can also be expensive, given that, in addition to the fees, any balance you carry from month-to-month is likely to accrue interest.

If you’re in a jam and won’t be able to pay the charges off right away, you can minimize the cost by using your credit card with the lowest interest rate to pay your taxes. You may also want to look into using a credit card that features a 0% introductory interest rate and paying your tax bill off before its promotional interest period ends. (You can learn more about the best balance transfer credit cards in America here.)

More on Income Tax:

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