IRS Personal Taxes

Anna Chumakova
Expert Contributor
Last Updated:
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Owing taxes to the IRS is a serious matter that must be resolved as soon as possible to avoid unpleasant consequences and unnecessary stress. Once you’ve realized that you owe a hefty tax bill, you must be proactive about the situation, especially if you find yourself unable to pay in full right away. Whether you are short on money due to an emergency or some significant life event, you need to know what to do next and what mistakes to avoid.

Costly Mistakes — What Not to Do

Before we go into details about what to do if you owe taxes, let’s look at some common mistakes taxpayers make.

Not Filing Your Return

Many taxpayers tend not to file a return if they are not able to pay the amount they owe. Such a strategy only makes the situation worse as you begin to accumulate even more debt due to interest and penalties. The IRS charges a 5% penalty for not filing, which could go up to 25%. On top of the penalty, you will also accrue interest on your tax bill until it’s paid off.

Not Applying for an Extension

If you need more time to complete your return, the best thing to do is to file for an extension which will give you six more months. You can even avoid the failure-to-file penalty by submitting your extension request before the April 15. However, a failure-to-pay penalty of 0.5% will be added to your bill.

Not Setting Up an Installment Plan

The IRS offers a variety of payment plans for those who can’t pay their balance in full. Try to learn about different options and find out which installment plan you can qualify for.

IRS Personal Taxes

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How Much Tax Debt Do You Owe?


Taxpayers with $50,000 or less in tax debt may check their eligibility and enroll in payment plans online. Those who prefer the traditional route may fill out Form 9465, Installment Agreement Request, and mail it to their local IRS office.

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If you qualify, you will have up to 72 months to take care of your tax bill. Interest and penalties will keep accruing until the bill is paid off completely. Any tax refunds in the following years may be applied toward your balance.

Ignoring the Consequences

Besides generating penalties and interest, issues with the IRS could have other consequences as well. For example, your travel plans could be ruined due to passport suspension. In attempts to collect the debt, the IRS could also place a lien on your property or start garnishing your wages.

Choosing the Wrong Way to Pay

When you don’t have enough resources in your bank account to pay your taxes in full, you may consider paying with a credit card or taking out a personal or home equity loan. However, don’t make a rush decision and take time reviewing your options and comparing interest rates, fees, and borrowing terms.

What to Do if You Owe Taxes

Now that you’ve learned about what not to do, let’s review the steps to take once you’ve realized that you might owe taxes at the end of the year:

  1. Take advantage of free online tax tools to investigate your situation.
  2. Learn about possible tax deductions and credits.
  3. Try estimating your taxes with tax and refund estimators.
  4. Find out about the IRS tax penalties and which ones will apply to you.
  5. File your tax return or extension before the due date, by mail or online. Remember that the fees for not filing are much higher than for not being able to pay. If you filed for an extension, the next due date is typically October 15.
  6. File tax returns for previous tax years. You will have to fill out these forms manually and send them to the IRS by mail.

After going through these steps, you will be better prepared and have a good idea how much you owe in taxes. Most importantly, you will have filed your tax returns as soon as possible to avoid serious consequences.

How to Pay Your Taxes

If you e-file your taxes on some online platform, you can usually pay electronically during your e-filing process. To minimize the failure-to-pay penalty, it is best to pay as much as you can manage. In case you are not able to pay in full or can’t pay anything, apply for an installment plan with the IRS.

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Tips for Minimizing Your Tax Payments in the Future

To avoid or minimize your tax debt at the end of the year, consider the following strategies:

  • During the year, try reviewing and adjusting your income tax withholdings or estimated tax payments. If you owe taxes, it means that not enough taxes were withheld from your paycheck. Try using online tax withholding calculators to figure out the right amount to withhold. To update your withholdings, submit a new Form W-4 to your employer or a new Form 1040-ES to the IRS.
  • If you receive a pension, you can submit a new Form W-4P to the payer to withhold more tax from your payments.

Where to Get Money to Pay Your Taxes

Regardless of how much you owe in taxes, it will be helpful to explore various options for obtaining money to pay your debt. Consider the following ideas:

Although many people are apprehensive about the taxpaying process, being informed and well versed in tax terminology and rules could help you resolve even complex tax situations with more ease and confidence. However, if you feel overwhelmed with tax debt, consider reaching out to professionals at Solvable. Our tax debt specialists will help you find the right solution and make sure you have the tools for staying debt-free in the future.


Anna Chumakova
Expert Contributor
Last Updated: