Financial Fundamentals Blog

How to pay an unexpected tax bill

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***This article is for informational purposes only. For specific tax advice for your situation, consult a licensed tax professional.


For some, tax season can be overwhelming and stressful—especially if they’ve fallen behind on their taxes. Falling behind can occur for many reasons, including a major life event such as a death in the family or divorce, feeling overwhelmed by the entire filing process, or not having time to go through the tax process.


No matter what the reason is, one thing is universal: Those who owe can’t continue neglecting their taxes because the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will keep coming after them until they pay their tax bill. Keep reading to find out what to do if this happens to you.


What to Do If You Owe

Don’t panic! There are some options you may not realize that can help you pay your tax bill.


Double-Check Your Exemptions and Credits

First, double-check your filed taxes. Mistakes happen, so be sure to review your return with your tax professional to make sure you’ve included every exemption and credit for which you qualify, and to ensure the correct information was provided.


Consider How to Pay

If the information is correct and you do need to pay a tax bill, consider using your emergency fund, liquidating investments, or borrowing from family or friends. You may also consider taking out a low-interest personal loan.


However, avoid using money that is set aside for retirement, such as retirement-specific savings accounts or your 401(k). If you withdraw early from your 401(k), it may result in an additional income tax fee of 10 percent of the withdrawal amount. This isn’t beneficial when you already owe the IRS. Plus, retirement plan loans must be paid back to the retirement account, which can cause additional hardship.


If you owe a lot of money, a home equity line of credit (HELOC) or home equity loan may be a cost-effective way to pay. These types of loans can provide a quick cash influx and the flexibility to help you meet your tax obligation.


HELOCs especially offer greater flexibility because they’re a revolving line of credit, similar to how a credit card works. You’ll only pay interest on what you borrowed and once that amount is paid off, it is available to use again.


Set Up a Payment Plan

If you don’t want to take out a loan or are unable to do so, consider setting up a payment plan with the IRS. There are a couple of different payment plans available depending on your scenario.

  • Full payment: You can pay the amount you owe in full with no additional penalties or interest. There is no setup fee for this option.
  • Short-term payment: This option must be paid within 180 days or less. There is no setup fee, but you’ll continue accruing interest and penalties until the balance is paid off.
  • Long-term payment: This is a monthly payment plan with two different options. You can either set up automatic withdrawals each month with a one-time $31 fee, or you can pay on your own each month for a one-time $130 fee. Both options accrue interest and penalties until paid in full.

If you need to revise an existing payment plan, there is a one-time $10 fee. There are also fees for paying with a credit card.


You must qualify to set up a payment plan with the IRS. You can qualify for long-term payments if you owe $50,000 or less in combined tax, penalties, and interest. You can qualify for short-term payments if you owe $100,000 or less in combined tax, penalties, and interest.


What to Avoid If You Owe

It may be tempting to pay your tax bill with a high-interest credit card, but this type of debt can impact your credit score and can quickly rack up fees. It may also be tempting to take the money from your retirement accounts, but it’s unwise to undermine your long-term plans by withdrawing funds early. Plus, you’ll be faced with penalties and additional taxes on the amount you take out, which means you’ll have less money to pull from than originally thought.


How to Proceed Going Forward

Once you pay your tax bill in full, you’re going to want to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Work with a tax professional to ensure the correct amount of money is being withheld. From there, you’ll want to update your W-4 form with your employer to reduce the possibility of an unexpected tax bill next year.


Financial Resources to Help You Throughout All of Life’s Events

Events such as an unexpected tax bill can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. Make sure you have financial resources and the support of your financial institution throughout all of life’s events. 7 17 Credit Union has several resources to help our members meet and exceed their goals throughout every stage of their lives.


Achieve your financial goals with all that 7 17 has to offer. Jon us