Ignoring your tax responsibilities is generally a poor decision for a number of reasons. For starters, failing to pay your taxes can put you in debt and hurt your credit, which makes many everyday things more difficult and stressful.
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If you’re considering putting off paying your taxes because you can’t afford what you owe, you should know there are repayment options for people in your situation. You’ll still have to pay interest and fees for missing the filing deadline, but the sooner you figure out your payment plan with the Internal Revenue Service, the less you’ll owe in the long run.
The strategy isn’t too different for people who have gone several tax seasons without making a payment. Being a few years behind on your taxes may be a bit of a financial mess, but it’s one you can clean up, and it will be easier to do that with professional help.
The Consequences of Unpaid Taxes
When the IRS figures out you missed the deadline to file your taxes — whether they conclude that on their own or you tell them — they will tack on a failure-to-pay fee and interest dating back to that missed deadline (the APR for late tax payments is 3%).
If you owe more than $10,000 in taxes, you could be subject to a tax lien, which can easily shave 100 points off your credit score and drag down your credit scores for years. (You can see how late payments impact your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)
On top of that, you can expect some unpleasant correspondence from the IRS, which is a stressor most people would like to avoid.
What to Do If You’re Years Behind on Your Taxes
When you’re trying to straighten out many years of unpaid taxes, you may want to seek the help of a tax professional. Doing one year of taxes can be complicated enough, so having an expert at hand to ask and answer all the important questions can make the process much easier and more efficient.
First, you want to make sure you owed money in the first place. If you were owed a refund for one or some of the years you didn’t file, keep in mind there’s a three-year limit on claiming refunds. No fees are associated with unclaimed refunds.
Speaking of fees: Under certain circumstances, individuals can qualify for penalty reductions — this is an area in which a tax professional may be extremely helpful.
Depending on how much you owe, you may have a few options for entering a repayment agreement with the IRS, but interest will continue to accrue on the unpaid sum until the debt is satisfied. If you owe more than you can expect to repay, you may be able to settle the debt for less than you owe. It all depends on your individual situation.
There’s a lot at stake when you don’t pay your taxes, because of the potential drain on your finances and credit standing. Landlords, insurance companies, utility providers and employers sometimes review credit reports, so if your credit is suffering from unpaid taxes, you may feel the effects beyond the credit world. With this in mind, it’s best to tackle your delinquent taxes as soon as you can, meanwhile doing everything else to maintain your financial well-being, like paying your bills on time and minimizing your debt.
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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.
Christine DiGangi covers personal finance for Credit.com. Previously, she managed communications for the Society of Professional Journalists, served as a copy editor of The New York Times News Service and worked as a reporter for the Oregonian and the News & Record. More by Christine DiGangi