Tips for Last-Minute Tax Filers

Tips for those who file their tax return at the last minute -- orwho need to get an extension.

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Still haven't filed your taxes? Don't worry, you're not alone; millions of people wait until the last minute to do their taxes. Taxes are due April 15 (the same day Lincoln died and the Titanic sunk). If you can't meet the deadline or can't pay your tax bill, all is not lost -- here are some tips.

Should You Get an Extension to File?

If you can't complete your return by April 15, get an extension to file it. New IRS rules have made it easier than ever to get an extension. You can get an automatic 6-month extension by filing IRS Form 4868.

But make sure you understand this: filing an extension does not extend the time you have to pay your taxes. You still have to figure out how much you owe, if any, and pay it to the IRS by April 15. If you don't, you'll have to pay interest on the amount due and may also have to pay IRS late payment penalties. (To learn more about filing a late return, see Filing and Paying Taxes Late.)

Should You File Electronically?

If you're expecting a refund from the IRS, filing electronically is a good idea because it will speed up IRS processing of your return. That means you'll get your refund sooner - - probably in about two weeks. If you're not expecting a refund, filing electronically only benefits the IRS, not you. It's harder for the IRS to access and use the information from paper returns, that's why it wants everybody to file electronically. But why go out of your way to make life easer for the IRS?

Should You Pay by Credit Card?

If you don't have the cash to pay your taxes, paying by credit card can be a good option if the interest rate on your card is 10% or less. Otherwise, you'll end up paying more in interest and fees on your credit card balance than you would if you paid the IRS over time.

What about paying by credit card so you can get more frequent filer miles or points for cash rewards from your credit card company? You have to pay a 2.49% "convenience fee" to pay your taxes by credit card. So it usually doesn't make sense to pay by credit card -- the fee ordinarily outweighs the value of any frequent flier miles or rewards you'd get from your credit card company for the extra balance on your card. However, if your credit card company pays the fee (sometimes they do), then it might be a good deal. Check with your credit card company to see if they offer this perk.

What if You Can't Pay Your Taxes?

Don't ignore the problem. Be sure to either file your return by April 15 or get an extension to file. Not filing a return subjects you to extra tax penalties and interest.

You have several options on how to deal with taxes you can't pay, including paying what you owe over several years. (To learn more about your options when you can't pay, see Nolo's area on Debt Management & Collection Agencies.)

To learn more about reducing your tax liability, get  Easy Ways to Lower Your Taxes , by Stephen Fishman (Nolo).

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