You know that long list of ways that the COVID-19 virus has affected our lives? Well, here’s another one. The IRS has completely flipped a switch on its priorities, and it is not even looking at paper tax returns that are being sent to it. The idea of all those envelopes piling up somewhere is a bit mind-boggling, but it’s apparently what’s happening as the Treasury Department focuses on generating the stimulus checks that American taxpayers need to get through the crisis.
If you don’t owe the IRS money and you’re not looking to amend a previously filed tax return, this shift won’t mean much to you. You can rest easy knowing that the tax return and payments that would have been due in April are now not due until July 15th. But if you were hoping to get a refund from a previous year’s return via a return you amended (or need to amend), or if you owe the IRS money, you need to pay attention.
For the first of these two categories – the folks with amended returns – what you need to know is that you’re not likely to see any kind of response for quite a while. There’s no way to find out what the status is and the agency is pointedly advising people not to interpret the lack of response as a need to send in a new one. Doing so would just confuse things more. You need to sit tight.
If, however, you owe the IRS money from before the crisis occurred, there are no breaks on the penalties and interest that are stacking up. It may take the agency a while to get around to figuring it out, but if you decide to sit and wait ‘til you hear from them, you’re going to be in for a big shock. Your liability is not only still there, it’s adding on interest from the time that it was due. This is true on amended returns that reflect a liability as well.
How much could the interest and penalty add up to?
In a word – it could add up to a lot. Not only do you owe the original amount, you are also subject to accruing interest and a failure-to-pay penalty of 0.5% of your original liability for each month (or partial month) that it hasn’t been paid. That can rack up to 25% of the liability. There’s also a penalty if you failed to file on time, and that can add up to another 5% of the amount that you owe each month. Even if you can’t afford to pay your entire liability all at once, you’re much better off paying small parts over time than waiting and having all of that interest added to your debt. You can contact the IRS online to arrange for one of their installment agreements.
Remember that mountain of returns piling up somewhere? Keep that in mind when you’re ready to send the IRS your money. If you write a check it’s going to just sit there, and your interest is going to keep adding up. Opt for paying electronically via direct payment. Don’t worry about the fact that the paperwork is sitting in that big pile. The agency will eventually get around to going through it, and they’ll figure out which payment goes with which amended return.