taxes

Paying the Piper

If you owe the IRS, there are several ways to settle your bill.

We talk a lot about the 100 million or so Americans who get tax refunds every spring, admonishing you to adjust your payroll withholding so that less is taken out of your paychecks every payday.

But what about the 35 million or so who actually have to pay extra tax with their returns? If you're among that minority, how should you handle things?

You could, of course, pay the old fashioned way by writing a check. If you do, make it out to the U.S. Treasury. Congress decided a few years ago that because so many folks think IRS is a dirty word, you shouldn't have to write it on your checks. (Also, it's easy for a crook to change IRS to MRS and add a name to make it look like the check is made out to a married woman.) If you send a check, the IRS would like you to include a 1040-V form to help the agency process your payment more efficiently.

If you are among the growing army of taxpayers who file electronically, you have the option of simply telling the IRS to dip into your bank account for the amount due. If you choose the direct debit option, you can file as soon as your return is done and tell the government not to take the money until April 15. That's not quite as much "float" as if you drop the check in the mail at the midnight deadline, but the convenience should count for something.

Another choice is available whether you file electronically or on paper: You can charge your bill to a credit card. We think this is usually a bad idea because you have to pay a "convenience fee" to pay your taxes. We bet you're paying enough already. If you owe more than you can afford to pay, you should consider using the IRS installment plan. More about that later.

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