If your employer doesn't withhold enough money from your paycheck for your taxes or if some of your activities or choices raise your tax bill in an unexpected way, you'll be in trouble come April 15. Here are 5 ways in which such a problem can come about.
Income from self-employment
If you do consulting work, it is your responsibility to set money aside for any taxes that are due on your income. If you don't set money aside, any tax liability arising out of your work can come as a rude surprise. The self-employed are also responsible for making contributions to their Social Security and Medicare and for paying self-employment taxes. To many first-time entrepreneurs, the idea of a self-employment tax comes as a genuine surprise.
Paying in quarterly estimated taxes once every three months is an important way to accommodate all these taxes and allowances in your budget. If you put off paying your taxes to the end of the year, you could find that the money gets spent in other ways.
Income from unemployment benefits
Not long ago, those drawing unemployment benefits could at least rely on the provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to be exempted from paying taxes on the first $2400 that they received. The provisions of that act have long since expired, though.
One of the best ways to avoid being faced with a surprise tax bill for your unemployment benefits is to apply to have your federal taxes withheld. You will only be responsible for your state income taxes then. Alternatively, you could set money aside to pay taxes with, yourself. It's possible to save a little money on your tax bill if you itemize your deductions. You can list all your job search expenses as deductions.
Any debt that you've been forgiven
If you've been unable to pay what you owe on a credit card or student loan, you could apply to have your debt forgiven or written off. When you have debt forgiven, though, the IRS counts it as income for that year.
Forgiven debt isn't automatically taxable. For instance, when it comes to mortgages, the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act allows tax exemptions on forgiven home loans for primary homes, valued at up to $2. This law could give you a way out. The law also doesn't make you pay taxes on forgiven debt if your debts exceed your assets.
You may make a withdrawal from a retirement account
When you withdraw money from a 401(k) or other retirement account before the age of 59 years and 6 months, you may owe penalties and taxes. Some providers of retirement accounts will withhold taxes before they let you have your money. Even so, you may still be out of luck – the withholding may be inadequate and you may still owe taxes. Many people find themselves in this situation – they lose their jobs, they tap their IRA for money to live on and then find that they don't have enough to pay their taxes with.
The best way to avoid the retirement account taxation problem is to not make a withdrawal. Instead, you can apply for a loan. Loans on retirement accounts aren't taxable.
You may get married
When you get married to someone who works, you may need to apply to have your withholding status changed. It may need to read "married with two allowances." When this happens, you will usually owe more in taxes than you used to. You'll need to set more money aside for your taxes then.
If you find yourself owing more in taxes than you have, you should ask qualified tax advisers such as Liberty Tax for tax saving ideas. They may ask you to apply for an extension before April 15.
As long as you pay 90% of your tax bill, you won't be hit with a penalty. If you can't pay, you can ask the IRS to grant you an installment plan. The very worst thing to do would be to not file your return for fear of not being able to pay.
Jeremy S has many years of finance teaching under his belt. When he's not in class, he's writing about the topic on various websites.