The last thing you should do if you can’t afford to pay your taxes by April 15 is to hide and hope they go away.

There are harsh penalties for not filing a return on time, and you could face criminal prosecution if the Internal Revenue Service can prove you “willfully” tried to escape your taxes.

On the other hand, if you submit your tax return April 15 and tell Uncle Sam about financial troubles, you won’t face criminal liability and will save yourself a chunk of fees.

Failure to submit a tax return on time carries a penalty of 5 percent each month, up to 25 percent total, on the taxes you owe. In addition, there are interest charges, about 4 percent.

Failing to file carries penalties that are “10 times worse than if you file your return,” even if you can’t pay, said IRS spokeswoman Sue Hales.

If you submit your return and can’t pay in full, the government can put you on a payment plan – if you ask. To minimize fees, request a short-term extension and pay all taxes within 120 days. If you need more time, request an installment plan.

Until the plan is approved, you will owe a half of a percent each month on your unpaid taxes, plus the interest charge. Once the plan is in place, Hales said, you cut the fee to a quarter of 1 percent.

So being on top of the situation and working with the IRS on how you will proceed is important.

Certified public accountant Ted Sarenski encourages clients to pay as much as they can with their tax return to show good faith, and then state in writing the monthly payments they are sure they can handle. Some agreements can extend up to 10 years, though individuals are wise to pay as quickly as possible to avoid wasting money on interest.

If you owe $25,000 or less in taxes, penalties and interest, file a Request for Installment Agreement Form 9465, said Hales. If you owe more than that, you also have to submit a Collection Information Statement Form 433F.


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