5 Things to Know About Tax Day: For Most, It’s Not That Bad
Wednesday is the deadline for filing income tax returns, a day long associated with the dread of rushing to fill out complicated forms and, perhaps, making a payment to Uncle Sam. But for most, it’s not that bad. Aside from the complicated forms, tax season generates $300 billion in tax refunds each year, a significant boost to the U.S. economy. Five things to know about Tax Day:
1. Majority of Taxpayers Get Refunds
The IRS has received more than 120 million tax returns and about three-fourths of them have qualified for refunds. Average refund: about $2,800. The IRS expects to process 150 million returns by the end of the tax season. So far, more than 90 percent have been filed online.
2. Chances of Getting Audited Are Slim
Last year, the IRS conducted the fewest number of tax audits in a decade, and the number could be even lower this year, said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. He blames budget cuts. Congress has cut the agency’s budget by $1.2 billion since 2010.
The number of audits dropped even as the number of tax returns went up. As a result, fewer than 1 percent of tax returns were audited last year. But rich people beware: Your chances of getting audited go up as your income rises. Last year, the IRS audited 7.5 percent of returns filed by taxpayers making more than $1 million.
3. April 15 Isn’t Much of a Deadline If You’re Owed a Refund
The IRS doesn’t like to talk about it, but penalties for filing late federal tax returns apply only to people who owe money. The penalty is a percentage of what you owe. If you owe nothing, there is no penalty.
But it doesn’t make much sense to file late if you are owed a refund. And beware — if you have unpaid taxes, the late fees add up quickly. The failure-to-file penalty is generally 5 percent of your unpaid tax bill for every month, or part of a month, you are late. It kicks in on April 16. In general, the maximum penalty is 25 percent of your original tax bill.
There also is a penalty for failing to pay your tax bill, separate from the penalty for failing to file at all, but it’s much smaller. That’s because the IRS wants you to file a return even if you don’t have enough money to pay your bill. The failure-to-pay penalty is 0.5 percent of your unpaid taxes for every month, or part of a month, you don’t pay.
4. Health Law Makes Tax Day More Complicated for Some
This was the first tax season that regular folks grappled with the complicated connections between President Barack Obama’s health care law and the tax system. For about three-quarters of taxpayers, all they had to do was check a box on their tax return indicating they had health coverage for all of 2014. For the rest, there was some head-scratching.
This was the first year uninsured people faced fines collected by the IRS. And those who got tax credits to help pay premiums last year had to file a convoluted new form to show they got the right amount.
The Obama administration fumbled when the Department of Health and Human Services sent out tax reporting forms with erroneous information on premiums to hundreds of thousands of people. Officials disclosed the problem and set about correcting the mistakes.
5. Looking Ahead
The end of tax filing season doesn’t mean everyone can relax. Tax preparation company H&R Block says many people who received tax credits to help pay for health insurance premiums apparently are unaware that they need to file a return. If they don’t, they may not be able to renew their tax credits this fall for health coverage in 2016.