Help! I Can’t Afford My Tax Bill

Facing a big, unaffordable tax bill from the IRS? Here’s what you can do to alleviate some of the stress.

Did you recently file your tax return only to discover that you were in the red? I guess you didn’t make Uncle Sam’s lucky roster for a refund this year.

And to make matters worse, your personal funds are limited. Now that you’ve input the numbers, not only are you at a loss for words, but you’re also at a loss for money because your tax bill is unaffordable.

What are your options?

Regardless of the route you take, one thing is for certain: The earlier you file, the more time you have to sort things out. All outstanding income tax obligations are due by April 15, the federal filing deadline. And if you fail to file in order to avoid remitting payment, beware of the penalties and interest that await.

The good news is that there are a number of alternatives to consider if you don’t have the disposable cash on hand.

1. Pay the bill in full

If you remit payment in full, you may end up cleaning out your savings account, racking up more credit card debt, or taking out a personal loan. Your credit may also take a hit as you will be forced to rely on debt if an emergency arises, which increases your credit utilization ratio. Or you may lose credit score points as a result of the inquiry for a personal loan.

Another alternative is to borrow from friends or family, which can be a headache in itself if they have strict repayment deadlines that you cannot meet, not to mention the possibility of severed relationships.

2. Set up an installment agreement

The IRS offers monthly payment plans to taxpayers with financial constraints. The standard setup fee is $120, but you can reduce this figure to $52 if you opt into the direct-debit option. Those people who meet the low-income criteria only have to pay $34. See IRS Tax Topic 202 for additional information or call (800) 829-1040 to inquire about setting up an installment agreement..

3. Ignore the bill

Assuming you filed and missed the payment deadline, you will receive a notice from the IRS in the mail requesting that you pay in full immediately. Tossing the notice in the trash without thinking twice will eventually result in a tax lien accompanied by interest and a late-payment penalty.

It could also tank your credit score and remain on your credit profile for up to seven years.

4. Request an extension

The IRS may also grant you an extension of up to 120 days, but applicable interest and penalties will still apply. Simply call (800) 829-1040 to inquire about receiving an extension. In some rare instances, you may be able to talk your way out of the penalty.

5. Make an offer in compromise

You also have the option to apply for an offer in compromise, which will settle your tax liability for less than the total amount that you owe.

To qualify, your income must not exceed $100,000 and the outstanding amount must be lower than $50,000. Approval is contingent upon your assets, income and expenses as disclosed in the OIC pre-qualifier that must be completed in order for your offer to be considered.

You must also submit a nonrefundable application fee of $186 and select a lump sum or periodic payment option. Those who meet a low-income threshold may qualify to have the application fee waived.

The evaluators will ultimately decide whether or not they think you are able to pay the entire outstanding balance before issuing a notice of approval or denial.

Preparing for the future

Now that you are aware of how much stress can arise from unpaid tax bills, will you allow history to repeat itself next tax season? Hopefully, the answer is no. To learn more about reducing next year’s tax liability, check out the video Money Talks News financial expert and CPA Stacy Johnson did last year about reducing your tax bill.

Do you have any additional tips for taxpayers who owe money? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

I know... every site you visit wants you to subscribe to their newsletter. But our news and advice is actually worth reading! For 25 years, I've been making people richer without making their eyes glaze over. Take 5 seconds and join our family by clicking here. You'll be glad you did. I guarantee it!

More Money Talks News


  • Tammie

    Well my stepdaughter who is a college student worked for two attorneys as a nanny and was caught off guard when they gave her a 1099 and told her they held no taxes out on her. She was paid with a regular check with no stub and just assumed they were paying in taxes. Being a college student and no longer working for them she went to the IRS to see about getting her tax debt reduced and was told simply that she could not get her tax debt reduced because she owes $2800 and she owns a car we bought her to drive to college that is worth $6800 and in their eyes they can take her car to pay her debt so they would not give her any relief. You would think if anyone deserved a break it would be a full time unemployed college student.

  • Susan

    Some of the information about offers in compromise is incorrect. One, you do not have to complete the OIC pre-qualifier to have your offer considered. The pre-qualifier does not take into account special circumstances like illness, upcoming retirement, etc and therefore should not be relied upon sole as a determinator for submitting an offer. Second, you can settle more than $50,000 in tax debt. Not sure about the $100,000 income limit, but if someone’s allowable expenses exceeded his or her over $100,000 income, then the offer would likely be accepted.

Check Out Our Hottest Deals!

We're always adding new deals and coupons that'll save you big bucks. See the deals to the right and hundreds more in our Deals section.

Click here to explore 2,056 more deals!