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IRS Tax Penalties - Filing & Owing is Better Than Not Filing & Owing

If you owe taxes, the Internal Revenue Service will calculate penalties and interest on the amount owed. If you have a refund, the IRS may pay you interest on the delayed refund. (Note the difference between "will" and "may" - the IRS generally pays interest on refunds that have been delayed because of slow processing by the IRS. Since most late tax returns take longer to process, the IRS "may" pay you interest on based on the extra amount of time it takes them to process your return.) If you have a refund, there is no penalty for filing late. Penalties are calculated on the amount due. Since there is no amount due, there is no penalty.

If you have a balance due on a late tax return, the IRS will calculate additional penalties and interest.
There are three separate penalties:

  • Failure to File Penalty
  • Failure to Pay Penalty
  • Interest

Each is calculated differently. Let's take a look at each one.

Failure to File Penalty

The failure-to-file penalty is calculated based on the time from the deadline of your tax return (including extensions) to the date you actually filed your tax return. The penalty is 5% for each month the tax return is late, up to a total maximum penalty of 25%. The percentage is of the tax due as shown on the tax return. If your tax return is more than five months late, simply multiply your balance due by 25% to calculate your failure to file penalty.

Failure to Pay Penalty

The failure-to-pay penalty is calculated based on the amount of tax you owe. The penalty is 0.5% for each month the tax is not paid in full. There is no maximum limit to the failure-to-pay penalty. The penalty is calculated from the original payment deadline (the original April 15th filing deadline) until the balance due is paid in full.

Interest

Interest is calculated based on how much tax you owe. Interest rates change every three months. Currently, the IRS interest rate for underpayment of tax is 4% per year. The interest is calculated for each day your balance due is not paid in full.

IRS interest rates are variable and are set quarterly. The following are historical IRS interest rates that are applied to an existing liability.

Year Qtr 1
1/01 - 3/31
Qtr 2
4/01 - 6/30
Qtr 3
7/01 - 9/30
Qtr 4
10/01 - 12/31
2010 4% 4% 4% 4%
2009 5% 4% 4% 4%
2008 7% 6% 5% 6%
2007 8% 8% 8% 8%
2006 7% 7% 8% 8%
2005 5% 6% 6% 7%
2004 4% 5% 4% 5%
2003 5% 5% 5% 4%
2002 6% 6% 6% 6%
2001 9% 8% 7% 7%
2000 8% 9% 9% 9%
1999 7% 8% 8% 8%
1998 9% 8% 8% 8%
1997 9% 9% 9% 9%
1996 9% 8% 9% 9%
1995 9% 10% 9% 9%
1994 7% 7% 8% 9%
1993 7% 7% 7% 7%
1992 9% 8% 8% 7%
1991 11% 10% 10% 10%
1990 11% 11% 11% 11%
1989 11% 12% 12% 11%
1988 11% 10% 10% 11%
1987 9% 9% 9% 10%
1986 10% 10% 9% 9%
1985 13% 13% 11% 11%
1984 11% 11% 11% 11%
1983 16% 16% 11% 11%

For the specific list of penalties that IRS can assess for failure to file specific forms, please see the following list.

  • Penalty for failing to file the Form TD F 90-22.1 (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, commonly known as an "FBAR"). United States citizens, residents and certain other persons must annually report their direct or indirect financial interest in, or signature authority (or other authority that is comparable to signature authority) over, a financial account that is maintained with a financial institution located in a foreign country if, for any calendar year, the aggregate value of all foreign accounts exceeded $10,000 at any time during the year. Generally, the civil penalty for willfully failing to file an FBAR can be as high as the greater of $100,000 or 50 percent of the total balance of the foreign account per violation. See 31 U.S.C. § 5321(a)(5). Non-willful violations that the IRS determines were not due to reasonable cause are subject to a $10,000 penalty per violation.

  • A penalty for failing to file Form 3520, Annual Return to Report Transactions With Foreign Trusts and Receipt of Certain Foreign Gifts. Taxpayers must also report various transactions involving foreign trusts, including creation of a foreign trust by a United States person, transfers of property from a United States person to a foreign trust and receipt of distributions from foreign trusts under IRC § 6048. This return also reports the receipt of gifts from foreign entities under section 6039F. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns, or for filing an incomplete return, is 35 percent of the gross reportable amount, except for returns reporting gifts, where the penalty is five percent of the gift per month, up to a maximum penalty of 25 percent of the gift.

  • A penalty for failing to file Form 3520-A, Information Return of Foreign Trust With a U.S. Owner. Taxpayers must also report ownership interests in foreign trusts, by United States persons with various interests in and powers over those trusts under IRC § 6048(b). The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns or for filing an incomplete return, is five percent of the gross value of trust assets determined to be owned by the United States person.

  • A penalty for failing to file Form 5471, Information Return of U.S. Persons with Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations. Certain United States persons who are officers, directors or shareholders in certain foreign corporations (including International Business Corporations) are required to report information under IRC §§ 6035, 6038 and 6046.The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns is $10,000, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency, up to a maximum of $50,000 per return.

  • A penalty for failing to file Form 5472, Information Return of a 25% Foreign-Owned U.S. Corporation or a Foreign Corporation Engaged in a U.S. Trade or Business. Taxpayers may be required to report transactions between a 25 percent foreign-owned domestic corporation or a foreign corporation engaged in a trade or business in the United States and a related party as required by IRC §§ 6038A and 6038C. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns, or to keep certain records regarding reportable transactions, is $10,000, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency.

  • A penalty for failing to file Form 926, Return by a U.S. Transferor of Property to a Foreign Corporation. Taxpayers are required to report transfers of property to foreign corporations and other information under IRC § 6038B. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns is ten percent of the value of the property transferred, up to a maximum of $100,000 per return, with no limit if the failure to report the transfer was intentional.

  • A penalty for failing to file Form 8865, Return of U.S. Persons With Respect to Certain Foreign Partnerships. United States persons with certain interests in foreign partnerships use this form to report interests in and transactions of the foreign partnerships, transfers of property to the foreign partnerships, and acquisitions, dispositions and changes in foreign partnership interests under IRC §§ 6038, 6038B, and 6046A. Penalties include $10,000 for failure to file each return, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency, up to a maximum of $50,000 per return, and ten percent of the value of any transferred property that is not reported, subject to a $100,000 limit.

  • Fraud penalties imposed under IRC §§ 6651(f) or 6663. Where an underpayment of tax, or a failure to file a tax return, is due to fraud, the taxpayer is liable for penalties that, although calculated differently, essentially amount to 75 percent of the unpaid tax.

  • A penalty for failing to file a tax return imposed under IRC § 6651(a)(1). Generally, taxpayers are required to file income tax returns. If a taxpayer fails to do so, a penalty of 5 percent of the balance due, plus an additional 5 percent for each month or fraction thereof during which the failure continues may be imposed. The penalty shall not exceed 25 percent.

  • A penalty for failing to pay the amount of tax shown on the return under IRC § 6651(a)(2). If a taxpayer fails to pay the amount of tax shown on the return, he or she may be liable for a penalty of .5 percent of the amount of tax shown on the return, plus an additional .5 percent for each additional month or fraction thereof that the amount remains unpaid, not exceeding 25 percent.

  • An accuracy-related penalty on underpayments imposed under IRC § 6662. Depending upon which component of the accuracy-related penalty is applicable, a taxpayer may be liable for a 20 percent or 40 percent penalty.