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Should You Pay Taxes With a Credit Card?

Many tax payers have discovered that they have a tax liability they're not prepared to pay. Consumers who find themselves in this predicament do have some options, but it's critical to select the payment plan that's right for you.

If you can't pay your taxes by midnight on April 15, and you make no other arrangements, the IRS will obviously consider your payment, or lack of, as late. Because your balance owed is subject to interest and a monthly late payment penalty, it's in your best interest to pay in full as soon as you can to minimize the additional charges. 

Options:

Consider financing the full payment of your tax liability through loans, such as a home equity or personal loan from a financial institution. Or, you can obtain a cash advance through your credit card. Believe it or not, the interest rate and any applicable fees charged by a bank or credit card can be lower than the combination of interest and penalties imposed by the Internal Revenue Code. 

Contact the IRS
. They offer multiple payment agreements based on your circumstances. Some are short term, while others are structured to stretch the payments over a longer period of time through an installment payment plan. 

If you don't find these options appealing, you can pay the amount due by credit card. That's right, Uncle Sam now allows you to charge your taxes, and at first glance this might appear to be the best alternative. 

Before opting to charge the amount of your tax liability, the NFCC suggests that you consider the following benefits and drawbacks associated with this option:

Pros:
  • Paying your taxes by credit card gives you the opportunity to pay Uncle Sam by April 15 even if you don't have the money available to make the payment. The payment date will be the date the charge was authorized, but you have the flexibility of paying off the debt over time to your card issuer. 
  • Even though you can arrange a payment plan through the IRS, when you charge your taxes you do so without the hassle of filling out forms.
  • It's convenient. Payments can be made by phone, Internet or when e-filing.
  • You may be able to earn rewards by charging the amount due. If you have a cash-back rewards card, or a card through which you can earn miles or points, charging a large amount could reap nice benefits.
Cons:
  • According to the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, the IRS is restricted from paying the transaction fee normally associated with credit card charges. Therefore, the IRS outsources the credit card payments to a number of companies which are set up to accept tax liability payments. They pass the transaction fee, now renamed a convenience fee, along to consumers. Although the fees vary by service provider, they're all based on the amount of the payment at a rate of between 1.95 percent and 2.35 percent of the total charged. For example, if you owe $5,000 in taxes, your fee to charge them to your credit card could be $100 or more. This fee obviously eats into any rewards you may earn.
  • Payments to the IRS may not be eligible to earn rewards. Your issuer may not allow IRS payments as part of their rewards program, or the rewards may be tied to certain categories, one of which is not taxes. Check with your card issuer before you make the charge.
  • Even if you're allowed to earn rewards through this charge, you need to determine if the rewards are greater than any potential fees assessed. Many cash-back cards cap rewards at 1 percent. 
  • The IRS charge will be treated like any other charge to your card. Interest can be added on, late fees will apply, and if the charge puts you over your credit limit, an over-limit fee will be tacked on. Thus, the longer you take to pay your credit card balance, the larger your original IRS debt becomes due to the additional interest and fees.
  • If the amount you charge is large, it may utilize a significant amount of your credit line, thus limiting your access to credit for other necessities. Further, if too large a percentage of your credit line is used, it could lower your credit score.
  • Since no one knows what tomorrow holds, be aware that income taxes most often cannot be included in a bankruptcy, even if they've been charged to a credit card.

Additionally, some creditors are now paying close attention to the charging patterns of their customers, and could consider someone an increased risk if they charge their taxes. This could result in punitive term changes to your account in the form of an increased interest rate or a lowered credit line. Consumers need to weigh the considerable downsides to paying their taxes with their credit card before selecting this option.

If you have trouble finding the money to pay your federal income taxes, reach out to a trained and certified credit counselor at an NFCC Member Agency. To find the location closest to you, call (800) 388-2227, or go online to www.DebtAdvice.org. For assistance in Spanish, call (800) 682-9832.

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Contributor

Gail Cunningham serves as vice president of membership and public relations for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), Inc. based in Washington, D.C. During over two decades in the industry, she has provided one-on-one financial counseling to thousands of consumers, and reached tens of thousands more through hosting television shows related to consumer education on cable and network television, as well as writing a weekly financial education column that appeared in multiple newspapers and online sites. She has been a featured financial expert for the nation’s top media outlets, including: NBC Nightly News, Good Morning America, the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, National Public Radio, USA Today, Newsweek, Forbes, Smart Money, MSN Money, Bankrate.com, the Associated Press, FOX Business Network and Bloomberg News.

National Foundation for Credit Counseling

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