Estimated Tax Responsibilities and Avoiding Underpayment Penalties

Below, we have included some helpful information relative to your estimated tax responsibilities and how to avoid underpayment penalties.

The IRS assesses penalties for underpayment of income tax.  You may be subject to a penalty for underpayment of estimated tax if you did not pay enough tax throughout the year, either through withholding or by making estimated tax payments.

What are the requirements to avoid penalties?

The required annual payment for most individuals is the LOWER of 90% of the tax shown on the current year’s return or 100% of the tax shown on the return for the previous year.  Certain high-income individuals must meet a more rigorous requirement.  If the adjusted gross income (AGI) on your previous year’s return is over $150,000 (over $75,000 if you are married filing separately), you must pay the lower of 90% of the tax shown on the current year’s return or 110% of the tax shown on the return for the previous year. 

Can you provide some examples?

For example, if your AGI was less than $150,000 (married filing jointly), and your total tax paid on the 2013 tax return was $10,000 and you are anticipating significantly higher income for 2014, the IRS is content as long as you pay in $10,000 via withholding, through even quarterly estimated tax payments or a combination of both.  The balance due on the 2014 tax return will need to be paid by April 15, 2015, with the filing of the 2014 return.

Should your income decrease significantly in the subsequent year (2014), you would default to the 90% of tax shown on the current year return.  For example, if your tax was $100,000 in 2013, and you expect your income tax to be 50% less than it was in 2013, you would need to pay in 90% of $50,000 or $45,000 to avoid penalty.  In this situation, we often recommend considering a tax projection to make sure you are adequately paid in for the current year.

What if your self-employment income is not steady throughout the year?

Most individuals make estimated tax payments in four equal installments.  The required amount of tax to be paid is determined, then divided and four equal payments are made by the due dates.  However, the annualized income method may allow you to match the estimated tax payments with the period the income was earned in.  This method is useful to people whose income flow is not uniform over the year, perhaps because of a seasonal business.  For example, if your income comes exclusively from a business that you operate in a resort area during June, July and August, no estimated payment would be required before September 15th.  You may also want to consider using the annualized income method if a significant portion of your income comes from capital gains on the sale of securities which you sell at various times during the year.

Are there circumstances where the underpayment penalties do not apply?

The underpayment penalty doesn’t apply to you:

  1. if the total tax shown on your return is less than $1,000 after subtracting withholding tax paid;
  2. if you were a U.S. citizen or resident for the entire preceding year, that year was 12 months, and you had no tax liability for that year;
  3. if you are a farmer or fisherman and pay your entire estimated tax by January 15th of the following year, or pay your entire estimated tax by March 1st of the following year and also file your tax return by that date; or
  4. if you aren’t a farmer or fisherman, file your return by January 31st of the following year, and pay your tax in full.

Will an extension buy me some time to pay my taxes?

No.  An extension of time to file a tax return is NOT an extension of time to pay the tax due with the return.  You must have paid in at least 90% of the anticipated current year tax when the extension is filed to avoid penalties.

How are the penalties and interest calculated?

 The addition to tax is one-half of 1% of the tax not paid, for each month (or part of the month) it remains unpaid, up to a maximum of 25%.  The penalty increases to 1% per month beginning with either the 10th day after notice of levy is given or the day on which notice and demand is made.  Interest on underpayments of tax is imposed at the federal short-term rate plus three percentage points.  These rates are adjusted quarterly.

In addition, the IRS may waive the penalty if the failure was due to casualty, disaster, or other unusual circumstances and it would be inequitable or against good conscience to impose the penalty.  The penalty can also be waived for reasonable cause during the first two years after you retire (after reaching age 62) or become disabled.

When are the 2015 estimated tax payments due and where can I find my coupons?

 Your first quarterly estimate for 2015 is due April 15th and subsequent payments are due June 15th, September 15th and January 15th.

 If your 2014 return has been filed, we have included quarterly estimates and instructions on your portal (or in your tax package).  If you have not received these forms, please contact our office and we will be happy to provide. 

Please contact us if you have any estimated tax payment questions or if your situation has changed and you need some assistance with figuring out your obligation to pay in quarterly estimates.