Tax Day's dirty secret: There's no penalty for filing late

Few taxpayers realize that you only have to pay a fee if you already owe back taxes

Stephen Ohlemacher
April 15, 2013 10:38PM (UTC)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Here's a little secret for all you procrastinators on Tax Day: The Internal Revenue Service doesn't like to talk about it, but as long as you don't owe any additional taxes, there is no penalty for filing a few days late.

The late filing penalty is usually 5 percent of the unpaid taxes for each month — or part of a month — a return is late. That can add up quickly if you owe additional taxes. But what if the unpaid taxes are zero? Five percent of zero is ... zero!


However, if you wait more than three years to file, you forfeit your refund. So maybe it's better to file by Monday, after all. Besides, if you're getting a refund, why wait?

The IRS got a late start on tax season this year, thanks to a last-minute tax law passed by Congress on Jan. 1. But the deadline for filing returns didn't change, so if you owe money, it's time to settle up with the government.

In all, the IRS expects to process 149 million returns from individuals this year, including returns from people who file for 6-month extensions. About a quarter of returns are usually filed in the last three weeks before Tax Day. This year the IRS received more than 10 million electronically filed returns from Friday through Sunday.

A look at this year's filing season, through April 5:


— Returns filed so far: 96.6 million.

— Share of taxpayers getting a refund: 81 percent.

— Total amount of refunds issued so far: $214 billion.

— Average refund: $2,755.

— Average refund in 2012: $2,794.


— The rise of computers: 89 percent of returns have been filed electronically.

— Clinging to the past: That leaves 11 percent still filing paper returns.

— These people are getting a refund: 34 percent of Americans in a Pew Research Center poll said they like doing their taxes.

— These people are getting a big refund: 5 percent said they love doing their taxes.

— These people are not getting a refund: 26 percent said they hate doing their taxes.

— As of March 9, the IRS detected 220,821 fraudulent returns.

— Number of fraudulent returns involving identity theft: 85,385.


— Amount of fraudulent refunds stopped by the IRS: $1.8 billion.

— Ever wonder why tax laws are so complicated? Number of lobbyists registered to lobby Congress on taxes: 6,503.

— Number of organizations that pay lobbyists to lobby Congress on taxes: 2,221.



Sources: IRS; Pew Research Center; Treasury inspector general for tax administration; Sunlight Foundation.


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