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Paying Taxes by Credit Card? Read This First

This time of year many Americans would like to take a swipe at the IRS. Some taxpayers even should, experts say — with their credit card.

Though paying a bill in full is the best way to avoid late charges and other hassles, credit card payments can help those struggling with the their bills to buy time – and even save money. “If you’re going to need a year or more to pay it out you could borrow on a low interest credit card and it could be a good deal,” says Gregg Wind, a certified public accountant in Los Angeles.

While not ideal, credit cards and lines of credit can help people pay the tax man by this year’s April 17 while avoiding potentially steep late payment penalties and interest charges. The IRS generally charges interest on any unpaid tax starting from the day the tax is due to the date it is paid. Currently at 3%, the interest rate is reset quarterly. And that doesn’t include late payment penalties, which are 0.5% of taxes owed a month. Between interest charges and late payment penalties, someone who is a year late in paying their taxes could see their bill increase by 9%, Wind estimates.

Those fees can be reduced if one pays with a low-interest credit card, he says. Take someone with a credit card that has a 4% APR. Including a onetime convenience fee of up to 2.4% that third-party service providers charge for using a credit card, fees would add up to 6.4% of taxes owed, he estimates. On a $10,000 bill, that could mean $260 in savings. Someone using a zero percent credit card may be able to save more, but they need to be careful not to carry the balance past the promotional period because the interest rate can shoot up and credit card charges could erase those savings, he says.

Some investors who don’t want to liquidate important investments to cover their tax bill may be able to set up a similar arrangement by opening a line of credit with their brokerage firm, says Phil Conway, U.S. head of lending for J.P. Morgan Private Bank. For those in the middle of a property sale that still hasn’t cleared or who expect a bonus coming up later in the year, a line of credit can provide more time to pay the bill without forcing them to sell other assets prematurely, says Conway. Interest rate charges can often be around 3% since they are usually 2 percentage points on top of the London Interbank Offered Rate, or the rate that banks charge to borrow from each other. Still, taxpayers should generally aim to clear their credit lines before next tax season to avoid having their debts pile up, Conway says. “We’re not trying to say to pay this back like you would pay back a car,” he says.

That said, there may be less expensive options for taxpayers who don’t qualify for a low interest credit card or line of credit. Those who need less than 120 days to pay the bill you may be able to set up an informal payment plan with the IRS, says Wind. And the IRS introduced a program this year that gives some filers more time to pay, penalty free. Some people may also be able to set up an installment agreement with the IRS, which would lower late payment penalties to 0.25% of taxes owed a month.

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About The Tax Blog

  • The Tax Blog brings together a team of award-winning tax journalists from the Dow Jones network and around the web to examine the tax issues, changes and legislation that affect families, investors and small business owners. Our contributors include Tax Report columnist Laura Saunders (WSJ), Tax Guy columnist Bill Bischoff and senior reporter Jilian Mincer (SmartMoney.com), retirement-focused reporter Anne Tergesen (WSJ), wealth management writer Arden Dale (Dow Jones Newswires), TaxWatch columnist Eva Rosenberg and personal finance reporter Andrea Coombes (MarketWatch), and reporter Alyssa Abkowitz (SmartMoney). They’ll provide the latest news and insight, mine the tax code for tips and loopholes, and answer your questions about tricky tax situations. Contact the The Tax Blog with ideas, suggestions or tax questions at thetaxblog@dowjones.com.

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