Today is tax day. Here's what you need to know

Posted at 6:13 AM, Apr 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-18 06:21:28-04

When it comes to filing your taxes, today is not the day to dawdle. 

Tax returns are due Tuesday, April 18 -- as is any remaining money you owe to Uncle Sam for 2016. So if you still have an unpaid balance for last year, you'll have to act fast to avoid getting penalized.

The best thing you can do is file your 2016 tax return, or at least file for an automatic six-month extension at the website here.

If you don't do either, you'll be hit with a failure-to-file penalty. That will amount to 5 percent of your unpaid taxes for every month -- or part of a month -- that you don't file for up to five months. So that penalty will cap out at 25 percent of your unpaid taxes.

On top of that you'll be subject to a failure-to-pay penalty, which amounts to 0.5 percent of your unpaid taxes every month, for up to 50 months, for a maximum of 25 percent of your outstanding balance.

Did we mention interest? On top of these penalties, you'll also be charged interest on your unpaid taxes starting on April 19. 

The IRS reported getting fewer tax returns in the first quarter of the year compared to the same time last year, so if you're waiting, you're not alone. 

Many people were also waiting to see what would happen with the attempted repeal of the Affordable Care Act before they filed and whether they would still pay the penalty if they didn't have health insurance in 2016. The answer is yes.

With Obamacare still the law of the land, the penalty is 2.5 percent of your household income, or $695 per person.

Here's what you should do if you owe money but still haven't filed:

At least file something

As the IRS helpfully notes, "the failure-to-file penalty is 10 times more than the failure-to-pay penalty. So if you can't pay in full, you should file your tax return and pay as much as you can." Or at least file for an extension and include some payment with it.

Learn what your payment options are

The IRS has a number of payment plans available if you can't pay all that you owe. 

If you owe more than $10,000, you might consider hiring a tax attorney, enrolled agent or CPA with experience setting up payment plans to represent you.

"The more that is owed to the IRS, the more complicated it becomes to negotiate with the government," according to Garrett and Deborah Gregory, two former IRS attorneys who wrote the "Guide to IRS Collections for Liabilities under $10,000."

Avoid a late-payment penalty

If you've already paid at least 90 percent of the taxes you owe for 2016, you may be spared the late-payment penalty so long as you at least file for an extension. You will, however, still owe interest on your unpaid balance until it's paid off.

If you're reading this and thinking I don't have to file today because I probably don't owe any more money, file anyway. What if you're wrong and it turns out you do owe money? If you don't file your return or apply for an extension, you'll get hit with the penalties above plus interest. 

Second, if you're owed a refund, why wait? The average refund the IRS has paid out so far this year is $2,850.

Take the sting out of Tax Day by checking out these deals at participating locations:

Bruegger's Bagels is offering a bagel bundle for $10.40; Firehouse Subs has a buy one, get one free deal; McDonald's has a buy one, get one for 18 cents deal on Quarter Pounders and Big Macs and Bob Evans is offering 30 percent off meals.

There are even more Tax Day deals at the website here.