A lot of people may be surprised, for different reasons, to find that they owe an estimated tax payment to the federal government this month. Those who usually file estimated tax payments may be surprised to learn that the estimated tax payment deadline has been postponed to July 15 due to coronavirus relief. Those who don’t usually have to pay estimated taxes may be surprised to find out that they have to pay estimated taxes at all!
Who needs to pay
You may need to make a payment if one of the following situations applies to you:
- Paychecks are under-withheld. Your employer withholds a portion of your paychecks for income tax purposes, then submits a payment to the IRS on your behalf. The amount that is withheld from your paychecks, however, may not cover your entire tax liability, resulting in you needing to write the IRS a check. If you’re not withholding enough, you can ask your employer to increase the withholding amount so that you can avoid having to make estimated tax payments in the future.
- Unemployment compensation paychecks are under-withheld. Unemployment compensation is subject to federal income tax and subject to income taxes in several states. While some unemployment benefit checks withhold a percentage of your payment for income tax purposes, you may need to pay more in taxes than is being withheld.
- Self-employed workers. Unlike employees, self-employed workers don’t have income tax withheld from pay and must make four estimated tax payments over a period of 12 months. Self-employed workers include gig economy workers, freelancers, S corporation shareholders and partners in a partnership.
- Retirees. You may owe tax on Social Security benefits, income from investments distributed to you, or other unearned income. A portion of pension plan distributions may be withheld, but many times the amount withheld does not cover your entire tax liability, resulting in an underpayment.
- Sold a major asset. You may owe tax after selling an asset that results in a large capital gain, such as a house, or from the sale of securities.
- Receive alimony. If you’re being paid alimony under a divorce decree entered into before 2019, the payments constitute taxable income to you. Alimony from post-2018 agreements, however, are not taxable.
How to pay your estimated taxes
Estimate your total income for 2020, then calculate your total 2020 tax bill and divide it by 2. Compare this amount to how much has been withheld from your paychecks and unemployment benefits, and any other payments you’ve made to the IRS. If you’re your withholding is less than the amount you calculated, consider making an estimated payment by July 15 to make up the difference. This payment is made with Form 1040-ES.
If you do not make this payment on time, the IRS may impose a penalty plus interest on top of the underpaid taxes. Fortunately, you can avoid a penalty by paying at least 90% of the current year’s tax liability or 100% of the prior year’s tax liability (110% if your adjusted gross income for the prior year exceeds $150,000).