For those who have waited until the last minute to file their income taxes, nearly every tax professional offers the same advice: File. No matter what. Here's why:
1 File because you probably are due a refund. About three out of every four filers are. This year, the average refund at this stage is $2,827, down 1.2 percent from this time a year ago.
Refunds are taking longer, too, said Michael Devine, an IRS spokesman. "We're being more careful to catch tax fraud," he said.
2 File even if you don't have all of the papers you need from others. For example, some mutual funds and other investment companies have been late sending out 1099 forms that taxpayers need to report gains.
"With a phone call, you may not get the document, but you can get the amount," said Mark Steber of Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Inc.
3 File even if you owe money but can't pay what you still owe. The IRS penalties for failing to file are 10 times bigger than the penalties for paying too little.
Skip the April 15 deadline and Uncle Sam will add 5 percent to your unpaid tax amount every month you are late. Pay too little and the underpayment penalty is 0.5 percent each month until you make up the shortfall.
4 File even if you can't get your tax return finished in time. Send in Form 4868 to get an automatic six-month extension of time to file.
Note that the extension gives you only more time to file. You still have to pay by April 15 any taxes you owe.
So how can you tell how much you owe if you haven't done your taxes yet?
"You make a reasonable effort" to get the amount right, said Jackie Perlman of H&R Block. In other words, it's an estimate.
There are a couple of safeguards for filers who don't figure it out by April 15 and file an extension.
The IRS will waive its underpayment penalty if what you have paid in — from withholdings, estimated payments and any last-minute check to Uncle Sam — equals at least 90 percent of what your 2012 taxes end up totaling. That's the total 2012 tax bill, not what you still owe on April 15.
If what you still owe come April 15 turns out to be less than $1,000, you also are safe from an underpayment penalty.
Mark Davis, Kansas City Star