How I Ended Up With A $5000 Dollar Tax Bill This Year. Oops!

This past week I started getting all of my tax forms.  I got my W2 from the company I work for at my day job, 1099s from a variety of companies that I do freelance work for, some miscellaneous tax forms from investments that we have and reporting forms showing how much we’ve donated to our church and other charities.

I’ve been using TurboTax for the past few years, and I’ll be using it again this year – so I started entering all of my information into their software a couple of nights ago (check out the tax software  I recommend).   I’m still waiting on a few 1099 forms, but I’ve almost received them all at this point.

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After a couple of hours of entering data into the TurboTax interface I was shocked to realize that despite the fact that I had paid 100% of my tax liability from 2010 this past year, I was still going to end up owing quite a bit of money come tax time.  In fact, it looks like I’m going to owe about $5000 in combined federal and state taxes.  Wow.

Dealing With A Big Tax Bill

How Did I End Up Owing So Much?

How did I end up in a situation where I owe that much money on my taxes?  It happened for a variety of reasons.

First, when paying my taxes using TurboTax last year it automatically calculated what my estimated tax payments for the coming year should be.   It printed out payment coupons for me for what I should be paying each quarter.   The total of the payments it gave me was equal to 100% of 2010’s tax liability.    Knowing that I would be within the safe harbor requirements for 2011 taxes, I think that gave me a false sense of assurance that despite the fact that I was tracking blog income and expenses pretty closely, I wouldn’t need to do any re-calculations if my income rose – because I wouldn’t be subject to any penalties.  I could just pay any small overages when tax time came.

Another factor causing me to owe  more than expected was the fact that my blog income rose more than I expected this year – by between $15,000-20,000.  Not only that but I had another one time increase in online income due to an online asset that I sold for around $8000.  So the increase in blog income, along with a one time bump due to selling that property – means I made around $25,000 more online this year than last year.    I was expecting to increase income, but not quite that much – especially after I was hit by Google’s Panda update last April.

Finally, the last thing that threw me off was that 2011 was the first year that we didn’t have my wife’s income being included in the mix come tax time. Because of that, while I expected my online income to rise, I thought it would be offset somewhat by the drop in my wife’s income since she wasn’t working outside the home.  My online income rose so much, however, that it more than offset the drop in her income.

Making Sure To Avoid Tax Penalties

Thankfully I was able to avoid any tax penalties this year despite the fact that I underpaid my taxes by almost $5000.  The reason?  I met one of the criteria for the IRS safe harbor requirements.  To avoid penalties you have to do one of these things:

  • Owe less than $1,000 for this year’s taxes. (Nope, my taxes owed were almost $5000!)
  • Withhold 100% of last year’s tax liability.  (I met this requirement. Phew!)
  • Withhold 90% of this year’s tax liability.

If you’re not sure if you’ve had enough taxes withheld, you’ll want to probably want to look into it and make sure.  If you do need to pay more, you can just increase your withholding at your job, or increase your estimated tax payments.

Why We Can Pay A $5000 Tax Bill With No Problem

A $5000 tax bill is nothing to sneeze at, and it isn’t something to be taken lightly.   Thankfully we have planned ahead for unexpected expenses just like this, and have saved up a 12 month emergency fund.

One thing I did do right this year was to save a big portion of my blog earnings to completely fund that 12 month emergency fund – in addition to paying cash for our used Honda CRV.   Because we planned ahead I’ll be able to just transfer the funds from our Ally Bank emergency fund and pay the $5000 tax bill with no real pain to us.  Of course I’ll then re-fund that account over the next few months, just in case we have another crisis come up.

What can you do if you don’t have the money on hand to pay the tax bill?  I wrote a post about that a while back called “What Should I Do If I Can’t Pay My Taxes?

Avoid A Big Tax Bill By Re-Evaluating Income Throughout The Year

One thing I do know after going through this is that I want to be a bit more careful next year about how much we’re paying in taxes throughout the year. I don’t want to have another situation crop up where we’ll have to make a big lump sum payment like this.

Because of that I’m going to start the year making estimated tax payments in order to reach that 100% of last year’s liability safe harbor requirement.  Then I’ll re-evaluate once or twice throughout the year to make sure we’re paying enough to not have to owe next year (or at least not as much).

Have you ever been faced with a big tax bill at the end of the year? How did you handle it?  Tell us in the comments.

Last Edited: 8th February 2012

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    Share Your Thoughts:

    • says

      The only thing I’m going to do differently this year is re-assess where my income/expenses are sometime during the year, instead of just figuring out 100% of my 2011 tax liability and basing my 2012 payments on that. If your income goes up at all like mine did this year it can lead to a big tax bill. I could have avoided the big lump sum by re-assessing mid-year, which I didn’t do.

      Here’s a post I did a while back with some resources on how to figure estimated tax payments:

      Estimated Taxes

  1. says

    Congrats on the increase in income last year, but it does suck to suddenly pay a big tax bill. I think I’m probably going to owe a pretty similar amount. I’ve been putting off doing my taxes so I can live in denial a little longer.

  2. says

    Ouch! Yet, the good news is how much your online income increased and that you had a significant emergency fund. I haven’t yet set aside money for taxes for my online work because our income was so low last year, but I think it is something I should do this year. A $5,000 tax bill would seriously hurt our debt repayment plan. Luckily, we should get a refund this year.

  3. says

    Good job on the extra income! A $5k tax bill means you had a great year! :)

    I’m not paying quarterly taxes for my blog income but I probably should. Right now I’m having enough withheld on my husband’s income that we’re covered (we’re getting a refund this year, even) but I don’t know how that will work for future years, or even if I’m doing it wrong.

  4. says

    Sorry for the huge tax liability this year. I had the same thing happen to me about 3 years ago and that’s when I switched from using the estimated tax liability based on the previous years filing to actually computing my earnings and expenses each quarter. Takes longer, but now my taxes are dialed in and I can make adjustments easily.

  5. says

    I did our taxes last week and was horrified to find out that we also will owe over $5k in taxes. I knew we would owe around $3-4K additional, because my husband’s company was not withholding quite enough taxes, but I was not expecting to also get hit with the Alternative Minimum Tax for an extra $1,000! My husband’s income did go up quite a bit from last year and as a former accountant, I wasn’t really surprised that we’d get slammed this year. Fortunately, we have the money to pay the taxes but it will still hurt writing that check!

  6. says

    Well, the bright side is the tax hit means you’re doing well with income!

    Your article is reminding me that I’ll be paying quarterly this year. I need to be conscious of that fact and put a portion of my earning away towards taxes (I set up an account in ING for that).

  7. JD says

    I feel your pain. We are left owing a bit less but to say “shock” doesn’t really cover it! After reviewing the numbers and how we got to this position I will admit we DO owe it. The payments will come out of our savings. Ugh! On the bright side we do have savings to cover it. Back to re-building our savings account.

  8. says

    Thanks for the heads up on this! Bummer that your tax bill is so high, but I’m glad to see the coincides with an increase in income. As Glen said, it’s a nice reminder for all of us to stay on top of this so we don’t get huge tax bills or penalties.

  9. says

    Owing $5,000 in tax is a good problem to have. That means you made a killing on your side job. :)
    I think I’ll owe close to $5,000 too. I didn’t withheld any blog or rental income.We’ll see how it goes. Hope we don’t have to pay any penalty.

  10. says

    Wow, $5,000! But I echo all of the “congrats” at the income increase. And GREAT job being prepared with that emergency fund close at hand. (Of course, I expect nothing less from a savvy pf blogger.)

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