If you didn’t change the tax withholding in your paycheck, you still have time to avoid another unpleasant surprise — or even a fine.
The first tax season under the Republican-sponsored overhaul brought an odd combination of pleasant and unpleasant surprises: lower tax burdens, but also lower refunds — and, for some, an unexpected bill.
Anyone who didn’t take a proactive approach after getting a big tax bill last time around could end up in that situation again, only worse: That filer is more likely to have to pay a penalty.
For 2019, taxpayers who didn’t generally withhold at least 90 percent of their liability from their paychecks may be required to pay a fine. That threshold is back up from 80 percent, where it was set last year as everyone adjusted to the new rules.
If a withholding calculator — like the one on the Internal Revenue Service’s website — shows you’re significantly short, you have options. There may be time to have an extra amount withheld from your final paycheck to get you over the threshold, although that will require filling out a W-4 now and another later to reverse that change. Or you can make what’s called an estimated tax payment directly to the I.R.S.
You’ll also want to think about how to handle the rest of the tax balance.
“You can start planning for that now by setting aside money in savings accounts or planning ahead for an installment agreement with the I.R.S. so you can pay over a period of time,” said Nathan Rigney, lead tax research analyst at H&R Block’s Tax Institute.
Most households did pay a bit less because of the overhaul: Individuals’ total tax liability dropped nearly 5.8 percent, or $70 billion, according to I.R.S. data on tax returns filed through July.
But it didn’t feel that way for some taxpayers. The number of refunds issued hardly budged — they were down 0.3 percent — but refunds for many were smaller. Refunds for those who earned between $100,000 and $250,000, for example, dropped by about 11 percent, according to the I.R.S.
Many people were surprised to learn that they owed the government money even if their situation hadn’t changed.