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What You Need to Know About Estimated Tax Payments

March 11, 2019

Anyone whose taxes are not sufficiently withheld, or anyone who has income that is not subject to withholding taxes are liable to make estimated tax payments. A payment made towards your taxes from an estimate you have made about your earnings for the year is an estimated tax payment. Failure to complete these payments will result in interest penalties.

How do I know if I need to make estimated payments?

Estimated interest payments are well known in the self-employed world, but are not the only ones who are responsible to make them. If you have income from:

  • stock sales,
  • property sales,
  • investments,
  • alimony,
  • partnerships,
  • S-corporations,
  • inherited pension plans,
  • or other sources that are not subject to withholding,

you may also be required to pay either estimated taxes or an underpayment penalty. Others subject to making estimated payments are individuals who must pay special taxes such as the 3.8% tax on net investment income or the employment tax on household employees.

Quarterly Calendar

The “quarterly” estimate periods do not always coincide with a calendar quarter. Here is the quarterly calendar:

Quarter Period Covered Months Due Date*
First January through March 3 April 15
Second April and May 2 June 15
Third June through August 3 September 15
Fourth September through December 4 January 15

* If the due date falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday, the payment is due on the next business day.

Underestimate Penalty

An underestimate penalty does not apply if the tax due on a return (after withholding and refundable credits) is less than $1,000. This is the “de minimis amount due” exception. Underpayment penalties are assessed when tax due is $1,000 or more. 

An underpayment in an early quarter cannot be made up for in a later quarter. Underpayment penalties are determined on a quarterly basis. An overpayment in an earlier quarter is applied to the following quarter.

How much will your payments be?

The amount of an estimated payment is determined by estimating one fourth of the taxpayer’s tax for the entire year. The projected tax is paid in four installments. When the income is seasonal, sporadic, or the result of a windfall, the IRS provides a special form. The underpayment penalty is based on actual income for the period.

Safe-Harbor Estimates

For individuals who do not want to take the time to estimate their quarterly taxes but who still want to avoid the underpayment penalty, there is the option of safe-harbor estimates. You can avoid an underpayment penalty if your withholding and estimated payments are equal to or greater than:

  • 90% of the current year’s tax liability or
  • 100% of the prior year’s tax liability.

However, these safe harbors do not apply if the prior year’s adjusted gross income is over $150,000, in which case, the safe harbors are

  • 90% of the current year’s tax liability or
  • 110% of the prior year’s tax liability.

If you have withholding on some, but not all, of your sources of income, you can increase the amount withheld. This will compensate for the additional income sources that don’t have withholding. Withholding adjustments are not as precise as quarterly payments and should be used with caution.

If you have questions about your specific tax payment situation, we would love to help you navigate it. Contact us for assistance!


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