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April 15 is stressful. So stressful, in fact, that car crash fatalities increase by 6 percent on that day, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association -- which sure gives some extra punch to the old adage about death and taxes.

Owing taxes -- especially if you don't have the funds to pay them by the deadline -- is a cause of much tax-day anxiety. But there are ways to manage it.

Be Proactive

If you know you'll owe, it's tempting to postpone the day of reckoning. But skipping the due date entirely to buy yourself more time is a costly mistake. Doing so can add a hefty late-filing penalty to your bill -- 5 percent of the amount owed per month.

Once you know the total damage, cough up whatever cash you can by April 15 and send it to Uncle Sam. Depending on your situation and the amount owed, that may require seemingly drastic options like draining your emergency fund and borrowing against other assets. You'll still pay a penalty on what you can't pay, but it's a less onerous 0.5 percent to 1 percent per month on the unpaid amount.

Still Owe? The IRS Has a Plan or Two

This is when the going gets tough. Can you pay within 120 days? If you've got a bonus or other funds coming your way (or can scrimp for a few months) and you owe less than $50,000, request a short-term payment extension. You'll be responsible for a late-payment penalty of 0.5 percent per month and interest charges (equal to 6 percent per year), but there's no cost to establish the extension.

If you need more than a few months, for a fee, you can set up a monthly installment plan (if you owe less than $50,000, there's a handy online form). For most folks, it's $52 if you opt for direct debit or $120 if you choose payroll deduction or an old-fashioned check. You'll also pay the interest and late penalty charges mentioned above.

The IRS does a reasonable job of making it easy to request an extension or installment plan. However, it comes at a high price when you add up the fees, penalties and interest it charges. Even the IRS itself admits, "You should consider financing the full payment of your tax liability through loans, such as a home equity loan from a financial institution or a credit card. The interest rate and any applicable fees ... are usually lower than the combination of interest and penalties imposed by the Internal Revenue Code."

Alternatives for Desperate Times

Consider these options against the IRS' payment plan. Also realize that getting cash using these methods may take more time than you have.

In a previous article, I detailed the pros and cons of several ways to get cash fast, including borrowing from family, getting a cash advance on a credit card or taking out a 401(k) loan. All carry risks and costs, but they'll give you more flexibility over how you repay the loan and may save some money in fees.

For example, you can usually pay a 401(k) loan back over a longer period (up to five years, depending on your employer), and you're paying the interest to yourself, not the U.S. Treasury. On the downside, there are limits on what you can borrow, and if you lose (or leave) your job, you have to repay the loan within 60 days.

The IRS mentions home equity loans as another option (this would also include home equity lines of credit, or HELOCs). I'm generally not a fan of borrowing against your home to pay other debts -- defaulting on these loans is especially risky, since your home is on the line. That said, if you already have an HELOC or can get approved for a loan or line of credit quickly, these loans are cheaper (right now, the average HELOC rate is less than 5 percent) than many other types of credit.

Now for Some Good News

Once you decide how you're going to pay this year's taxes, make sure you don't wind up in the same situation next April. Use a calculator to estimate what you owe vs. your withholding and adjust your withholdings if necessary. Check again in the fall.

I recommend everyone do this quick 10-minute exercise no later than Oct. 1 of each year, earlier if you had a hefty bill the year before. Filing taxes is always, er, taxing, but a little planning can make the process a whole lot less stressful.

Robyn Gearey is a Motley Fool contributing writer.

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Tisha Montique

I find this article to be quite true. I've been in the IRS tax debt ringer myself and it was nothing nice, lol. I'm proud to say that I'm out now (thank god). I've been in my struggles like everybody else here I'm sure. But if I can have the chance to help somebody going through the same troubles as I was, I would most definitely love to. I called a highly recommended tax debt company I got from a former IRS employee and they worked with me and didn't charge a arm and a leg for the service, but to avoid me sounding like the thirsty sales guy I'll stop babbling like one lol. Here's the number if anyone wanted to call. Its worth a try but u guys feel free to do whatever you think will help your situation, just tryna help 855-799-7284.

March 17 2015 at 2:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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April 17 2014 at 1:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My ex left a mess of unpaid taxes for me to deal with as he made it clear he was not going to pay and they could put him in jail if they wanted to. However we filed jointly and so it was as much my mess as his and I was not going to jail. I made a payment plan with them and when I sent the payment that paid off the amount that was originally owed I sent a letter asking them to forgive the penalties and interest. They did. I hated to have to pay it all myself but having that forgiven helped. Now this was a while back I don't know if they still do that but it never hurts to ask.

April 10 2014 at 3:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Robert Lewis

Errrrrrraaaa...this is Ted Kennedy coming to you from my booze soaked grave.....I was in congress for 30 confisseled years....taxes are good ....swim Mary Joe...I'll see you at home!

April 09 2014 at 8:47 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Sent my check in yesterday, figured Obama was in need of another vacation. I even made the check out to him. I'm retired, making less than when I was working and paying more taxes than ever. Got to love the tax and spend politicians.

April 09 2014 at 8:14 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to wbearl's comment

You need some write offs.

April 09 2014 at 8:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Robert Lewis

So I guess when our gov't gives away billions...f.in billions to other countries....you know.to help them out..? we all have to pay to fill the void...DESTROY THE IRS.....it's quickly taking all of us down!

April 09 2014 at 8:14 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
J. Besecke

Robyn Gearey must be paid a commission to writeuch junk .Go to a company that can fight IRS. Their on TV all the time. You will in the end pay only 10% or 20 % of what you owe and the fee will be only 10% of your tax bill. Lastly tell IRS you will pay X dollars each month over 7 years and that is it. In todays world IRS is more afraid of you going to Congress oversight committe for help then anything else.

April 09 2014 at 8:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If your extremely rich, you don't have to pay your taxes and then turn around and complain about the amount of taxes you have to pay and how poor people then steal from the government and then get tax dollars to pay for your new factory that they then give jobs to illegal immigrants and pay them below minimal wages...

April 09 2014 at 7:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Here's an idea ---- file by April 15th, and you would have gotten your refund already ...... WHA WHA

April 09 2014 at 5:52 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Filed my taxes in July (extension) and should have gotten a refund...hasn't arrived yet! The IRS is blaming the government shut down.

April 09 2014 at 5:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply