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The consequences of non-filing: A closer look at small businesses and U.S. tax obligations

Posted by Neha De

August 21, 2023

Unpaid business taxes can have dire repercussions for a company, big or small. It can lead to a chain of consequences that can be detrimental to the business’s financial health as well as legal standing.

Let’s explore what happens when a small business does not file taxes — or makes mistakes related to filing taxes — and the potential impact it can have on both the business and its owners

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Consequence 1: Penalties and interest charges

The most immediate consequence of not filing taxes on time is the incurrence of penalties and interest charges. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) imposes penalties for Failure to File and Failure to Pay taxes, which can quickly accumulate, exacerbating the financial burden on the small business.

These penalties are typically based on a percentage of the unpaid taxes owed, and the longer the taxes remain unpaid, the more the business owes in penalties and interest. According to the IRS, the Failure to File Penalty is based on how late you file your tax return and the amount of unpaid tax as of the original payment due date. It is 5 percent of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month that a tax return is late. Whereas the Failure to Pay Penalty based on how long your overdue taxes remain unpaid. It is 0.5 percent of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month the tax remains unpaid.  

Consequence 2: Legal action

If a small business repeatedly fails to file taxes or neglects to pay its tax obligations, the IRS may escalate its response by taking legal action against the business. This can involve the issuance of a tax lien or tax levy.

A tax lien gives the government a legal claim to the business’s assets, making it challenging for the business to access credit or sell its assets without satisfying the tax debt. On the other hand, a tax levy allows the IRS to seize the business’s assets, including bank accounts, equipment and inventory, to settle the outstanding tax liability.

In addition, the Federal Payment Levy Program (FPLP) allows the IRS to collect a business’s overdue taxes through a continuous levy on certain federal payments disbursed by the Bureau of the Fiscal Service (BFS).  

Consequence 3: Loss of business credibility

Beyond he financial consequences, not filing (or misfiling) taxes can significantly damage a small business’s reputation and credibility. Customers, suppliers, vendors as well as potential partners and investors may view the business as untrustworthy or unreliable, making it difficult to maintain existing relationships or establish new ones. This loss of credibility can hinder growth opportunities and create a negative image in the market. 

Consequence 4: Criminal charges

In cases where a small business willfully engages in tax evasion or fraud, the consequences can escalate to criminal charges, too. The IRS takes tax evasion seriously, and if found guilty, the business owners could face significant fines, probation or even imprisonment. 

Talk to us about how Escalon’s FinOps can help you stay on top of your taxes.

For instance, according to the Journal of Accountancy, “Failing to pay trust fund taxes can lead to criminal charges. Under Section 7202, a willful failure to pay over or collect tax is a felony punishable by up to a US$ 10,000 fine or five years in prison, or both.” Criminal charges not only jeopardize the business’s future but can also lead to personal financial ruin for the owners. 

Consequence 5: Accumulation of debt

As penalties and interest continue to accrue, the tax debt can snowball into an overwhelming financial burden. Small businesses that struggle to keep up with their tax obligations may find it increasingly challenging to break free from the cycle of debt, leading to potential insolvency and closure. 

Work with a professional tax service to avoid these serious tax consequences

Filing taxes is a fundamental obligation that every small business must fulfill. Neglecting this responsibility can lead to a series of cascading consequences that can severely impact the business’s financial stability, legal standing and reputation. Hence, it is crucial for small business owners to remain vigilant about their tax obligations, keeping accurate financial records and seeking professional advice if needed. In the event of financial difficulties, open communication with the IRS and proactive steps to address the tax situation can help mitigate potential repercussions. By staying informed and compliant with tax regulations, small businesses can avoid the pitfalls associated with non-filing and focus on building a successful and sustainable future.

If you are not confident enough to file your taxes correctly or have any questions or queries about tax credits and deductions available for your small business, it might be a good idea to outsource your tax services to an expert outsourcing partner, who specializes in small business tax services. They will make sure that you meet your financial obligations, file the required forms on time and perhaps even minimize your tax liabilities by claiming legitimate deductions and credits.  

Want more? In addition to taxes, accounting, bookkeeping and CFO services through its FinOps, Escalon’s Essential Business Services include PeopleOps (HR, benefits, recruiting and payroll) and Risk (business insurance). Talk to an expert today.

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This material has been prepared for informational purposes only. Escalon and its affiliates are not providing tax, legal or accounting advice in this article. If you would like to engage with Escalon, please contact us here.


Neha De
Neha De

Neha De is a writer and editor with more than 13 years of experience. She has worked on a variety of genres and platforms, including books, magazine articles, blog posts and website copy. She is passionate about producing clear and concise content that is engaging and informative. In her spare time, Neha enjoys dancing, running and spending time with her family.

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