On January 16, 2019, the IRS announced that it would waive the 2018 estimated tax penalty for taxpayers who paid at least 85% of their total tax liability during 2018, either through federal income tax withholding, quarterly estimated tax payments or the combination of both of these payment methods. These changes will be integrated in the forthcoming revision of Form 2210 and instructions.
The 85% threshold is a reduction from the usual 90% threshold required to avoid a penalty. It appears that this new limitation will apply only to the 2018 estimated tax penalty.
Why did the IRS single out the 2018 estimated tax penalty for this additional relief? Very simple – the IRS is trying to help the taxpayers who were unable to properly calculate the needed tax withholding and estimated tax payments due to the numerous changes to tax laws introduced by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
The IRS probably also feels that its own federal tax withholding tables could have contributed to underpayment of tax by many taxpayers. When they were released in early 2018, the updated federal tax withholding tables reflected only the lower tax rates and the increased standard deduction. The tables, however, did not fully reflect other changes, such as the elimination of personal exemptions (including exemptions for dependents) and the severe limitations placed on itemized deductions. Hence, if a taxpayer relied on the federal tax withholding tables, he would have been unfairly exposed to the 2018 estimated tax penalty had the IRS refused to grant this relief.
In all fairness, it should be mentioned that the IRS attempted to correct its mistake by initiating a very extensive education campaign (which also involved all IRS partner groups) for taxpayers with respect to the need to check on their tax withholding.
It is important to point out that the taxpayers should pay a lot more attention to their tax withholding for 2019 so that a 2018 estimated tax penalty does not turn into a 2019 estimated tax penalty. This is especially true for taxpayers who will now owe (maybe, somewhat unexpectedly for them) taxes on their tax returns. The highest-risk taxpayers are, of course, those who have itemized their deductions and complex income. Sherayzen Law Office also warns that taxpayers with foreign income are within this high-risk category.