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N.D. tax amnesty under way

BISMARCK -- North Dakotans who owe state taxes or who haven't filed returns can clear their consciences, save money and avoid legal problems by coming forward in the next four months.

BISMARCK -- North Dakotans who owe state taxes or who haven't filed returns can clear their consciences, save money and avoid legal problems by coming forward in the next four months.

A state tax amnesty program begins today and ends Jan. 31, said state Tax Commissioner Rick Clayburgh. The Legislature this year directed him to create the one-time program in hopes of collecting about $500,000 for the state treasury.

Clayburgh said the program is for taxes his department collects, including individual and corporate income taxes, and sales and use taxes. It is not for property taxes, gaming taxes and others that aren't collected by the state Tax Department.

The program will benefit people who filed and haven't paid taxes owed, who under-reported taxes owed, who haven't filed returns, or who are scheduled for or undergoing an audit.

In many cases, Clayburgh said, the tax and penalty for back taxes is more than the taxes owed and that is where the program can benefit taxpayers. Under the amnesty program, penalties are waived and the interest -- normally 1 percent per month -- is cut by 75 percent. That means it can also benefit people working on a payment plan with the department or its collection agencies. If those taxpayers can scrounge up the rest of what is owed, they can save significant amounts.

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Clayburgh stressed that the program does not waive or forgive any taxes owed, just the penalty and most of the interest. To get the benefits of amnesty, the taxpayer must pay all the taxes due.

If someone contacts the department about the program during the four months but still doesn't have the money to pay when the amnesty period ends, penalties and interest will be the same as they were before the amnesty program. But the department will set them up with a payment plan.

The $500,000 hoped for is still only one-tenth of what the Tax Department says is owed but uncollected, Clayburgh said. Eight other states also run amnesty programs and South Dakota collected about $500,000 with its program, he said.

This is the first amnesty period since 1982, when Kent Conrad conducted one while he was tax commissioner, Clayburgh said. The 1982 amnesty program brought in $148,000. One taxpayer who came forward that year was 30 years in arrears.

The campaign is being publicized by radio and television public service announcements. The bill for producing the commercials at a Bismarck television station will be $200 or less, said department spokeswoman Beth Boustead.

For more information, call the Tax Department at (701) 328-2770 or go online at www.ndtaxdepartment.com , where a dedicated link contains all the information and forms.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Janell Cole at (701) 224-0830

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