Anthony Bourdain was 10 years behind on his taxes—here's what happens if you don't pay yours

Anthony Bourdain
Daniel Boczarski | Getty Images

Before Anthony Bourdain's career took off with his best-selling memoir, "Kitchen Confidential," the chef had zero savings and hadn't filed taxes in a decade.

"In my daily life, the goal was to muffle the anxiety that I'd feel as I tried to drift off to sleep knowing that, at any point, what little money I had in my bank account could be garnished by the IRS," he tells Laurie Woolever of Wealthsimple, an online investing service.

A risky career shift changed Bourdain's approach to money and after that he became, he says, "very careful about the decisions I make every day." He called up the IRS and his credit card company, paid what he owed, and since, has been "fanatical" about never owing anyone money.

Chef Anthony Bourdain
Alexander Tamargo | Getty Images

What actually happens if you don't pay your taxes? CNBC spoke to Lisa Greene-Lewis, certified public accountant and TurboTax blog editor, about the consequences you could face. Of course, everyone's tax situation is different, but here are some of the things that might happen if you don't submit your 2016 tax returns by the filing deadline, which this year is Tuesday, April 18.

There are different penalties for not filing your taxes and not paying your taxes, Greene-Lewis tells CNBC.

If you don't file, you'll be slapped with a failure-to-file penalty, which is 5 percent of your unpaid taxes for each month your tax return is late, up to 25 percent. On top of that fee, if you file more than 60 days late, you'll pay a minimum of $135 or 100 percent of the taxes you owe (whichever is less).

Greene-Lewis also notes that if you fail to file, the IRS may file a return on your behalf: "The IRS can get copies of your income forms — your W-2 or 1099-MISC — and they'll do it for you." However, it's best to file yourself because you might be eligible for tax deductions and credits that the IRS doesn't know about, she says.

How to get your taxes done for free
How to get your taxes done for free

If you file your taxes but don't pay them, the IRS will charge you a failure-to-pay penalty, which is 0.5 percent of your unpaid taxes for each month you don't pay, up to 25 percent. Plus, interest accrues on your unpaid taxes. The interest rate is equal to the federal short-term rate, plus 3 percent.

In short, even if you're only a couple of months behind on your taxes, the consequences can pile up, thanks to fees and interest. And you may miss out on a refund by not filing. After all, "the IRS reports every year that they have close to $1 billion in unclaimed refunds," says Greene-Lewis. "And those refunds are averaging about $700. That's a lot of money."

If you continually ignore your taxes, you may have more than fees to deal with. The IRS could take action such as filing a notice of a federal tax lien (a claim to your property), actually seizing your property, making you forfeit your refund or revoking your passport.

Now that you're inspired to get started on your 2016 tax returns, if you haven't done so already, read up on the common errors that can slow down the filing process.

Taxing questions
Taxing questions