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Jessica Chesher

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Haven’t Filed an Income Tax Return? Here’s What to Do

File All Tax Returns

Taxpayers should file all tax returns that are due, regardless of whether or not full payment can be made with the return. Depending on an individual’s circumstances, a taxpayer filing late may qualify for a payment plan. All payment plans require continued compliance with all filing and payment responsibilities after the plan is approved.

Facts About Filing Tax Returns

Failure to file a return or filing late can be costly. If taxes are owed, a delay in filing may result in penalty and interest charges that could increase your tax bill by 25 percent or more. 

There is no penalty for failure to file a tax return if a refund is due. But by waiting too long to file, you can lose your refund. In order to receive a refund, the return must be filed within 3 years of the due date. If you file a return, and later realize you made an error on the return, the deadline for claiming any refund due is three years after the return was filed, or two years after the tax was paid, whichever expires later. 

Taxpayers who are entitled to the Earned Income Tax Credit must file a return to claim the credit even if they are not otherwise required to file. The return must be filed within 3 years of the due date in order to receive the credit. 

If you are self-employed, you must file returns reporting self-employment income within three years of the due date in order to receive Social Security credits toward your retirement. 

Getting Free Help to File Late Returns

The IRS offers free assistance by computer, telephone, facsimile and in person. The IRS can assist taxpayers with obtaining forms, publications, and answers to a wide range of tax questions. To find out more about the free tax services available, refer to Tax Topic 101 – IRS Services – Volunteer Tax Assistances, Toll-Free Telephone, Walk-in Assistance and Outreach Programs.

If you are a wage-earner, and have misplaced your W-2 Forms showing your income and income tax withholding, and you are unable to obtain duplicate copies from your employer, IRS can often provide you with that information after the annual matching programs are run. Matching programs are run after filing season, and the information is usually available in late August of the year in which the tax return is due.

If you think your employer did not report your wages, contact IRS for assistance on how to file your tax returns. If you can establish that your employer withheld taxes on your salary (normally by providing pay stubs), you will receive credit for your social security and income tax withholding even if IRS did not receive the withheld tax. If your employer failed to withhold the taxes, you must still file your return.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program and IRS e-file joined forces several years ago to bring electronic tax filing to VITA sites. Since then, volunteers prepare tax returns on computers and ultimately transmit them electronically to the IRS. It’s free of charge for individuals of low to moderate income.

Individuals and joint filers whose income exceeds VITA program criteria, as well as businesses (i.e. filing Schedules C and E) should seek professional assistance for return preparation. The “Authorized IRS e-file Provider” database is a nationwide listing of all businesses that have been accepted to participate in the electronic filing (IRS e-file) program.

Documents Required to Prepare a Return

In order for the IRS to assist with preparing a tax return, taxpayers should bring any and all information related to income and deductions for the tax years for which a return is required to be filed. Some of the documents may include:

Forms W-2 – Forms from employers showing wages for the year.

Forms 1099 – Forms from banks and other financial institutions showing interest and dividends. Forms 1099 also report self-employment income. 

Information on expenses to claim on the return, such as itemized deductions, child care expenses, or employee business expenses. 

Social Security numbers for dependent children and any other person claimed as a dependent 

A copy of the last tax return filed. 

Related Resources

Filing Late and/or Paying Late: Information You Should Know
Filing Your Taxes Was Never Easier!
Free Tax Help Available

Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax
Publication 334, Tax Guide for Small Business

Filing Late Returns - Frequently Asked Questions
IRS Procedures: General Procedural Questions

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