How Far Can I Go Back to Amend Income Taxes?

Fix errors on your tax return promptly to avoid missing amendment deadlines.
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An income tax return amendment corrects a previously filed return. You can amend a return if you discover credits or deductions you’re eligible to claim but missed on your original filing. You must amend your return, however, if you discover you did not report some of your income on your original return. If your amendment results in changes to federal taxable income, you must also file an amendment for your state tax return.

Federal Taxes

Federal amendments are generally due within three years from the date the return is originally due. The tax year and due date are a little confusing to understand, so the easiest way to think of due dates is to add one year to the tax year you want to amend. For example, if you want to amend a return for tax year 2011, your original due date is April 15, 2012. In this case, you have until April 15, 2015, to amend the return. In addition to amending your return to list changes in credits, deductions and income, you can also amend your return to add or omit dependents, or change your filing status. The only filing status you can’t change is married filing jointly.

State Taxes

If you live in a state that imposes income tax, you must file an amended state return only when your federal amendments result in changes to federal taxable income. Most states base your state income taxes on your federal taxable income. To simplify the amendment process, most states also follow the same federal amendment schedule, which means you usually also have three years from the date a state return is originally due to file an amendment with the state department of revenue.

Substitute Returns

A substitute return is an income tax return that either the IRS or state prepares for you. This happens when either taxing authority receives income documents for you from an employer or other third party, but does not receive a tax return from you for the same tax year. The IRS or state uses your income documents to prepare your return, but sometimes does not list your correct filing status or allow any deductions you’re normally allowed to take. This often results in a balance due that is incorrect. You can file an original return to replace the substitute return filed on your behalf at any time. Regular time constraints are not placed when you file a return to replace a substitute because you’re actually filing an original return and not amending something you previously filed. Many folks get confused about this term because the process involves requesting an amendment to a return prepared on your behalf by the taxing authority.

Ordering Income Documents

Just like the IRS uses income documents provided by third parties to prepare a substitute return for you, you can use the same information to verify you’ve included all your income and withholding information on your amended return. You can order a set of the income documents provided to the IRS by completing IRS Form 4506-T and checking the box on line 8. You’ll receive a transcript listing the company that paid you, the amount you earned, and the amount of any taxes withheld from your payments. You can order similar information for your state return by contacting your state department of revenue and requesting the information. Most states allow you to make this request in person or by phone.

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