What To Do If You Forgot to File Taxes?

You have a busy life — sometimes, even very important tasks can slip through the cracks. If one of those important tasks was your tax return for this year or a previous year, don't panic but do take action. The Internal Revenue Service might not notice immediately, but it eventually will note that you haven't filed a return.


The best thing you can do if you missed a tax return is to file it as soon as you can. Use the same form to file late as you would if you filed on time, such as the 1040 or 1040A. You can e-file your return if it is not more than six months past the due date of the return. For example, if you realized you forgot to file for 2011 in August of 2012, you have until October of 2012 to file electronically.

Payments and Refunds

If the IRS owes you a refund, you have a three-year window in which to claim that refund. You won't owe the IRS a penalty or interest if you fail to file on time, but you do run the risk of missing out on the money due to you if you wait too long. If you owe the IRS money, you also have to add interest and penalties to the amount of tax due when you file late. The penalty could be up to 25 percent of the amount you owe, depending on when you file the return.

Dangers of Doing Nothing

When you fail to file your forgotten return and the IRS takes notice, it will file the return for you. While you might think having the IRS do all the paperwork for you is convenient, you might end up owing more than you would if you did the return yourself. The IRS only uses the information provided to it to complete your return. If you are self-employed and deduct business expenses or itemize your deductions, you will miss out on those deductions. When the IRS files the return for you, it also starts to collect on the tax you owe. You might have a lien put on your home or have your wages garnished.

Better Luck Next Time

Plan well in advance so you don't miss the tax return deadline in upcoming years. Gather your tax information and commit to getting the returns finished a week or two before the due date. If that is not possible, keep in mind that you can request a six-month extension from the IRS by completing Form 4868. Receiving an extension doesn't extend the deadline for paying if you owe tax, however. You will still owe interest and penalties on the amount of tax you don't pay by the deadline.

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