FAQs and Answers to Unfiled Tax Returns

unfiled taxes frequently asked questions

Here are the most common frequently asked questions or FAQs about unfiled or delinquent tax returns. Feel free to contact us if you have unfiled IRS or State tax returns.

How Do I Know If I Need to File a Tax Return?

Filing requirements vary based on your age, filing status, income, and other factors. Every year the IRS publishes Publication 17 which has useful information on who needs to file. As of the tax year 2016, single taxpayers with income over $10,350 and couples filing jointly with income over $20,700 must file. The threshold is slightly higher for taxpayers over the age of 65.

You also must file if you have over $400 in self-employment income after expenses, if you sold a home, or if you have tips or wages that weren’t subject to Medicare or Social Security withholding.

What Are Consequences of Not Filing a Tax Return?

If you don’t file your tax return, the IRS charges 5% of your tax due as a penalty. It is assessed every month with a maximum failure to file penalty of 25%. If you are entitled to a refund, you won’t get it. You also lose the chance to roll losses from that year to future years, and if you file bankruptcy, you can’t include taxes owed unless you are up to date on your filing obligations. In a worst-case scenario, you may face jail time and fines up to $25,000. The consequences for unfiled returns vary depending on how long it's been since you filed.


What If I Lost My W-2 Documents and 1099s for the Tax Year I Need to File?

If you lost your W-2’s or 1099’s, call the business or organization that would have issued those forms. Most companies keep those records for at least seven years. If you can’t get ahold of anyone, contact the IRS directly and ask for a wage and income transcript(s). You can request transcripts in the mail via the IRS online’s portal. The IRS’s wage and income transcripts will typically cover up to 10 years back.

How Does the IRS Contact Individuals Who Do Not File?

The IRS typically sends you notices in the mail at the last address they have on file for you. The initial letters remind you to file and notify you that you may have a balance due. Eventually, you may get a notice demanding you file within 30 days. If you ignore this initial warning, the IRS starts sending more severe collection notices. Eventually, after 2 or 3 years, the IRS will file a Substitute for Return (SFR). An SFR means the IRS filed for you and they do not give you all exemptions, deductions, and credits.

As of 2024, the IRS is sending out 125,000 notices to high-income people who have not filed returns dating back to 2017. The agency plans to send CP59 to remind these people to file. If they don't respond, the IRS will send CP3219N proposing a tax assessment based on income documents received by the IRS. The second notice gives them 90 days to respond before the proposed tax gets assessed against them.  

What Is a Substitute for Return (SFR)?

If you don’t file a return, the IRS may complete a substitute for return on your behalf. Those returns usually assess you a higher tax liability than you deserve.

Do I Need to File a Return If I Do Not Owe the IRS?

Technically, if you do not owe the IRS, you do not need to file a tax return. However, if you fail to prepare and send in a tax return, you can lose out on your refund and face other consequences as discussed above. For a list of the drawbacks of not filing, visit this page.

Are Tax Penalties Deductible on Tax Return?

Tax penalties are never deductible on a tax return. However, interest on taxes owed can be deductible if it’s for business taxes.

Can You E-File a Late Tax Return?

You can usually only e-file for up to six months after the due date. After that point, you need to mail your return.

How Should I Send Late Tax Returns to the IRS?

If possible, deliver old returns to a local IRS office and get a receipt. If there is not an office near you, send the tax return via certified mail. That way, you get a receipt when the IRS receives the return. If you are working with a tax professional on a tax resolution with the IRS, they can handle it for you.


Is It Ever Too Late to File? Can You Receive a Refund for Late Returns?

It is never too late to file. However, if you want to claim a refund, you have to file within three years of the original due date. You can follow this guide on how to file unfiled tax returns

If I Am Filing a Past Due IRS Tax Return, Can I Use the Current Year’s Tax Forms?

No, you need to use the tax form for the year you are filing. You can find most old tax returns on the IRS website. If you can’t find what you need, call the IRS and ask to have the form mailed to you. Alternatively, connect with a tax professional by requesting a free consultation. Tax professionals typically have prior year tax filing software which makes it very easy to file back taxes.

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