Updated: May 21, 2024

How to File Unfiled Tax Returns

how to file unfiled tax returns

In most cases, if you didn’t file a previous year’s tax return, you can do it retroactively. Although the process is often more cumbersome, you can also prepare and submit most state tax returns late. Not sure if you need to file a previous year's return? Then, check out this guide on who needs to file a tax return

There are many consequences to not filing federal (IRS) and state tax returns if you are required or you have a balance owed. The consequences vary based on how long it's been since you last filed taxes. In most cases, filing a tax return is usually in your best interests. Here are the steps to file back taxes or deal with unfiled returns.

Collect All Necessary Documentation

You need W2’s, 1099’s, and all other relevant forms for the year in question. If you are itemizing deductions, you also need receipts and records to back up your claims. If you don’t have these forms, contact your employer, former employer, or a financial institution. With wages, you can often get the numbers you need from your last pay stub of the year.

If you can’t get a hold of these documents, contact the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040 or request the IRS mail you a wage and income transcript (IRS online system not available for new users at this time). Usually, wage and income tax transcripts go back up to 10 years. Therefore, you can obtain 1099 and W2 information, even if you cannot locate these documents.

If you are self-employed and were 1099’d, IRS wage and income transcripts will help you determine your income for a taxable year. Also, you can obtain bank statements that will also help you identify income and expenses.

Locate the Necessary Tax Forms

When filing back taxes, you need to use the tax forms from that year. For example, if you are preparing an individual tax return for 2015, you have to use Form 1040 for 2015. This is because the rules and credits may change from year to year. You can find most old forms online. If you cannot find one you need, contact the IRS or your state’s Department of Revenue. However, remember, if you are using software or a tax preparer, then you will not need to find the forms.

Use a Tax Preparer or a Software Program

Although optional, getting professional help can make the process easier. If you use a software program, make sure to use the application for that year. Most computer software such as TurboTax, don’t allow you to file old tax returns online. Instead, you need to order a CD or download the software for the relevant tax year. A tax professional can handle everything generally with the software they use, including finding the right forms, for you. However, it is always best to check with the tax professional as some tax years may be unavailable.

Sending In Your Tax Returns

In most cases, you can’t submit old returns electronically. Instead, you need to mail them to the IRS or your state revenue department. Send your returns to the address on the tax return or tax return directions. If you receive a notice reminding you to file a return, use the address on that IRS letter.

If you are working with an IRS Revenue Officer, you should send the complete returns to that person. When in doubt, contact the IRS or state directly.

Other Considerations

If you are filing old IRS tax returns, in most cases, the IRS will want the last six years. State tax laws may be different, so it is best to check with your state a licensed tax professional (attorney, EA, CPA).

Filing your return is the first step to getting back into compliance with the IRS and most states. There are many negative consequences that come along with having unfiled tax returns. Filing a tax return is usually a smart move even if you can’t afford to pay off the balance in full. Filing reduces or prevents penalties, and once you file, the IRS and most states are willing to work with you.

It is always recommended that you work with a tax professional to file tax returns. Moreover, it is essential that a tax professional first complete a financial analysis and tax investigation. A review of your current income, expenses, liabilities, assets, and tax transcripts will help the tax professional determine your best courses of action. Start your search today to find the most qualified professionals to help with unfiled IRS & State tax returns by selecting the applicable agencies below.


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