Filing Prior Year Tax Returns

For most individuals, filing an annual tax return is a requirement. If a taxpayer misses their filing date or is unable to pay the taxes they owe at the time, which they are due, they should still file and/or pay, even if they are several years late.

The IRS is able to criminally prosecute taxpayers who do not file a return. This action must be taken within six years from the date at which the tax return was required to have been filed.

It is important to note, that the IRS may be able to collect tax that is past due and is greater than six years, although the law may limit the ability to collect this as time passes.

Taxpayers can file a tax return as far back as needed, but refunds can only be claimed within three years of when the original return was due. The same is true for amended tax returns. Consequently, if you delay filing your taxes too long, you may not be entitled to credits or refunds.

Filing Older Tax Returns
Taxpayers file prior year returns in much the same way that they file timely tax returns. Sometimes, however, gathering the necessary information can be difficult. You can request a tax transcript from the IRS to get prior year tax return information, and you can contact former employers to ask for prior wage information. Generally, employers keep such records for at least three years after the wages were earned, but occasionally some employers maintain records longer.

Filing instructions and forms from the year which the tax return was due must be used. You cannot use forms from the current tax year to file. Using the wrong instructions or form may result in the IRS rejecting your return, forcing you to have to file your taxes all over again. For this reason, it is often worthwhile to have a professional assist with your prior year tax return.

Once the IRS receives your return, (and if you owe back taxes) they will typically follow up with a notice that tells the taxpayer how much they are required to pay in interest and penalties for not filing timely.



Q&A: Is it against the law not to file a tax return?

If income taxes are owed, filing a tax return is required and failing to file is punishable by up to a year in jail. However, if no income taxes are owed or a refund is due, filing is not a requirement. So, the answer to this question really depends on if the taxpayer owes income taxes.

If your gross income amounts to more than the standard deduction amount for your filing status, then you are typically instructed to file a tax return. If you fail to file a tax return and you owe taxes, you can face failure-to-file penalties. There are also failure-to-pay penalties for not paying taxes owed in full, although they're generally less than those penalties for failing to file. For this reason, even if you can't afford to make your tax payment, you should still file your taxes in order to avoid late filing fees.