Many taxpayers fail to file a return even when required to do so. Your obligation to file these returns never goes away, but catching up may be easier than you think.
The article below is accurate for your 2017 taxes, the one that you file this year by the April 2018 deadline, including a few retroactive changes due to the passing of tax reform. Some tax information below will change next year for your 2018 taxes, but won’t impact you this year. Learn more about tax reform here.
The IRS requires you to file a tax return in each year that your income is greater than your standard deduction plus one exemption if you are not the dependent to another taxpayer. Many taxpayers fail to file a return even when required to do so. If you are one of them, you are probably racking up interest and penalties on back taxes every month you are late. Your obligation to file these returns never goes away, but catching up may be easier than you think.
Step 1: Collect income information
Gather as much information as you can about your income for the years you need to file. You'll need your prior W-2s and 1099s for those years. If you are missing a W-2 and cannot obtain a copy from your employer, you can request a substitute from the IRS by filing an IRS Form 4852, which you can find on the TurboTax website.
If you sold any capital assets in those years, such as stocks, you need to report this income as well. However, if your goal is to stop penalties and interest from accruing, you can always estimate your income and make a tax payment before receiving a copy of your 1099 or W-2.
Step 2: Determine deductions and exemptions
Reduce your tax bill with deductions and exemptions. Just because you are filing your return late doesn't mean you forfeit the exemptions and deductions you could have taken. If you plan on itemizing deductions, you need to obtain whatever documentation you have that supports each deduction.
If you don't have this, you can always claim the standard deduction for each of those years. You can also reduce your taxable income with exemptions for any dependents you were eligible to claim in the prior years. You need the names and Social Security numbers for each dependent you claim.
Step 3: Obtain proper tax forms
Obtain the correct forms and instructions for the specific tax year. Your past-due returns must be filed on the original tax forms. You can easily access prior year tax forms on the TurboTax website or by contacting the IRS. Don't make the mistake of using current year tax forms or you may end up preparing the return again.
Step 4: Complete tax forms
Fill out the forms you need according to the instructions for those forms. Since the tax law changes from year to year, it's important that you use the instructions applicable for the tax year you are filing a return for. Aside from the confusion it will cause, using the wrong instructions may cause you to underpay or overpay the amount of tax you actually owe.
Step 5 : Mail or e-file your tax return
Mail your tax return and all supporting documents to the address listed in the instructions. Sending your return to the wrong address may delay the time it takes the IRS to process it. For easier and faster results, you can complete and E-File your prior year return using TurboTax.
Make sure you make a copy of every document you send to the IRS. Documents are occasionally lost, and you may need a backup in case you are audited.
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