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How Do I File Returns for Back Taxes?

Updated for Tax Year 2020 / August 26, 2021 09:27 AM


OVERVIEW

When would someone file back taxes, and what does this process typically look like?


how to file back tax return

Should you file back taxes? It may not be too late to file a previous year's tax return to pay what you owe or claim your refund. Learn more about why one may choose to file back taxes and how to start this process.

Why you should file back taxes

Filing back tax returns you haven't completed could help you do one of the following:

1. Claim a refund

One practical reason to file a back tax return is to see if the IRS owes you a tax refund. While many have federal income taxes withheld from their paychecks, sometimes too much money is withheld. In these cases, filing a tax return could result in a tax refund that puts more money in your bank account.

2. Stop late filing and payment penalties and interest

Filing a tax return on time is key to avoid penalties, even if you can't pay the balance you owe. If you don't pay your balance, you may have to pay an additional 5% of the unpaid tax you were required to report for each month your tax return is late, up to five months. Minimum penalty limits also apply.

The IRS assesses another penalty for a failure to pay your taxes owed. If you do file on time, but you can't pay what you owe in full by the due date, you'll be fined an additional 0.5% of the amount of the tax not paid on time for each month or part of a month you are late. These fees will accrue until your balance is paid in full or the penalty reaches 25%, whichever comes first.

The IRS also charges interest on overdue taxes. Unlike penalties, interest does not stop accruing after a particular period goes by.

3. Have tax returns for loan applications

Certain types of loans, such as mortgages and business loans, may require you to have documentation of your income as part of the approval process. Filing your tax returns before you apply for a loan helps the process go smoother.

4. Pay Social Security taxes to qualify for benefits

Self-employed individuals have to pay Social Security taxes through their estimated tax payments and individual income tax returns. By filing a return and paying the associated taxes, you report your income so that you may qualify for Social Security retirement and disability benefits when you need them.

How late can you file?

The IRS prefers that you file all back tax returns for years you have not yet filed. That said, the IRS usually only requires you to file the last six years of tax returns to be considered in good standing. Even so, the IRS can go back more than six years in certain instances.

Unfortunately, there is a limit on how far back you can file a tax return to claim tax refunds and tax credits. This IRS only allows you to claim refunds and tax credits within three years of the tax return's original due date. By not filing within three years of the due date, you might end up owing even more taxes because you can no longer claim the lucrative tax credits you might have otherwise qualified for.

How to file tax returns for previous years

Filing a tax return for a previous year isn't as hard as you may think, but it does require a few steps.

1. Gather information

The first step is gathering any information from the year you want to file a tax return for. Pull together your W-2s, 1099s, and information for any deductions or credits you may qualify for. Look on the tax forms you gather for the year of the tax return you're filing to make sure you use the right ones.

2. Request tax documents from the IRS

Finding documents from previous years may be challenging for some. Thankfully, the IRS has a form you can fill out to request any tax information they have on file for you for a given year. Form 4506-T allows you to request a transcript of your tax return information, even if you haven't filed a tax return. You can request information from the last 10 tax years.

The IRS will send the information it has on record, including information found on forms such as W-2s, 1099s, and 1098s. It won't have information about deductions and credits you may qualify for, though, so you'll still need to do some work on your own.

3. Complete and file your tax return

Once you have all the forms you need, be sure to use the tax forms from the year you're filing. For instance, you must use 2018 tax return forms to file a 2018 tax return. You can find these documents on the IRS website. Patience is key when filling out a tax return by hand. And thankfully, you can also file tax returns from previous years using TurboTax.

  • Select the year you want to file a return for to get started.
  • Then, input your tax information and TurboTax will properly fill out the tax forms.
  • You will have to print out and mail in your tax return for previous years as e-filing prior year returns is not an option through TurboTax.

Remember, with TurboTax, we'll ask you simple questions about your life and help you fill out all the right tax forms. Whether you have a simple or complex tax situation, we've got you covered. Feel confident doing your own taxes.

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