How to File Old IRS Tax Returns

People miss filing a tax return on time for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they’ve moved and can’t find the receipts, or maybe they didn’t receive all their W-2s and other information returns due to a change of address. This situation often leads to failure to file in future years. Before you know it, you have two, three or more year’s worth of unfiled tax returns. Not to worry: Here’s help to find what you need to get back in good graces with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Gather your income data. If you don’t have all of your W-2 and 1099 forms from the year in question, or aren’t sure you received as many as you should have, there is a simple solution to that problem. Contact your nearest IRS office and ask them to print out all of your data for that year. Go in person if possible, to get the data faster. They will have data regarding your wages, withholding taxes and self-employment income that was reported on 1099 forms, unemployment compensation and any other potentially taxable income. These are the items the IRS expects you to report on your tax return, so it’s vital that you do so.

Download forms and instructions at the IRS web site. Look for “Forms and Instructions” on the main page, and click through to choose the forms and years you need. Be sure to read the instructions for each year you need, to make sure you use correct tax law for that year. If you prefer to have your taxes professionally prepared, your paid preparer should have all the necessary forms on hand already.

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Dig out your old receipt files and canceled checks. If you have no self-employment income or other complications that require special handling, you may not even need any receipts. In that case, just download the Form 1040A or 1040-EZ form for the years you need from the IRS web site. Fill in the blanks using the information you got from IRS, sign it, then mail the return to the correct IRS processing address for your location. If you have self-employment, itemized deductions, stock sales or child care expenses, you may need to do some detective work to track down your deductions. Mail each tax year’s return separately to avoid confusion and loss at the IRS processing center.

Allow yourself enough time to find all of the deductions you are entitled to take. Remember, if you owe taxes on a return that wasn’t filed on time, there will be additional penalties for both late filing and late payment. Penalties are based on the amount you owe, and interest is compounded on both the tax and penalty amounts, so skipping a deduction can be very costly.

Prepare for good news. A surprisingly high percentage of unfiled tax returns end up turning into refunds owed to the taxpayer. Although you should take your time in filling out the forms to avoid errors, don’t delay in getting to the post office if you discover you have are entitled to a refund. IRS will only refund monies within three years of the original tax return due date, or within two years after you paid the taxes, whichever is less. So if you thought you were going to owe for 2012 and made a large estimated tax payment on April 15, 2013 but don’t file until June 1, 2015 (two years plus six weeks), any refund you have coming will be kept by IRS.

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