Topic 153 - What to Do if You Haven't Filed Your Tax Return

You may not have filed your federal income tax return for this year or previous years. Regardless of your reason for not filing a required return, file your tax return as soon as possible. If you need help, check the IRS website, www.irs.gov. Many tools and resources, such as the Interactive Tax Assistant, FAQs and Tax Trails are available.

If you are not sure you are required to file a return, check Do I Need to File a Tax Return or refer to Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax for Individuals, searchable online at www.irs.gov. If you are required to file a return, but you cannot pay all of the tax due on your return, the IRS may be able to help you establish a payment agreement. For additional information on tax payment options, refer to Topic 202.

  • If your return was not filed by the due date (including extensions of time to file), you may be subject to the failure to file penalty, unless you have reasonable cause for your failure to file timely. If you did not pay your tax in full by the unextended due date of the return (regardless of extensions of time to file), you may also be subject to the failure to pay penalty, unless you have reasonable cause for your failure to pay timely, or the IRS has approved your application for extension of time for payment of the tax due to undue hardship (refer to Form 1127 (PDF), Application for Extension of Time for Payment of Tax Due to Undue Hardship). Additionally, interest is charged on taxes not paid by the due date, even if you have an extension of time to file. Interest is also charged on penalties.
  • There is no penalty for failure to file if you are due a refund. But, if you wait to file a return or otherwise claim a refund, you risk losing a refund altogether. An original return claiming a refund must be filed within 3 years of its due date for a refund to be allowed in most instances.
  • After the expiration of the three-year window, the refund statute prevents the issuance of a refund check and the application of any credits, including overpayments of estimated or withholding taxes, to other tax years that are underpaid. However, the statute of limitations for the IRS to assess and collect any outstanding balances does not start until a return has been filed. In other words, there is no statute of limitations for assessing and collecting the tax if no return has been filed.

For answers to your tax questions, information about payment arrangements, or any other tax-related inquiries visit the IRS website at www.irs.gov.

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Page Last Reviewed or Updated: July 10, 2014