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Haven't Filed Tax Returns for Multiple Years? Here's What You Need to Do Next

You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who enjoys filing taxes. It's something that you're supposed to do like clockwork every single year.

Of course, there is a myriad of different reasons why you may have fallen behind. You could be going through a significant life transition and unable to meet the filing deadline. You may have filed for a much-needed extension, and then other things got in the way (as they often do), causing you to fall behind even further.

Regardless of the reason, it's important to take meaningful steps to get yourself back on track before it's too late. Thankfully, this isn't necessarily a difficult process, but it will require you to keep several essential things in mind.

The Consequences of Not Filing Your Taxes for Multiple Years

But first, it's important to understand the actual consequences of what can happen if you don't file your taxes for multiple years in a row - or even for ten years or more in some situations.

The most immediate impact you'll experience will come from the IRS itself. If you have an income you have yet to report on your taxes, you will be charged various penalties and fees on everything you should have been paying up until now. These can and often do quickly add up to significant sums of money, so getting on track as soon as possible is essential.

Remember that the IRS will charge you those fees and penalties on all taxable income, not considering any credits or deductions you would have enjoyed had you filed taxes on time. They don't have records of expenses like your rent or other things you need for your job, like essential equipment. Because of this, any fees will be assessed based on what they think you owe - not necessarily on what you owe.

If it is determined that you have been "willfully" failing to file taxes, you could potentially be punished with up to five years in prison. Likewise, you could get hit with a fine of up to $100,000 if your situation is considered "tax evasion." These are all consequences that you would do well to avoid at all costs.

Other consequences are involved with not filing your taxes for a lengthy period, too. Sometimes when you file for a passport, for just one example, you may be asked to show your recent tax returns as a form of income verification. You can only do that if you have been filing them. The same applies if you apply for a mortgage or car loan.

If retirement is coming up, it could also impact the types of benefits that you will receive, like Social Security and Medicare. All of these are crucial aspects of life that you do not want to jeopardize, so you should take care of your taxes sooner rather than later.

Getting on Track With Your Taxes: A Plan of Action

The first thing you should do to get back on track with your taxes involves checking on the current status of your account with the IRS. At the very least, this will give you an indication of what the IRS thinks you owe. You can do so at the official website via or by calling 1-800-829-1040 to speak to a live representative.

At that point, you have two options available to you. The first involves paying what the IRS currently says you owe, the original taxes, and any fees or penalties accrued to settle your account. If you can't pay the entire balance in one lump sum, you could always attempt to get on a payment plan.

The second involves gathering all the financial information you need to complete the tax forms you still need to file. You'll need to compile several essential documents, including but not limited to things like:

  • Any information about the income you made during the missing years and any expenses you had, so you can claim deductions and credits that apply to you.

  • Any supporting documentation like receipts and income statements necessary to complete the previous financial records. This may require you to perform some forensic accounting so that you have a complete picture to work from.

At that point, the next step is clear: you should file your missing tax returns at your earliest convenience. Thankfully, there is no time limit associated with filing those old tax returns. However, the sooner you do it, the better.

This is often the way to go, as once all documents and other financial information have been appropriately recorded, you'll likely end up owing less than the IRS thinks you do. You'll still owe money but save a bit in the long run.

Finally, you should pay your taxes as soon as you can. Again, you can do this through a lump sum or get a payment plan to keep your account up-to-date. You may also look into a settlement agreement or any income tax forgiveness that may apply to you. You could even choose to make what is known as an "offer in compromise," which allows you to pay something towards your balance to consider everything settled. The IRS would have to agree with whatever offer you make.

At that point, you should prepare for future taxes to find yourself in a different position. If you need help doing precisely that or have any additional questions about this process that you'd like to see answered, please don't delay - contact us to speak to a tax professional today.

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