Frequently Asked Questions About Unfiled Tax Returns

Here we go through the most commonly asked questions regarding unfiled tax returns. If you generally just do not know where to start and have multiple unfiled returns, you may want to see our guide on unfiled tax returns. There’s a lot to answer, so watch below for a video explanation or keep reading on for the written version.

Frequently Asked Questions About Unfiled Tax Returns


What happens if I do not file my IRS returns?

It depends on the situation. Technically the IRS can file a substitute for return for you, which is basically a tax return the IRS puts together based on data reported to them.

If you are single with only yourself as a dependent, withheld the right amount of taxes or more and have a W2 job, you will end up not owing anyway.

If you withheld not enough taxes or have a status on your exemptions beyond Single and 1, good chance they will file it for you and add debt. The IRS files the tax return for you as if you are Single and 1, and that’s what makes a debt result.

If you were going to get a refund, the IRS probably will just skip the return and you get nothing.

Self-employed taxpayers with 1099s on file will probably get a Substitute Return that results in a tax debt way larger than it should be.

 Can I get a refund on a late-filed return? 

Yes, but you only got three years to get it from the time it was due, including extensions.

Can the IRS freeze a refund when I have unfiled returns? 

Yes, they can hold it and are more likely to if the data shows you are more likely to owe a balance on the unfiled year. They can hold the refund for 6 months while they request that you file the unfiled tax return. Then if you don’t file, they might do it for you as a Substitute For return and apply the refund to the new balance, if any.

Can I go to jail if I do not file my tax return? 

Technically yes you can, but in practice, they rarely send anyone to jail for not filing tax returns. Typically the IRS just ends up doing the tax returns for you. You would be more likely to go to jail for not filing your tax returns if you were what is considered a tax protestor, similar to what happened with Wesley Snipes.

What is the statute of limitations on late-filed returns? 

There isn’t one, but typically the IRS only goes back 6 years. Unfiled returns may get assigned a 140 code, and if so, this means eventually they will file the tax return for you. If they do not put the code on it, usually nothing happens after that.

If the IRS thinks there would have been substantial debts on those past returns, they are more likely to file them for you in the form of a Substitute For Return.

What happens if I miss the notice deadline to file my late return? 

Most of the time nothing if you file anyway, but the case might be transferred to a different office. If you send it to your regular filing address they will re-route it to the most relevant address. To be more efficient, you can call the IRS and ask where to send it. Sometimes after you miss a deadline, your unfiled tax return case gets moved to another office.

If you already have debt and miss a deadline and your case is in collections, you should call the IRS’ collections department or the individual assigned to your case and let them know it is on the way. Or you can hire someone to handle your case.

Can I file a tax return after the IRS files a return for me? 

Yes, but you might want to send it to a specific address that is different from your normal filing address. If you send it to the same address most likely the IRS will just forward it to the appropriate address, but you will get things done faster if it is sent to the right place. Once the tax return is filed for you, a different office is handling the case.

What penalties can the IRS assess on a late-filed return? 

If there’s a balance, they will assess failure to file and failure to pay penalties. If there’s no balance, you owe nothing. Make sure to check out our guide on first-time penalty abatements for the IRS so you can save some money on penalties.

Can I get penalties removed when I file a late tax return? 

Yes, and there are two types of penalty abatements. The easy one is called a first-time penalty abatement based on prior compliance and you can find a guide with a sample letter linked above.

The second is a penalty abatement based on reasonable cause, these are tough to get and most applications are denied, but it may be worth a shot depending on the case. Be wary of tax relief salespeople that make these sound easy and probably. They are difficult to get.

Do I have to pay the amount owed when I file my late return? 

No, you do not, but you will want to get your case into some type of status. If it’s something you cannot pay off at once, check out this video on tax relief for a guide on your options.

Is there tax software to file prior year returns?

Yes, most software will also have old returns, but you can also just download the old IRS forms and do it that way too. Click here for info on how to get old forms.

Can I e-file a prior year’s return? 

Tax preparers with the appropriate software connected to the Modernized e-File system can file prior years. But people submitting on their own or preparers not using software connected to the modernized e-File system need to mail old tax returns in.

How can I get my IRS account and wage/income transcripts? 

You can order these transcripts online using the IRS transcript delivery system, but often people cannot get verified online. If the Transcript delivery system doesn’t work you can call the IRS or visit a Taxpayer Assistance Center and get the transcripts.

When does the IRS require more than the past six years to be considered compliant for filing? 

For individual returns, the IRS usually applies the six-year rule, unless it looks like there would be significant past liabilities beyond those six years. Cases assigned to a revenue officer, which is a personally assigned collections agent, are typically where the IRS may go beyond the six years.

Who do I call at the IRS about past returns? 

For individuals, you can call (800) 829-1040. This number often can send you through automated loops. So check out this post for information on how to actually get to someone. Business accounts should call (800) 829-4933. If the IRS has already done a substitute return for you, you should call (866) 681-4271. For cases already in collections, you should call (800) 829-7650. At some of these numbers when you call you may get redirected to another office.

Concluding our Unfiled Tax Return FAQs

Dealing with unfiled tax returns can be confusing, so we hope this guide to frequently asked questions helps. If you are unsure whether or not you should be filed, see our guide linked at the top of the page. Need help with your unfiled tax return issues? Call us at (888) 515-4829 or click here to schedule a consultation with one of our expert tax attorneys.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.