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How do I go about filing late tax returns?
May 3, 2009 4:11 PM   Subscribe

I have not filed my tax returns for the past THREE years and would to rectify that.

I came to the US as a grad student in 2006 and have worked on campus since. I have never been self employed, have never had any investments, owned any properties, or made any income other than from the work I just mentioned.

If I'm not mistaken, I will have a refund for each of these years because my only source of income was from these various campus jobs, and so I had taxes taken out of my paychecks. And I found out that these refunds from the IRS "expire" after 3 years, so I still have time and if you have a refund, there's no penalty for filing your return late. The amounts in question aren't large (a few hundred dollars for each year) but I still like to get this money if I can.

Is the only tax document I need to file back taxes a W2 from each of the years, which I have? And what form(s) will I need to fill out for years 2006 and 2007?

And what should I do as far as the state (IL) taxes are concerned ?

Thanks so much in advance and I promise to never mess up this bad again!!

Email address in case someone wants to get say something in private : anon.mefi1@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
In general, taxes are filed by filling out Form 1040, but as you're late, and have been for a while, you're probably going to want to get in touch with a tax professional, either a lawyer or an accountant, as you'll need to file additional forms--and probably pay fines and interest.

This probably isn't a situation where you can just fill out a form and get some money. You've committed what could be construed as a criminal offense--willfully failing to file a tax return--and you're going to want to proceed delicately. I highly doubt the IRS is going to want to make a big deal out of it--I know what graduate students make--but the potential for screwing things up here is real.

Get professional help.
posted by valkyryn at 4:17 PM on May 3, 2009


In addition to the W2, you'll also want ones related to deducting tuition and tuition loans.

To get back year forms, you can just google things like "1040 2006."
posted by salvia at 4:26 PM on May 3, 2009


I am not a tax expert, but I am an "expert" in filing late returns during 2 periods of my life.

Please don't worry about the "criminal offense" stuff. Just download the tax forms for the appropriate years, fill them out, attach your W2s, and sleep easy. No is on a mission to put you in jail.

You might need to figure out if your education expenses are more than the standard deduction, but other than that it should be straight forward. Without knowing your exact education expenses, no one can say which way benefits you most, but some research on the IRS website and other Google results should help.

FYI: I had 3 years of unfiled taxes years ago. I had refunds coming. When I realized what a slacker I had been, I filed my forms, got my refunds, and nobody cared.

For your past state taxes, here are the forms for Illinois.
posted by The Deej at 4:42 PM on May 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


I know someone who just filed three years of taxes for which he owed money but hadn't filed and it was really no big deal so don't stress out too much. Just fill out the forms and you'll be fine.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 4:45 PM on May 3, 2009


deej is correct - valkyryn is, well, not. i mean, get a professional if you want one, but that would really negate the refunds.

call the irs if you want, they really are helpful in these things, but all you need to do is file the appropriate years like you would if you did it at the right time. if they need additional forms from you, they'll ask for them. if not, they'll send you your money.

my ex got a letter from the IRS saying "hey! you haven't filed for X amount of years!" he didn't even have is w-2s. so he called them, they sent him the w-2s, he filled out the paperwork, and they sent him money.

good luck!
posted by nadawi at 4:48 PM on May 3, 2009


I didn't file for 4 years not long ago, then did them all at once. I didn't owe, there were no penalties, and I got all of the money due me for the most recent three years' worth from the IRS. The 4th, though, was past the 3 year limit you mentioned, and that one yielded a certified letter explaining about the 3 year limit and telling me if could appeal it if I wanted. Based on my experience, I'd say you'll be fine, but they do stick to that 3-year limit so do file soon!
posted by chez shoes at 4:50 PM on May 3, 2009


An acquaintance of mine avoided filing taxes for a couple of years for some reason. I pointed out that he was probably throwing away free money since he was probably owed a refund for those years, and after a little gentle coaxing from me he filed returns for the years and netted a rather significant chunk of change in refunds (basically what he would have received if he had filed, minus some interest). If you feel uncomfortable filing out the forms yourself by hand, Intuit sells versions of TurboTax for prior years (back to Tax Year 2004). You could be done in a couple of hours -- just download TurboTax, complete federal and state forms, print forms, attach copies of W-2, and mail.
posted by RichardP at 4:56 PM on May 3, 2009


As I'm sure you know, Valkyryn is totally wrong, and you're in no kind of trouble and no fines or additional forms. Failure to file when you owe money can be a bad thing -- I'm just in the middle of settling 4 years of back-filings where I do owe money, and interest, and punitive extra interest, and fines. But failure to file when you've overpaid is just "giving the government an interest-free loan" in the amount of your overpayment. Same goes for your state taxes.

You've gotten W-2s and your employer has been withholding taxes and sending that information to the IRS, so the IRS know you've overpaid, but they're not going to chase you down about it. I think your situation is so straightforward that (knowing what I know now) I wouldn't even see a professional: If I were you I would use TurboTax.com to do 2008 and get to know the process, and then download the 2006-7 1040s and fill them out yourself -- you can't e-file for past years, so you'll have to mail them in. It's quick and painless. I don't know if the tuition/loan stuff will apply to you -- the only thing I've ever been able to deduct is interest paid on my student loans -- but you can weigh the possibility of a larger refund against the additional hassle of digging that stuff up. And again, the TurboTax version of your 2008 taxes can be a useful guide to your 2009.
posted by xueexueg at 5:02 PM on May 3, 2009


I don't think it's illegal to not file taxes if you're owed a refund. It's just a question of not getting the money owed you. You already paid your taxes.
posted by delmoi at 5:24 PM on May 3, 2009


This probably isn't a situation where you can just fill out a form and get some money. You've committed what could be construed as a criminal offense

This is not a criminal offence. If you owe back taxes, you will pay fines (fairly small) and interest. If you are eligible for a refund, you will get it.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:33 PM on May 3, 2009


Just to be clear, and hopefully not get off-track: while I disagree with valkyryn's answer in the whole, it technically IS a criminal offense to not file your returns, even if you have a refund coming. Filing the return is what documents your income and your amount of taxes owed and paid, and whether you have a refund coming or not.

In short: yes, if it let it go too far, no matter how much you owe or don't owe, NOT filing when you are required to do so can indeed be considered criminal. So, file the back years and all is well.

I just don't want anyone to get the idea that not filing is "no big deal, ever." At some point, if you don't file, the IRS will send you a bill for all the taxes it says you owe, including penalties and interest. It doesn't matter if you paid in through withholding. They will conveniently overlook anything you paid in when assessing the amount. Even though they have copies of your W2s, sending them in with a signed tax return is your proof and oath that they are correct, and that you have no other income. The IRS can freeze your checking account, garnish wages, and do all manner of things to make your life miserable. They won't do it without warning, but they can do it.

In the Asker's case, you aren't on the brink of anything bad happening. You have gotten no letters ( I assume) from the IRS, so they are not taking any action yet. So, as long as you get everything in reasonably soon, don't worry. All is well.
posted by The Deej at 6:51 PM on May 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just to be clear, and hopefully not get off-track: while I disagree with valkyryn's answer in the whole, it technically IS a criminal offense to not file your returns, even if you have a refund coming. Filing the return is what documents your income and your amount of taxes owed and paid, and whether you have a refund coming or not.

Depends on your income. If you make less than a certain amount ($8950 in 2008 for single filers) then you're not required to file.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 7:53 PM on May 3, 2009


Correct, EmilyClimbs.

As I said: "...NOT filing when you are required to do so can indeed be considered criminal..."
posted by The Deej at 8:41 PM on May 3, 2009


If I'm not mistaken, I will have a refund for each of these years because my only source of income was from these various campus jobs, and so I had taxes taken out of my paychecks.

Remember that you also have to pay taxes on any scholarship income if it is greater than the amount of qualified education expenses. (It sounds like you don't have any of those but if you do, consider that it is definitely income as well.)
posted by grouse at 10:20 PM on May 3, 2009


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