Help me help my girlfriend, a very sweet tax delinquent
March 16, 2022 12:50 PM   Subscribe

Posting this for my girlfriend who is crawling her way out of a deep dark depression in New York State and hasn't filed her taxes since 2016. Who do we need to call to get her back on her feet and in good standing with Uncle Sam? Her help request inside. Please be gentle, I told her you were the kindest bunch around.

Dear Internet People of Metafilter,
This is so embarrassing and I can't believe i let this happen, but i last filed my taxes in 2017. I was just so angry at the Trump administration and depressed and I frankly chose not to deal with anything out of rage and sadness. I got a bunch of money from an inheritance in 2016 that made me very sad. I worked on a number of business projects that didn't every really ammount to anything, which made me even more sad, and my depression and ADD really didn't help, but at least I had money to live on as I sank deeper and deeper into this shame spiral.

I acknowledge that this was probably very self destructive and honestly i don't even know what to do and i get so overwhelmed anytime i think about it. I have plenty of money, i just became... incapable of the paperwork for a time, and now i need help.

Also... How badly did i fuck up my life? Am I ever gonna be able to buy a house? It's fine if not, but i'd rather not embarrass myself trying. Is this gonna show up on background checks and/or credit checks?

Where do i even go from here? I need remedial help, but from whom? I feel so ashamed and stupid I have not even told my therapist about this and i cannot believe i am letting you post it to the internet, but hopefully you strangers can provide some advice.

Thank you,
sweet angel tax delinquent

All tips and encouraging words are appreciated. If you know an accountant in NYC who is kind and used to dealing with this sort of thing, I think we are looking.

Also open to books or resources for helping someone reframe their relationship with money when they have some but don't feel super comfortable dealing with it.
posted by bingbong to Work & Money (31 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The IRS does not care that you are late with your taxes as long as you file them and pay whatever fines you have incurred. If you have money to do this, the IRS will not be mad and nothing bad will happen. It is conceivable that if your taxes are complex you might get yourself into audit territory by being late and drawing attention, but this is pretty unlikely and your taxes would have to be pretty weird.

Seriously, they do not care. At this point, since you have not received any letters of inquiry, you aren't even on their radar, so you can just zoom in with your past taxes and clear it all up and it's like it never happened.
posted by Frowner at 1:10 PM on March 16, 2022 [44 favorites]

Best answer: Heyyy, therapist here but IAMNYT. Anyhow, I can somewhat relate. I procrastinated on doing my own taxes for something like 6 years back when I was a 20-something. This is not a weird or unusual thing, and any accountant worth their salt won't even blink at doing these kinds of back taxes. If they do blink, they're Not Cool, and you find another CPA.

Here's my recommendation:

1) If you don't have the forms/records from those Years of Darkness, contact the folks who do have those records. That's HR for any jobs (1099s and W-2s), the bank if you have any dividend-producing accounts, and (I think...) the executor/lawyer person for an inheritance.

2) Given that the taxes to be filed go several years back, I would just go ahead and send in an extension request to NY's tax office and IRS for this year. It's high tax season, and it's going to be hard to find a CPA who has a spare moment before end of April. You want someone who is fully present, and you don't want to be rushed.

3) Make that appointment and get started. If it's anything like mine, the tax person will start by filing 2017 first, and as they hear back from NY/IRS, they'll file year by year until you get to the present. There's occasional silliness, like getting a refund for one year and then getting it taken back in the next. Nothing you are going to run into by doing your taxes will be as difficult as what you'll deal with by putting it off for a longer time, even if the Procrastination Fairy whispers the complete opposite in your ear.

4) Talk to your therapist about this. You may even want to talk to your therapist first, with an emphasis on the feelings of shame and stupidity. There might be some coping skills/intervention (e.g., EMDR, flash, hypnosis, tapping) that will ease that yuckiness and make it easier to make the necessary moves.
posted by executive_dysfuncti0n at 1:11 PM on March 16, 2022 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Go online and use something Like FreeeTaxUSA and fill out all the missing year's forms. File them. Pay any taxes due. You are now in compliance. The IRS may or may not send you a bill for penalties and interest if you owe monies. Call them and negotiate, but ultimately you will have to pay. The folks at the IRS helpline are actually really helpful. I had to help a relative in a similar situation. If you have not gotten any mail from the IRS then it probably has not hit your credit score. Pull your score and look for an IRS delinquency. Once it is paid, the IRS will remove it from your credit file.

No advice on the therapy part, but worry not about the IRS. They will accept late payment. This is not as big a deal as you may think. It is fraud and a felony to file intentionally incorrect taxes. That is why you are better off not filing than filing bs.

Deep breath. This too shall pass.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:14 PM on March 16, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: This IRS page lays out the penalties for not filing (there are some related fines, and interest accrues on them. You risk losing refunds you may have otherwise received).

Per Experian, filing status and tax liens do not directly impact your credit score, but unpaid liens, if they exist, can hinder your ability to get loans.

If I were in her position, I would get as many of the related documents together as I could and consult with a good, licensed tax prep professional (some people turn their noses up at the chains, but I have found H&R Block to be helpful in the past.)

This kind of thing happens *all the time* - just bite the bullet + get the paperwork filed so you can stop worrying about it.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:16 PM on March 16, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Not nearly as a big a deal as you're making it out to be in your head, and the path forward is really, really straightforward:

Sit down this weekend and just do all the past taxes that you haven't done. Submit them.

You'll get a notice sometime down the line from the IRS with information on penalties, etc. It probably won't be nearly as much as you think it might be.

If you can pay them in full, cut them a check and do so, and this is all behind you. If you can't pay in full, just ask for a payment plan. They're really nice and easy to work with.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 1:22 PM on March 16, 2022 [8 favorites]

Best answer: This happens. It is fixable. Yes, it may cost extra and it will be some amount of hassle probably to get the relevant paperwork assembled and that part will suck, but once you've taken care of it you have the blissful relief of it not hanging over your head anymore.

As long as we are talking about the simple modest income of a working person with no major investments or itemizable/credit-eligible stuff beyond children, you don't need a CPA to do this. They can't fix anything, they're just going to type it into TurboTax and charge you for it.

If she ends up with a bill she can't pay all at once, the IRS is happy to set up a payment plan. Nobody's going to need to sell an organ or anything.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:23 PM on March 16, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: heyyy! I'm you. major depressive disorder. details may differ. here's what happened to me:
- i scrounged for all the w-2 and 1999 i could find.
- for years I couldn't find, i ordered "transcripts" (basically, copies of whatever the employer filed in irs format)
- you have to go online for this. it's a huge fucking pain. to create an account, you had to have (a) the address you used for your last known filing (b) a fucking experian account. i bet it's harder now, but not impossible.
- my taxes are simple. i have no real estate or investment assets other than a 410k.
- for the years supported, i used the free version of turbo tax.
- for other years, i got the 1040a and instructions from the irs website.
- same for state.
- if you are owed, and it's been three years, no refund, just zeroes that year's bill.
- if you owe, you'll owe tax + interest + penalties.
- did not owe fed.
- i owed state, made a deal, and paid it over two years.

iana tax person. can't hurt to hire a tax prep firm or lawyer (i guess? if inheritance is complex, sure).

i saved the best for last.

- you're not a bad person.
- you fucked up, now you're a bit clear eyed and cleaning up your mess. that's how it works.
- tell your therapist, soon. sharing it lifts the burden. sometimes a little, sometimes more.
- you can do this.
- it's forms and administration. not impossible, just shitty. stay persistent.
- i think you're terrific, your partner does too.
- jorts thinks you're fucking awesome.
posted by j_curiouser at 1:24 PM on March 16, 2022 [28 favorites]

Best answer: Choire Sicha (once mefi's own) wrote a really funny and helpful chronicle of digging himself out of back taxes close to a decade ago that is miraculously still up online. Please read it! This is fixable, you did not fuck up your life, other people do and have done this and the IRS is not going to bat an eye. They are not even going to yell at you, they will help you sort it out. Paperwork sucks but you will fix this and it'll be barely a blip in the rearview.
posted by superfluousm at 1:27 PM on March 16, 2022 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Hi - I have an NYC based resource that may be helpful, will email you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:27 PM on March 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is so solvable. Other people have given you good suggestions so I'll just tell you my loved one flaked on taxes for many years, got his shit together, came clean to an accountant, and then...dealt with it. He got put on a payment plan with the IRS and just...paid it off, little by little (including his refunds from the next few years being automatically used to pay it down). It's so doable!
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:32 PM on March 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I should have included this in my first post: Interest and penalties [NY Dept. of Taxation & Finance]

Basically, the state level implications appear to be no worse than the federal ones.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:34 PM on March 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you don't owe money, it's not really a big deal so far as I know. They do rough calculations on what you owe because the employers send them the W2s as well. If they thought you were failing to pay large amounts of money they might go after you but if you're owed money it's low on their radar.

I am not recommending this by any means, but as a point of information, I had a similar situation in the mid 2000s where I never did get around to filing (where I was owed money) for a year or two. It was not mentioned on my fairly thorough background check for work or mortgage, both in 2014.

Even if you do owe money, in general the IRS is generally well regarded as far as things like working out a payment plan. So don't panic, you've not ruined your life.
posted by Candleman at 2:14 PM on March 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just start filing again, at least. Nothing may ever happen, or if inclined you can inquire and find out if there are any estimated taxes or penalties that are accruing interest to settle.
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:23 PM on March 16, 2022

Best answer: I think all the reassurances above about how it's not a big deal to clean up the mess are misleading, because I doubt there's much if any of a mess to clean up.

It sounds from the question that she was living off the inheritance and didn't have any significant income. If so, not only won't she owe money, but she might not even have been required to file.

If she was required to file but didn't owe money, it's no big deal: there is no federal penalty for late filing if you don't owe money. "The Failure to File Penalty is 5% of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month that a tax return is late. The penalty won't exceed 25% of your unpaid taxes." So no money owed=zero penalty. (You do lose out on the refund you are owed if you are more than 3 years late.)

For NY State, it looks like there is a minimum $100 late filing penalty.

If she did have income from jobs, there was withholding, which generally covers taxes due. If the withholding was short, she'll owe a little, but only the shortfall between money owed and money withheld.

If she had business or self-employment income and didn't pay anything, there will be back taxes, but if "that didn't ever really amount to anything," then again the amounts are likely to be zero or small.

And there's surely almost surely no income tax consequence of the inheritance. There is no federal or NY inheritance tax. There might be some indirect consequences from interest earnings, but again that's unlikely to be significant.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 2:23 PM on March 16, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I work somewhere else where sometimes people feel shame for not having paid certain things. Let me tell you, though, that returning a library book late or having a library fine is not shameful, and so too having skipped a few years of taxes. I know this is this big looming THING for you now. I know it feels horrible and overwhelming. It’s like when we haven’t gone to the dentist and we are worried they will scold us, so we don’t go to the dentist. The longer you wait, the bigger it feels.

One if the most wonderful humans I ever knew didn’t pay his taxes for years. This is likely more common than you realize. You are not a bad person. Please be as kind to yourself as folks here are being to you.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:23 PM on March 16, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Same thing happened with my wife, when we filed jointly last year it was the first time she filed. Ever! See if you (BF) can take some of the paperwork burden off of GF, I've found that doing paperwork and calling help lines is much easier if you are doing it for someone else that you care about. Much less frustration (still a little bit) and the positive feeling of helping a loved one.
posted by kittensofthenight at 3:33 PM on March 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If this helps with the feelings…..I had something in my life that I put off dealing with for many years. It weighed on me increasingly and by the time I made the call to make the appointment I needed to face it, I was flush with fear, shame, anxiety. I made the call, but included too many explanations and self-derogatory names. The woman who helped me set the appointment was kind and as we hung up she said, “I’m so excited for you.” This caught me by surprise so I answered without conviction something like, “Yeah, ok thanks.” I had a few days before my appointment and I was nervous but I also kept hearing her voice…”I’m so excited for you.” I started to think of my feelings of fear as excitement. “I’m excited to face this. I’m excited to handle this and get past it. I’m excited to be my future self, who is just around the corner and who has taken care of this.” The day came and I faced it, feeling a bit both nervous and excited, then felt relief and a sense of accomplishment. I’ve since heard that fear and excitement are experienced similarly in the body…racing heart, sweating, dry mouth; so your brain can interpret this either way.

You can do this. I’m so excited for you!
posted by veneer at 3:36 PM on March 16, 2022 [18 favorites]

Best answer: I did 4 years at once a while back, this year I'll do 2 years at once. I think I had 1 weird penalty for something, but it was @ $2. I made errors; the IRS corrected them, in my favor. For a week or so, I got checks in the mail, and that was fun. It's quite common because taxes are deeply dreaded. I used because my taxes are pretty easy. You can't file previous years online, as far as I know; you have to mail them. If you can't face doing them online, get a friend to sit with you online or in person. I'll get on the phone or chat with you if you get badly stuck.

It's super-doable, no horrible consequences unless you owe money, in which case you have to pay up, and that is manageable, just a drag. It feels really great when you're done. Really Great.
posted by theora55 at 3:47 PM on March 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am not in NY, but I have friends who have dealt with our state's taxing authority and I can tell you they are not as lenient as the IRS is. I agree with most of the above that if she did have much income in these years then she may not even have a Federal filing requirement (state requirements can vary). The CPA should be able to determine that, but of course if she is due a refund in any year that can still be filed, she should file that year even there is no requirement.
posted by soelo at 3:51 PM on March 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also open to books or resources for helping someone reframe their relationship with money when they have some but don't feel super comfortable dealing with it.

I liked Get a Financial Life when I was in my twenties, and now I would recommend All Your Worth.
posted by soelo at 3:57 PM on March 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I feel so ashamed and stupid I have not even told my therapist about this

IAAT/IANYT. When someone shares something with me that they've felt ashamed and stupid about, so much so that it's even hard to talk about in therapy, it reminds me of what an honor it is to be a therapist. We're there, in part, to help people face what feels unacceptable and un-faceable in themselves. When someone discloses something like this to me, it's an act of courage. It's ok if you're not there yet, but it seems like you feel like it'd serve you to be able to share it with your therapist. If they have a patient portal with messaging, you could send a note stating, "I don't know how to say this out loud but I want you to know that I'm feeling a lot of shame around my tax situation," or you could tell them you need support around talking about something that feels very shameful to you.
posted by theotherdurassister at 4:13 PM on March 16, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You are not stupid. You're not "bad" because of this. You're probably not alone either.

There is a site that I have made use of:

There is a charge, and they try to tack on all kinds of extras (just breeze right past them) but the site walks you through everything you need to do for each year and sends you a PDF of your "finished" taxes which you then sign, scan back in, and submit to the IRS electronically (or send via snail mail if you prefer.) PastTax even calculates past-year fines for you (for years that you do owe anything) and include that on your tax return / include that in the amount you owe, so that you can get started proactively paying those - no guesswork. Then, start paying your back taxes at

Don't wait for the IRS to send you a formal "Yes, we accept your payment plan" notice, just start making regular payments. Weekly, every other week, monthly, whatever. The trick is "regular" and "a good amount" - you should try to have all your back taxes (however much there are) paid off in a year, if possible. You want to show them - via regular payments - that you are aware, you have filed, you are making payments.

Start filing this weekend, and you'll probably be done with your past-year payments by the time they get through the ginormous backlog that they've got.

You've totally got this!!!
posted by Tailkinker to-Ennien at 4:15 PM on March 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: (Sorry - I live in WA state, we don't have state income tax. I momentarily did that stupid thing when you forget that not everyone is exactly like you.)

I'm sure that you're not alone in filing NY state taxes, either. I haven't ever dealt with the NY tax folks, but I hope that they take a helpful stance toward your situation as well: figure out what is owed, figure out a payment plan that works for you, start getting your payments.

People are not going to judge you(r GF). They're going to be pissed off about Trump-style asshats who pay people to help them sneak through the holes in coverage so that they don't have to pay income tax.

Life happens, people fall behind. It's a thing that comes with being human.

I don't know for sure, but I don't think that a lapse like this is going to block you from getting jobs, buying a house or a car, getting those kinds of loans, etc. especially if you're proactively taking steps to make things right.

And I repeat: you've totally got this!
posted by Tailkinker to-Ennien at 4:35 PM on March 16, 2022

Best answer: I’m a government lawyer in NYS, and I used to represent the Department of Tax and Finance in litigation. They’re sweethearts, really — you know how organizations have sort of personalities of their own? If someone told me they worked for NYS DTF, I would let them hold my baby.

People like you who have just gotten confused and overwhelmed, all they want to do is get you on a payment plan (if you even owe anything which you easily might not) and back in good standing. I would, as someone suggested above, file for an extension to get yourself past this years busy tax season, and then just call and ask for help on what you need to do.

And I’ve heard the IRS is pretty much the same in that regard, I just don’t have the experience working with them the same way.
posted by LizardBreath at 5:13 PM on March 16, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: memailed you
posted by fluttering hellfire at 5:13 PM on March 16, 2022

Best answer: Nobody wants to punish you or shame you, they just want to help you get into compliance. And if you owe money, don't panic -- the IRS loves a payment plan!
posted by DarlingBri at 5:17 PM on March 16, 2022

posted by j_curiouser at 6:15 PM on March 16, 2022

Response by poster: Sweet angel tax delinquent is beside herself with relief and overwhelmed by your wisdom and kindness and metafilter is her new favorite place.

Now we are well on our way to getting started and get to getting on with it. Thank you all for taking the time to reply!
posted by bingbong at 6:18 PM on March 16, 2022 [25 favorites]

Plenty of practical advice above but just want to chime into say I have filed for taxes several years late with a 'sorry so late!' note at least twice and nothing bad has happened as a result. I have no excuse other than doing taxes is boring and I hate paperwork and am an excellent procrastinator. I don't feel guilty as I do pay them eventually. The level of guilt and anxiety your girlfriend is experiencing is concerning.
posted by emd3737 at 9:04 PM on March 16, 2022

Counter-argument to what emd3737 said above about the level of guilt and anxiety:

I also just yesterday finally did something I'd been putting off for some years; I was also good and scared. It was a dentist visit in my case (in my defense: it was a perfect storm of "sucky job with crappy insurance, then an even suckier job with worse insurance, then COVID"). I would have put things off even longer but one of my gums looked a little concerning.

But I was still scared, because if you know that there's something you should be doing, but you aren't, and you legitimately don't know what the consequences might be, you can sometimes assume the worst and that just creates a feedback loop that scares you. But - the good thing is that most of the time, the consequences aren't as bad as you feared they might be (your girlfriend will just have to pay anything back she owes and that's it, I just have one small cavity and the cleaning was only FIFTEEN MINUTES I kid you not), and it's a big relief.

So I wouldn't start worrying about "oh gosh is there something wrong with my brain now for being so scared" or anything.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:37 AM on March 17, 2022 [7 favorites]

I am seconding all the people saying the IRS are actually really nice and understanding people when you talk to them. I got audited once and they were very helpful and kind.

I have gotten into holes where I just couldn't do things because I was too sad to do them - please know that you are not alone in having this happen.
posted by winna at 12:14 PM on March 18, 2022

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