I hear some people pay taxes. Not me though. Oh, damn.
January 17, 2008 2:16 PM   Subscribe

I haven't filed (US and NJ) taxes in... hm. Possibly ever. I'd like to fix that, but have no idea what I made and when, and how to start.

Problem is, I'm not sure what I have and haven't filed. And I certainly don't have any W2s or such. And I have no sense of time, so I'm not sure where I worked and in what years. I shouldn't need to go back more than a decade .... Is there a way to get all that from the IRS? I'm pretty sure I WOULD have gotten money back all these years, so I shouldn't be in too much trouble for dodging, I'd hope. Oh, I suck.

(As a side note, this may be iffy in terms of needing anonymous, but my username is my real name, and I'd rather not have this amazingly stupid lack of follow-thru come up in a Google search by current or future employers or the like. I'm user 17389.)
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Have you checked other AskMes on this. They have info on how to get the W2s. (I can't remember it.)

The getting-money-back thing is moot for anything over 2(?) 3(?) years old, but still file so that you'll be in the clear -- you need your tax returns for things like buying a house.

If you were always just a W2 employee without a lot of investment or consulting income or self-employment expenses, this'll be relatively simple. Just google "1040EZ 1995" or whatever form and year to get the forms you need.
posted by salvia at 2:34 PM on January 17, 2008

If you want tax return information, you can contact the IRS using the information here. I assume by "get all that from the IRS" you mean your work history, meaning W2 forms? In that case, you could try calling up the people at the number given in the link, and seeing if they can help you get the information.

That said, tread carefully in talking with the IRS. Failure to file taxes could result in you being subject to certain penalties for failure to file, even if you do not owe taxes over and above what was withheld. If you do owe taxes more than what was withheld, you could be subject to more penalties. You might want to consult a lawyer for advice on how to proceed. You might also want to ask the IRS questions anonymously rather than give them information about yourself. Also, while it does not sound like your problem will qualify you to be represented by the Taxpayer Advocate, you might contact them as they may know of resources to help you get back on track with filing. For example, they seem to be affiliated with low-income tax clinics that offer assistance. Those running the clinics may have additional contacts.

This is not legal advice, I am not your lawyer, etc.
posted by lorrer at 2:35 PM on January 17, 2008

You can request a stament from social security here. That will tell you your earnings for each year and SS taxes paid. It will be a good start and I doubt very much if it would alert the IRS.
posted by lee at 2:37 PM on January 17, 2008

Just to make it easy, here are the phone numbers for the NJ tax clinics.
posted by lorrer at 2:38 PM on January 17, 2008

contact the irs. they'll be happy to help you out.

and i know that sounds snarky, but really, they'll help you out.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 2:44 PM on January 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

Cecil Adams wrote a column on late IRS filings. He notes, among other things, that interest and penalties are figured relative to the amount you owe (so if you didn't owe taxes, you won't be penalized); and that you won't get back any money that you were owed that's more than three years old. It's not legal advice, but hopefully it makes you less afraid of getting in touch with the IRS and getting squared away.
posted by Johnny Assay at 3:39 PM on January 17, 2008

Just so you know: my taxes were being withheld on my behalf. Even so, somehow I ended up owing money to the State (although I got money back from the IRS). So just because you're pretty sure you don't owe money to the IRS, that doesn't mean you might owe someone else something.
posted by Deathalicious at 3:51 PM on January 17, 2008

I'm 39 and I was you up until my woman put her foot down a few years back. Don't count on getting anything back and hope you didn't owe anything for any of those years because, thanks to interest and penalties, you could owe Uncle Sam more than you think. I did, despite having incredibly simple finances and a modest income and figuring there was no way I owed more.

As for the process, all the advice above is good. I contacted the IRS. Everyone was remarkably helpful and pleasant, not even any attitude over my being an irresponsible slacker. They walked me through the whole thing and, other than actually having to pay them a couple thousand dollars, the whole thing was relatively painless.
posted by JaredSeth at 3:53 PM on January 17, 2008

The getting-money-back thing is moot for anything over 2(?) 3(?) years old

You can't get that money directly refunded, true. However, it can be used to offset funds that you might owe the IRS. See recoupment.>
posted by probablysteve at 4:47 PM on January 17, 2008

I have been in a similar boat--behind by a couple of years, intimidated, and baffled by what to do. Rather than contacting the IRS directly I would strongly suggest contacting an accountant. Ask around for a reference; it might do to ask your more money-incompetent friends if they know anyone--for instance, my accountant deals with a lot of writers and musicians and she is very used to people who have completely screwed up when it comes to their finances. I found out about her from a friend who lived on a boat and made $18,000 a year. Call and explain what's up. They won't be shocked--they'll probably shrug and laugh a little. They'll sit there and plug your info into their super-powerful $20,000 tax software package and explain exactly how screwed (or more likely, not screwed) you are.

Now is a good time to make an appointment because the crush isn't on for April filing.

My most recent three-year non-filing mess was fixed in two hours of meetings and cost me about $600 in fees, but I got back a few grand and only had to sign a few forms. They even put little post-its where you need to sign, making it all totally foolproof. It was absolutely worth it, and it helps you feel like you're actually on top of things and taking steps to get that part of your life in order. Contacting the IRS will likely result in a lot of paperwork to fill out--stuff that you've avoided for years. Don't put yourself on the government's radar until a pro tells you what to do.
posted by lucius at 5:56 PM on January 17, 2008

I will offer my thoughts in list form.

1. I used to work at H&R Block, and the end of January was absolutely the busiest time of the season. However, the office I worked in was in a low-income area, and the clients mostly were folks rushing in as soon as they got their W-2s to pick up their refunds which were hefty due to the earned income tax credit. So a tax accountant who serves a different clientele might not be so busy now.

2. Don't be afraid to contact the IRS. They already know you haven't filed your tax returns.

3. If you are owed a refund in a particular tax year, there are no penalties for missing the April 15 deadline... and there are no other deadlines. In other words, if you don't owe money, you never have to file. Of course, to determine if you owe money, you or your tax preparer kind of have to fill out the tax return forms, and at that point, you might as well send them in and claim your refund.

4. If you filled out your W-4 (the form you submit when you start a new job) honestly, and you have a simple tax situation, then approximately the right amount of tax should have been withheld from your paychecks. This would make your refund or balance due small.
posted by Dec One at 7:54 PM on January 17, 2008

I will offer my thoughts in list form.

1. Do it. As implied above, IT WILL MAKE YOU A MUCH HAPPIER PERSON.
posted by hexatron at 8:10 PM on January 17, 2008

if you don't owe money, you never have to file

This is potentially misleading. If you don't owe money, you may need to file to prove to the IRS that you don't owe money. Otherwise, the IRS uses its own formula to calculate the tax you owe, which is often the least advantageous way for you to file or calculate income or whatever (i.e. most advantageous from their point of view). For example, you may be owed a refund if you and your spouse file jointly -- but if you don't file, the IRS calculates both of you as filing separately, and one or both of you could owe under that scenario. Actually filing the paperwork as a joint 1040 is necessary to claim the benefits of a joint filing and correct your filing status.

If you don't file, they may eventually catch up to you and bill you for, say, $10G even though you deserved back $3G. And charge interest and penalties. And the kicker is that if you ignore them, they can garnish your wages or even call your bank and have them freeze your assets up to what you owe. Which you definitely don't want.

I don't want to scare you, as you obviously know this is a bad thing. But don't equate not owing taxes in 1995 with not being required to file for 1995. There are specific requirements for being a non-filer (such as income below $X000/yr) and you must meet them for the tax code in effect in that particular year.

As a strategy, I would recommend doing the last three tax years first, in order, so that you can be sure to get around to them in time to claim any refund. You must file 2004 taxes by April 15, 2008 (three years after they were initially due) to have your refund honored.
posted by dhartung at 8:14 PM on January 17, 2008

Oops, on checking again it looks like the penalty for failure to file is calculated on how much you owe, so if you don't owe anything you won't be assessed a penalty. That's what I get for speaking off the cuff. As mentioned above, the IRS is helpful when it comes to filing older returns (they have a page on it here), but I would still be careful if you decide to call in. I'd talk with someone independent, if possible, who would have your interests in mind, rather than the interests of IRS collection. They can help you negotiate payment with the IRS if it looks like you might owe or be subject to penalties, and your payments could potentially be lower than if you go it alone or start talking non-anonymously before you know how much you might owe. The more you might owe, the more important it is to get some form of representation - accountant, lawyer, clinic - who can help you put your best case forward for lower payments and/or penalties.
posted by lorrer at 8:32 PM on January 17, 2008

I've always wondered if there's a statute of limitations on owing the IRS -- is it seven years, like certain types of crimes? Or is there no limit to the time the IRS can come after you? Not that I'm suggesting the poster doesn't file -- whenever I procrastinate about something I know I should do, when I do it, it's magnificent. Cf. dentist's visit.
posted by incessant at 11:04 PM on January 17, 2008

Things might have changed since I last dealt with this kind of thing, but I'd add that penalties can be negotiated. You will have to pay something, but you may not have to pay absolutelyl everything they assess.
posted by Grrlscout at 3:43 AM on January 18, 2008

« Older Lamb breast recipes?   |   How do I easily create .pdf photo-book? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.