Tax Day was Tuesday, April 17, for most taxpayers, though some folks took advantage of the extra day granted by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) following computer system issues. Even with the extra day, not every taxpayer who needed to file made it on time. What about you? Maybe your hard drive died, maybe you ate some bad fish, or maybe your dog ate your return. I’m not judging. The question isn’t so much “what happened?” but rather “what happens next?”
Here’s what to do next if you didn’t get your return filed on time:
- Don’t panic. It won’t get you anywhere. Too many times, taxpayers completely freak out over a missed deadline and decide that there’s no point in filing now and decide to fix it later. Don’t be that taxpayer. Later might not come: Fix it now.
- Double-check whether you needed to file in the first place. We all think we need to file but not everyone needs to. If your income or other circumstances mean that you don’t need to file, you’re in the clear. But be careful: Whether you need to file can change from year to year so don’t assume that you won’t need to file next year if you get a free pass this year.
- File today. If you didn’t file on time, get your return together as soon as you can. If you are due a refund, there is no penalty for filing a late return after the tax deadline. But if you owe, penalties and interest are calculated based on the passage of time: The more time that goes by, the more you will owe.
- Use Free File. For those taxpayers who qualify (and the IRS estimates that about 70% of taxpayers do qualify), Free File is available through October 15. Just as it sounds, Free File allows taxpayers to prepare and file returns electronically for free. For more information, check out Free File on the IRS website here.
- Pay attention to available extensions and relief. The IRS has announced that taxpayers affected by natural disasters, including individuals and businesses affected by Hurricane Maria, have extra time to file this year. For more details or to see if you’re eligible, check the IRS website. Additionally, some taxpayers are automatically entitled to extra time, including those who are out of the country or on active duty in the military.
- File even if you can’t pay. A lot of taxpayers figure that if they can’t pay, they shouldn’t bother to file. No, no, no: Penalties are assessed both for failure to file and failure to pay if you will owe taxes. The failure-to-file penalty is usually 5% for each month or part of a month that your tax return is late; if your tax return is filed more than 60 days after the due date, the minimum penalty is the lesser of $210 or 100% of the unpaid tax. So don’t make a bad situation worse by failing to pay and failing to file.
- If the dog really ate your tax return, or if something else happened to prevent you from filing on time, tell the IRS. The IRS does have the ability to abate penalties for reasonable cause (the law, however, generally bars the ability to abate interest). If you file late – and you think you have reasonable cause for doing so – you can request an abatement using form 843, Claim for Refund and Request for Abatement (downloads as PDF).
- Find a good tax preparer. You can ease a lot of your stress by using a good tax preparer. Since it’s immediately after the tax season rush, you want someone who isn’t closing up shop tomorrow with no plans to reappear until next year. Call around. Ask for referrals. Find someone that you can trust. Make sure you feel comfortable. And then follow through.
- Pay as much as you can. If you can pay something – anything – make a payment. If you can’t pay it all at once, there are alternatives, including setting up an installment agreement with IRS. But don’t use your lack of funds as an excuse to do nothing. See again #6.
- Plan for next year. Like Christmas, Tax Day comes at the same time every year (okay, maybe not every year, since considering those IRS glitches, you did get an extra day this year). But a lot of the stress associated with Tax Day – like shopping for Christmas – can be avoided with a little bit of planning. Maybe this is the year that you invest in a scanner for those receipts. Or you hire that tax pro (see again #8). Or you set up personal finance software to track your income and expenses for the year. Whatever you need to do to ensure that you file on time next year (or file with an extension), plan to do those things now.