You probably already know that you can fix most tax return mistakes by filing an amended return. If IRS doesn’t correct your error or if it’s a huge mistake or if you forgot to report something important (like being married), you can amend your previously filed tax return with a federal form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return (downloads as a PDF). It’s a relatively short form, but must be filed by paper: when you’re finished, you must print out and mail your form 1040X. You may not file your amended return electronically.

But an amended return isn’t always the best option.

According to National Taxpayer Advocate Erin M. Collins, a “superseding tax return” may be the best fix for some taxpayers during this filing season – if the IRS can process them quickly and properly. 

About seven of ten taxpayers get a refund each year. Most want their money quickly and opt for a check. But some choose to apply the refund against the tax owed for the next year. That’s especially true for taxpayers who expected to have an amazing 2020 – while the economy was going gangbusters. When you make that election, it becomes irrevocable, which means that you can’t later ask the IRS to refund the overpayment before filing a 2020 tax return.

But these aren’t ordinary times. Some taxpayers are now unemployed or earning less than before. They may have additional costs because they are paying for health care or unexpected work-from-home expenses (that might not be deductible). Having that refund in hand would probably come in… well… handy.

Collins says that’s where the value of a superseding return comes into play. If you file a second return after the tax filing deadline, it’s an “amended return.” You cannot reverse the decision to apply 2019 overpayments against the 2020 tax on an amended return. Normally, this would be a problem at the end of April… but not this year. In 2020, the filing deadline for your 2019 tax return has been moved to July 15, 2020.

But, Collins explains, if you file a second return before the filing deadline, the second return “supersedes” the first return. The superseding return is treated like the originally filed return. Voila! Now, you can elect to receive the overpayment as a refund.

Of course, there’s a catch: Like amended returns, superseding returns must be filed on paper. Paper returns take at least six weeks to file at the best of times – and these are definitely not the best of times. So, returns won’t be processed timely. Still, filing a superseding return to request the overpayment be refunded now will generate the refund payment in 2020 rather than 2021. And providing bank or financial institution account information will further speed up the payment by four to six weeks. Collins says that it is her understanding that paper returns will be processed in the order received, so there is no reason to wait. She’s also planning to urge the IRS to process paper returns as quickly as possible after employees are safely able to return to work. That should be soon.


Kelly Erb is a tax attorney, tax writer and podcaster.

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