What Happens If I Have Not Filed In Years And How Do I Fix It?
It's easy to get into a habit of not filing your taxes. If you happen not to file one year because you owe money, and then the next year you do the same thing because you're afraid you'll get into trouble, the years can add up quickly, and so can the severity of the need to file. The first answer you'll get from the IRS or any accountant is to file right away! Not filing your taxes is a crime known as tax evasion and there are penalties that you can receive from delinquent filing as a result.
Why It's Serious
We've all heard that if you don't file your taxes, you could go to jail, and as unbelievable as it sounds, it is true. However, the IRS cares more about getting the money they owe and very rarely send anyone to jail unless they find blatant fraud. However, they can punish you with some costly penalties. If you haven't paid your taxes, the IRS has much more power to try to get you to comply and get your taxes paid depending on how long it's been. Usually, if it's been longer than six years, they will contact your employer and decide what you owe in tax debt on their own. They'll send you a substitute return instead of using the numbers they calculated and giving you one exemption, not accounting for any deductions you could have used. If you fail to respond within 90 days, they can even garnish your wages or bank account, or file a tax lien.
Step One: Find an Attorney
It's in your best interest to find a tax attorney once you've decided to take care of your taxes. An attorney will help lift some of the emotional burdens you're facing, as well as give you solid advice on what to do and take a look over your paperwork. Tax attorneys have dealt with these situations before, and they're the best ones to know how to minimize your penalties and tax debt, and fight on your behalf.
File As Soon As Possible
Once you've decided to tackle the problem, you need to approach tax filing right away. The IRS won't work with you unless you've filed for all of the years you missed, but first, a call should be made to the IRS to find out what years are missing, what is owed, and if you've had any refunds applied to your delinquent filing. In the worst case, you can use the past three years for returns as well. They will ask for a deadline for you to file your taxes, which is something that you should decide ahead of time. If you have a tax attorney, they can represent you on the phone, and you don't have to call.
Make sure that you find the paperwork for every year that you haven't filed and use the appropriate paperwork for tax filing. This is another area where a tax attorney can help you and ensure that you're making the right moves.
There are some abatements you can use to minimize your tax penalties, so make sure to communicate with your attorney so they can help lower your penalty amounts and even work on getting you a payment plan if you can't pay your taxes in full right away. These penalties are very expensive, so it's best to void them if you can, and this may be available to you if you have or are currently experiencing:
• Mental Illness
• Bad advice from a previous CPA
• Death in the family
• Extended military service
Of course, you'll need to prove them, but if you can, then you may be given a reprieve from these heavy fines.
Work Out a Payment Plan
Once you've filed all of your taxes correctly and the IRS answered with what you owe them, you can work out a payment plan so that you don't end up paying the whole amount. The IRS would rather help you make payments rather than have you defaulting on your loans again and having to repeat the entire process. You can make monthly payments, and they will work with you if you have a severe financial problem that would keep you from making your payments. Be sure to call if you're going to have trouble making a payment.
Once you're back on track, the most important thing to do is continue your payment and file your taxes for the next year, so you don't have to go through the same nightmare again. While you have the legal right to do all of this yourself, it is highly recommended to seek out a professional to help you navigate through the process and make sure you aren't missing anything important. Being so behind on your taxes can be scary, especially with the fear of the impending penalties, but choosing the right attorney and being proactive in your case can help clear the whole thing up in as little as a month.