How to file back taxes


If you didn’t file you taxes last year (or any year before that) and you’re trying to figure out how to file back taxes, it can be difficult to know where to start.

But take a deep breath — we’re about to walk you through it.

Filing taxes late? Here’s what you need to know

Money expert Clark Howard has long said that when you can’t afford to pay your taxes, you should go ahead and file anyway and pay whatever you can.

Then, if you can pay the remainder within four months as part of an payment plan, you’ll usually only incur a minimal penalty.

We should also note that if you’ve never been in trouble with the IRS before, you may be able to qualify for a first-time penalty abatement. Just one call to the IRS could save you hundreds or thousands of dollars in penalties and fees!

So there is a strong case to be made that filing late by a couple months is much better than not filing at all.

What to do if you haven’t filed back taxes for years

But if it’s been a year or more since you last filed, you’re probably going to have to scramble to come up with the necessary paperwork, like old W2s.

Fortunately, getting the documents you need may be easier than you think!

First off, when you’re ready to file after a long period of not filing, you’ll want to start out by getting prior-year tax return forms. The IRS makes them conveniently available online going back through the decades.

Once you start filling them out, you may find that you need past wage and income information that you don’t readily have available. If that’s the case, there are two routes you can go:

  1. Contact your employer for the required info
  2. If you can’t get in touch with the employer, file out Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return, and check the box on line 8
IRS form 4506 request for transcript of tax return

You may also need info from a prior year’s tax return. While money expert Clark Howard says you should keep your tax returns forever, maybe you didn’t heed that advice!

In that case, you can use the IRS Get Transcript feature to request what you need.

Meanwhile, if you get deep into the weeds and find you need help filing your back taxes, you can always enlist free help from the IRS.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program provides help to low- and moderate-income taxpayers. Call 1-800-906-9887 to locate the nearest VITA site.

See Clark’s thought on filing back taxes here:


Free tax return prep help is available for those over 50

If you want another option for free help preparing your tax return and you’re of a certain age, you might consider checking out the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide.

The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide offers free tax prep for anyone who is 50 or older — no AARP membership required!

More than 5,000 neighborhood locations in places like libraries, community centers and senior centers will offer the free help. Find a location near you here.


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