Tax Day was Monday, April 18, for most taxpayers (some taxpayers in the northeast have some extra time to file thanks to Patriots’ Day). Not everyone who needed to file made it on time. A million things could have happened. Maybe your hard drive died, maybe you ate some bad fish, or maybe your dog ate your return. I don’t care. I’m not judging. The question isn’t so much “what happened?” but “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 freak out over a missed deadline and decide that there’s no point in filing now and resolve to fix it all later. Don’t be that taxpayer. Later won’t come. Fix it now.
- Double check whether you needed to file. 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. Or tomorrow. But file. If you didn’t file on time, get your return together as soon as you can. Penalties and interest are calculated based on the passage of time. The more time that goes by, the more you will owe. So file. Don’t wait until later. See #1.
- Pay attention to available extensions and relief. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has signaled it will offer relief on a case by case basis for those taxpayers affected by the storms in Houston. Additionally, some taxpayers are normally entitled to a couple of extra months, including those who are out of the country or on active duty.
- 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. Don’t make a bad situation worse by failing to pay and failing to file.
- If the dog really ate your tax return, tell the IRS. The IRS does have the ability to abate penalties (the law, however, generally bars the ability to abate interest) for reasonable cause. If you file late – and you think you have reasonable cause – 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 – and push things along – by using a good tax preparer. Notice that I said “good.” 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 (ask questions). 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 #3.
- Plan for next year. I am fond of reminding my clients that Tax Day comes at the same time every year. Like Christmas. And my birthday. All of which are cause for celebration once they’re over. But a lot of the stress associated with Tax Day – like shopping for Christmas – can be avoided with a little bit of planning ahead of time. Maybe this is the year that you invest in a scanner for those receipts. Or you hire that tax pro. 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.