Good News and Bad News About Your Back Taxes

Good News and Bad News About Your Back Taxes

There is some good news and bad news here. The good news is that you are not alone. You are in the company of thousands of Americans who have, for whatever reason, failed to file returns for multiple years. The IRS refers to these taxpayers as chronic non-filers. The IRS knows that if you fail to file for the past few years, you are more likely not to file in the future, fearing retribution from an angry horde of revenue officers. You need not worry. The IRS wants you to file the past returns and to timely file your future returns. No one is angry and no one is pounding on your door looking to take your house away from you.

Step One –
Figure out what years you are missing, those years for which you have not filed. A simple call to the IRS will get you the answer. Most people are afraid of calling the IRS for fear that it will “wake them up” and they will now know you have not filed. Believe me, they already know. Call 1 800-829-1040. You will have to wait awhile, but hold on, the end result will be worth it. When the operator comes on the line let them know that you need to find out what years are open in your account. You will need to give them basic identification data, but once they have adequately identified you they will answer your question - you have not filed for 2002 through 2006.

Step Two
In order to complete the tax returns you will have to reconstruct your income and expenses for those years. The IRS can help you with some of the information you will need if you ask. When talking to the IRS representative ask her or him to mail (or fax if you have a fax machine nearby) to you the “wage and income transcripts” for the years that you have not filed. Caution – if you go back further than seven years, they will not be able to get you information back that far as it has been removed from the active system. They will, however, let you know how to obtain that information.

Step Three
Now that you have your income information, you need to assemble your deductions. There is some good news here. The biggest decision on the tax return is whether to use the standard deduction or whether to itemize. For most taxpayers, that decision will hinge upon whether you own your personal residence or not. If you own your house then the mortgage interest that you paid will be a tax deduction and will likely lead to your itemizing your deductions. Fortunately the amount of interest that you paid in that year will be reflected in the wage and income statement you received from the IRS. So really, unless you have some complications, the vast majority of the information you will need to file will be in the transcripts you receive from the IRS. Of course you will also need information (name, date of birth, social security number) about your spouse and children, if any.

Step Four
Once you have the wage and income transcripts you should prepare to either do the tax returns yourself or hire a local accountant to do so. If you wish to do them yourself, you can download old forms from the IRS website and fill them in by hand, or you can go to websites of commercial tax preparation software, like Turbo Tax, and purchase their software for only the years that you need.

Step Five
If you choose to have an accountant (does not need to be a CPA) do your returns then gather the transcripts and any other pertinent information and make an appointment. If you choose to do it yourself, then set aside one evening to do nothing but tax returns. This is tough, but it needs to be done. If you have no experience in preparing tax returns then ask a knowledgeable friend to help. Once you have done two of the years you will catch on and the remaining years will not be so difficult.

Believe it or not, you can actually call the IRS for help! Just dial the same number as above and ask them for assistance. You will get it and it will be fair and balanced.

Step Six
Once the forms are prepared make sure you sign them and prepare them for mailing to the IRS. If you need the mailing address you should refer to the IRS website or call. If you owe money on any of the returns you should try to pay it when you file the return. It is vital, though, that you DO NOT DELAY mailing the return if you do not have the money to pay the amount owed. Either pay what you can or, if you can pay nothing, simply send in the return.

Step Seven
In a few weeks or months the IRS will send you a letter telling you that you filed these returns late and that you owe penalties and maybe some interest. In an ideal world you would pay these amounts and move on with your life. However, if you cannot afford to pay the penalties and interest or if you could not pay the original debt on the tax return, you will have to make arrangements to pay over time – an installment agreement. In some cases, the amount owed for all of the years (including penalties and interest) is far beyond your ability to pay the full amount. For example, if you owe $75,000 and your salary is $37,500 and you have two children, a mortgage and medical expenses, you may want to consider making an offer in compromise to the IRS for an amount less than what you owe.

CAUTION: If you are SERIOUSLY in debt and the amount far outweighs your ability to pay, you will be tempted to call one of those tax relief companies that advertise on TV or on the internet. Do not do so. If you need professional help, go to a tax accountant or tax attorney licensed to practice in your state. They will have the experience to guide you and the cost will be far less. Also, you will have the state bar or accountancy board to complain to if you are not happy with their services.

If you have followed all of the steps above, your tax filings are now current and you are either fully paid up, making monthly payments or are trying to negotiate a lower amount to pay. Either way, you can now sleep at night and stop worrying about what might happen. You are in control and the matter is on its way to resolution. It isn’t easy, but in the end you will be glad you did it. Good luck.

Arthur Weiss, Esquire
Law Office of Arthur Weiss, P.C.
2135 Grant Rd.
Tucson, AZ 85719

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