Although you are generally not required to file a tax return if your return will result in a refund, the Internal Revenue Service and your state's department of revenue urge you to file to claim your refund. Whether you were out of the country for work, incapacitated due to illness or simply forgot to file, you can file an income tax return late, but there are certain limitations.
IRS Statute of Limitations
The IRS has a statute of limitations to claim an income tax refund. You must file your tax return to claim a refund within three years of the tax due date, which is typically April 15. If you fail to file your tax return within the three-year limit, you will lose any credits, including overpayments from income tax withholdings and prepayments through estimated tax payments. Even though there is a statute of limitations to claim a refund, the IRS does not have a statute of limitations to collect taxes that you owe if you do not file.
Most states have a similar statute of limitations as the IRS to claim a tax refund, but some states might differ slightly. For example, California, Colorado and Wisconsin have a four-year statute of limitations for filing an income tax return to claim a refund. Montana has a statue of limitations of five years.
Amend a Return
If you initially file your return by the tax deadline and realize later that your return contained errors, the statute of limitations to claim an additional refund might differ depending on your state of residence. Some states require you to file an amended return within a certain number of years from the day you filed, not the tax due date. For example, if you live in Oregon and filed your 2010 tax return March 30, 2011, you have until March 30, 2014, to file an amended return to claim an additional refund. If you owed tax on your previously filed Oregon tax return, you have two years from the date of payment to claim a refund on tax that you paid.
Late Fees and Penalties
If you file your federal tax return late and owe a tax bill, the IRS will charge you interest of 5 percent on the balance per month that your return is late. If the IRS owes you a refund and you file late, the IRS will not charge you a penalty for filing late. States generally follow this same rule by only charging late fees and interest on taxes due. For more information on the statute of limitations and fees for filing late, contact your state's department of revenue.
- Internal Revenue Service: Penalty and Interest
- Internal Revenue Service: What to Do if You Haven't Filed Your Tax Return
- California Franchise Tax Board: Statutes of Limitations on Claims for Refund or Credit
- Colorado Department of Revenue: Statute of Limitations
- Wisconsin Department of Revenue: Keeping Records
- Montana Department of Revenue: Amended Returns
- Oregon Department of Revenue: Statute of Limitations on Refunds
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