The Internal Revenue Service imposes general time limits for making changes to a tax return you previously filed, although it does allow exceptions for certain situations. You’ll use Form 1040X to make these changes. There is also an important distinction to make between the rules for Form 1040X and the rules for substitute returns that may have been filed on your behalf. Time limits for requesting changes to a substitute return do not apply in the same manner as 1040X forms.
In general, the IRS gives you three years from the date a return is due, or two years from the date your tax is paid to amend a return — whichever occurs later. This time limit also applies to claims for refunds. If your Form 1040X shows that the IRS owes you money, you generally have only three years from the date the return was due to claim it. However, the general time frame for both filing the form and claiming a refund can be extended if you meet certain requirements.
The three-year period for filing and claiming a refund on Form 1040X may be extended if you experience a financial disability that is expected to last continuously for at least 12 months or longer. A financial disability occurs when you have a mental or physical health issue that prevents you from being able to tend to your normal financial affairs and responsibilities. If you’re married and file a joint return, only one of you must experience the disability, but the impaired spouse may not grant the other spouse the authorization to make financial decisions on his behalf. In this instance, you may extend your time to file Form 1040X by the length of time equal to the amount of time your condition is expected to last. See IRS Publication 17 for details. In addition, the time in which to amend a return to claim a refund for worthless securities or nonbusiness bad debt may be extended for up to seven years from the date the return is due. See chapter 14 of IRS Publication 17 for details.
In some cases, the IRS may file a return for you. This happens when you don’t file your own return and the IRS determines that you should have. This type of return is called a Substitute for Return, or SFR. SFRs can carry inaccurate balances because the IRS doesn’t know the correct filing status to use, or if you’re eligible for certain deductions and credits. If this happens, you can correct the IRS filing by filing an original 1040 form. Do not file a Form 1040X to amend an SFR prepared by the IRS. You can file an SFR protest at any time, but the general three-year rule still applies for refund claims. However, if the IRS is trying to collect an SFR balance for a year that you were due a refund, filing a protest won’t get you the refund, although it will reduce the SFR balance to zero and stop IRS collection efforts. In this instance, you should still file the protest even if you’re no longer eligible to receive the refund.
As of publication, the IRS accepts Form 1040X only by mail. An electronic version is not available. If you’re due a refund as a result of your amendment, the IRS will mail a check to the address you provide on the 1040X form. A 1040X refund will not be sent by direct deposit, regardless of the method you chose for the refund on your original return. If you’re filing a substitute return protest, you must also mail your 1040 form by mail and mark “SFR Protest” at the top of your return. You may send an SFR protest to the 1040 address associated with your state, but for faster processing go to the IRS.gov website and type “ASFR Unit” into the search field. Click the result for “Where to Send Non-Return Forms,” then choose the link for “ASFR — Reconsideration Returns — Centralized Processing Sites.” Use the address that corresponds with the type of forms you’re sending.