The old saying goes there are only two certainties in life: Death and Taxes.

We know we can’t cheat death, but did you ever wonder what happens if you file your tax return late? Or even worse,  you don’t file your tax return at all?

Frankly, I’m too scared to find out what would happen if I didn’t file my taxes .

Just in case you ever flirted with the idea, here’s the penalties you face from the IRS.

What happens if you file your taxes late

If you already missed the boat,  here are some options if you missed the tax deadline.

Warning: You don’t want to mess with the IRS.  Depending on the nature of the actual return, you are either faced with paying interest or even worse, penalties. Consider, at least, filing a tax extension.

When Are Taxes Due in 2015?

Update: The tax filing date for 2015 is April 15th. Since April 15th falls on a Wednesday and there is no government holiday (unlike past years), that is the day your taxes are due.

Interest When You File Tax Return Late

Interest on underpayments or over-payments runs from the extended due date of the tax return, i.e. April 15th of any given year.  Regular interest is set by statute, but underpayment incurs a 1% premium rate, compared with the rate of interest that will be paid by the IRS on over-payments or refunds.

Basically, expect to be paying more interest in you owe money to the IRS, versus if you paid too much.  If you are owed a refund, you’ll still earn interest on the amount entitled to you, just at a lower interest rate.  It’s kind of like getting a loan from a bank versus how much they pay in their savings accounts.

Penalties When You Don’t File Tax Return

What happens if you file your tax return late

Penalties may be categorized as failure to file or failure to pay penalties which will automatically assessed by the IRS, and as an underpayment  that are related to some negligence or intentional fault of the tax payer.

The failure to file or (FTF) penalty is assessed by the IRS at a rate of 5% per month or partial month up to a 25% maximum.  The failure to pay (FTP) penalty is assessed by the IRS at a rate of 0.5% per month or partial month up to a 25% maximum.  If both the FTF and FTP penalties are assessed, the FTF penalty is reduced by the FTP penalty.

Example: A tax payer files her a return 39 days after the due date.  Along with the filing of the return she remits a check for $6,000, which is the balance of the tax owed.  Therefore the total FTS and FTP penalties are $600, computed as follows:

  • FTP penalty, .5% times $6,000 times two equals $60.
  • FTF penalty, 5% times 6,000 times two equals 600.
  • FTP penalty penalties run concurrently minus $60.  Total penalties, FTF and FTP equal $600.

The FTF penalty of $600 is reduced by the FTP penalty of $60 making the adjusted FTS penalty $540.  Then adding the FTP penalty of $60 still due even though it reduces the FTF penalty makes up total assesed penalty of $600.  Still confused?  If so, easiest way to avoid this is to pay your taxes!

As mentioned there are also underpayment penalties owing to some fault of the tax payer.   However there are also the following penalties, listed in order of their severity.

  • Criminal fraud.  This is simply tax evasion, which is illegal.  If convicted of this penalty the tax payer will be subject to heavy court determined fines, imprisonment or both (see pic below for an example).
  • Civil fraud:  This is essentially tax payer fraud that does not rise to the level of criminal fraud.  If imposed,  the penalty is 75% of the portion of tax underpayment attributable to fraud.
  • Negligence: This accuracy related penalty is imposed if any part of the underpayment, due to tax payer neglect, or to disregard of the tax rules and regulations without the intent to defraud.  The penalty is 20% of the portion of the underpayments attributable to the negligence.
  • Frivolous Return: A frivolous return is one that omits certain information necessary to determine the tax payer’s tax liability, such as her Social Security number.  Usually, such a return is filed by a protester who is attempting to pester the IRS and make it’s job more difficult.  The penalty is $500 for each frivolous return filed.

Filing Tax Return Late Example

Let’s look at another example.  Charles filed a timely tax return but is later required to pay an additional $15,000 in tax.  This amount, 6,000, is attributable to the tax payer’s negligence.  The negligence penalty will be a 20% penalty applied to the negligent component.  Therefore, the total amount of penalty imposed on Charles is $1,200.  6,000 times 20%.

Don’t Forget The Tax Extension

If it’s getting close to the wire and you still don’t have all your tax information together, you still can file a tax extension.   The key on the extension is paying an estimated tax in the event that you owe.  If you haven’t paid any tax throughout the year, or not enough; then the same interest and penalties would apply.

If you can’t pay your taxes, you still have options.  As a last result, you could pay your tax with a credit card. Don’t assume it’s as convenient as it sounds.

How Do You File Taxes After It’s Too Late?

When you finally realize that you haven’t file your tax return, it’s best to file sooner than later (obviously).   You’ll want to collect all your tax documents for the years that you didn’t file.  Yes, that’s a lot of paperwork to collect, but remember that you are dealing with IRS.  The more you can find the better.

  • If you filed an extension AND paid at least 90 percent of your actual tax liability by the due date, you will not be faced with a failure-to-pay penalty if the remaining balance is paid by the extended due date.
  • SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: You will not have to pay a failure-to-file or failure-to-pay penalty if you can show that you failed to file or pay on time because of reasonable cause and not because of willful neglect.

If taxes seem like advanced chemistry to you, then hire a tax professional (CPA preferred) to help you through the process.  Be ready to pay some or all of the back tax that is owed.  If you can’t afford it immediately, you should be able to strike a deal with the IRS.  Remember, the IRS is not a “four letter” word.  They will work with you if you show you are willing to cooperate.

File Your Tax Return and Avoid the Headache

What Happens If You Don't File Your Tax Return?

Failing to file a tax return and pay your respective tax bill can be of serious consequence.   There are have been many high profile cases of individuals who failed to pay their appropriated tax bill.

If the big names can’t cheat the IRS, why do you think you’ll get away with it?  Just ask our man Wesley.

Morale of the story:  File your return and pay your taxes.

What happens if you don't file your tax return?

How to File Taxes on Time

Not filing a tax return is a terrible idea unless you want to hang out in prison with people who never filed their taxes like Wesley Snipes.

Avoiding that fate is pretty simple, fortunately. All you need to do is get your documentation together and file your taxes before the tax filing deadline goes by.

You could print off the tax forms from the IRS website, grab a pen and your favorite calculator, and get to work on calculating your return.

But why would do that with so many great software options available to not only file an accurate tax return, but also guaranteeing you get your maximum return?

Here is a great option:


TurboTax is the leader in filing your tax return with software. You used to have to buy TurboTax at a retail store, but they have grown their web tools significantly and you can file your return 100% online. (You also get the option of downloading the software to your computer or using their mobile and tablet app options as well.)

TurboTax comes in several editions:

  • a free edition for Simple / 1040EZ Returns
  • a Deluxe edition which is the best option for most individuals and families
  • a Premiere edition for those with investments and rental property
  • and a Home & Business edition to knock out both issues at the same time

Simply select the version that best fits your needs — hopefully you need Premiere because you’ve been investing for your future — and the software asks you questions along the way to fill out your tax return.

It’s incredibly simple and can save you hundreds of dollars compared to using an accountant. Plus, TurboTax comes with an Audit Support Guarantee so you don’t have to face an audit alone.

Filing your taxes online is easy. Get started with TurboTax and avoid all of the late fees, penalties, and investigation caused by missing the tax filing deadline.


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Comments | 2 Responses

  1. David says

    I agree, such b.s. To put my case in perspective, the ex wife worked maybe 2 months part time out of the year…the rest of the time she lived only off the thousand dollar monthly child support i pay to her. She does her taxes, claims the kids (which is saying she provided at least 50% financial responsibility to the children) and has a nearly $7,000 return. I do my taxes and end up paying $2000. Im sorry, but just cant figure out how this seems fair. This type of BS is the exact reason some of us consider not filing

  2. says

    I wonder how many kids working their first job forget to file their taxes, and if they have the IRS knocking at their door? All I know is that if Al Capone can’t get away with it, then I definitely wont. I should be getting money back this year, so I don’t think I would want to not file my taxes.

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