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Missed the May 17 Deadline? File Taxes Now to Get a Refund & Lower Penalties

Tips for Filing a Late Return

The IRS encourages people who have not yet filed their individual income tax return to do so as soon as possible. Here are some important tips and information if you have missed the filing due date.

What is the deadline for filing income tax returns?

Every year, the IRS determines the due date to file federal income taxes. This is typically mid-April, around the 15th for individual income tax filing, but in the event that Tax Day falls on the weekend or an official holiday, it can be as late as April 18th.

However, the tax deadline differs for certain business types. When using a fiscal year that differs from the calendar year, a business tax return is due by the 15th day of the third month after the end of the fiscal year. If you own a small business as a partnership, LLC, or S Corp, the tax filing due date is mid-March.

In some instances, the tax filing deadline has been extended by the government. In 2020, most federal income tax returns (including Tax Forms 1040 or 1040-SR) were due by May 17, 2021 as part of an extended deadline as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

You can also apply for an extension by submitting Form 4868, which makes your last day to file individual income taxes around mid-October.

Note that this does not necessarily apply to state income tax returns. You should check with your state’s tax authority to find out the due date of your state tax return, if applicable.

Are there exceptions to the filing deadline?

Certain individual taxpayers may be eligible for an extended due date for filing and paying their income taxes. This includes the following:

U.S. Military Service

Members of the military who served in a combat zone (or are currently serving in a combat zone) may qualify for an additional tax extension of at least 180 days to file and pay their federal taxes. Military support personnel in combat zones or a contingency operation in support of the Armed Forces may also qualify for a filing and payment extension of at least 180 days.

Taxpayers Living outside the United States

American citizens and resident aliens who live and work outside of the United States and Puerto Rico typically have until June to file taxes and pay. This also applies to military personnel who do not qualify for combat zone extension. Such taxpayers should attach a statement along with their federal tax returns to explain which situation applies. For more information about special rules for those living abroad, see Publication 54, Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad, on the IRS website.

Disaster Victims

The IRS grants automatic tax extensions for residents of states affected by natural disasters. For example, the IRS granted an automatic tax extension for the residents of the states of Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas who experienced damaging winter storms in February 2021. For individuals and businesses in these affected regions, the deadline for their 2020 federal tax returns was June 15, 2021.

If you have been affected by a natural disaster, here’s how to get a tax deadline extension for filing or payment:

  • Call the Disaster Hotline 866-562-5227
  • Explain your situation and that your necessary records are located in a covered disaster area
  • Provide the FEMA Disaster Number of the area where you prepare taxes

RELATED: Common Tax Questions & Answers

What happens if you miss the tax deadline?

If you missed the income filing tax deadline for your federal tax return, it’s recommended that you file now to get your income tax refund (if you’re owed one) and to avoid any further late fees, interest charges, and other tax penalties.

Here are some tips and information to help you file a late tax return with the IRS:

  • If you need income information from your W-2s, 1099s, 1098s, etc., you should contact your employer or you can call the IRS Individual Helpline at 1-800-829-1040.
  • File your taxes online (e-file) to save time – just make sure to use a reputable tax software service that is authorized to e-file IRS taxes.
  • There is no penalty for filing a late tax return if you are owed a tax refund, however, you should file as soon as possible to receive your refund money.

If you can demonstrate reasonable cause for paying late taxes, you may be able to obtain a tax extension for undue hardship by submitting Form 1127 (Application for Extension of Time for Payment of Tax Due to Undue Hardship) to the IRS.

The IRS states that “COVID-19 continues to cause delays in some IRS services. If a taxpayer filed a paper tax return, the IRS will process it in the order it was received. Taxpayers should not file a second tax return or call the IRS. The IRS issues more than nine out of 10 refunds in less than 21 days. However, it’s possible a tax return may require additional review and take longer.” If you electronically file with direct deposit, it is likely you will get your tax return faster.

What is the penalty for filing taxes late?

The IRS will notify you by mail if you owe any penalties from not filing your return on time, and interest will be accrued on your penalties starting from your original payment due date. The penalty you must pay for late filing (known as a failure-to-file penalty) is a percentage of the taxes owed that you didn’t pay on time.

This is how the IRS calculates a failure-to-file penalty:

  • For each month or part of the month your return is late, you will be penalized 5% of the unpaid taxes, not exceeding 25% of your unpaid taxes.
  • If you are issued a late penalty as well as a failure to pay penalty, they will be applied in the same month. The Failure to File Penalty is subtracted by the amount of the late penalty that month, for a combined penalty of 5% for each month your return was late.
  • If you haven’t paid after 5 months, the maximum penalty for a failure to file will be 25% of your unpaid taxes. The failure to pay penalty continues until your taxes are paid.
  • The minimum penalty if you fail to file is $435 or 100% of the tax required to be shown on the return (whichever is less), if your return was over 60 days late.

Once you file your taxes, you will stop accruing the failure to file penalty. As soon as you pay the taxes you owe, so too will the failure to pay penalties and interest stop accruing. The IRS will bill you for any amount you owe.

In some instances, taxpayers may qualify for penalty relief, such as if they’ve never failed to file or paid late in the past.

If you are owed a refund, there is no penalty for filing a late tax return. However, the only way you can get a tax refund is to file a tax return.

What if you can’t pay your taxes?

It is important to still file your tax return even if you cannot pay; there are alternative payment options from the IRS to help you pay off what you owe, and certain types of penalty relief.

Installment Plan / Installment Agreements

By requesting a payment plan with the IRS online, you can choose short-term or long-term online payment plans to pay what you owe over time. Short-term online plans give you up to 180 days to pay your taxes, if your combined taxes, penalties, and interest owed is less than $100,000. Long-term payment plans require payments on a monthly basis, but grant you more time to pay off what you owe. You can request a long-term payment plan if your total amount owed is less than $50,000.

You may not qualify for a payment plan, but can request an installment agreement from the IRS if you file Form 9465. Similar to long or short-term payment plans, an installment agreement grants you extra time to pay off your taxes owed. You may be required to pay a fee which will be added to your tax bill, depending on your earned income.

Offer in Compromise (OIC)

An Offer in Compromise is an alternative way to pay, in which you agree to pay a reduced amount of your taxes owed to the IRS. In order to request an OIC, you must file all tax returns that are due, and make estimated payments required for the current year. An OIC will only be approved if the IRS determines that your compromised offer is the most the IRS can reasonably expect to collect from you.

How to file taxes after the income tax filing deadline

>> Start Your Free E-file

Note that a tax extension is only an extension to file your tax return, not an extension to pay your tax liability. You are still expected to pay any taxes you owe by the original federal income tax deadline. It is important to file your return and pay as much taxes as possible because the late filing penalty and the late payment penalty can add up quickly.

Learn more about filing your unfiled tax return after you’ve missed the federal tax deadline

People who file their taxes online (i.e. electronic filing or “e-file”) will have their returns processed faster and therefore receive their refund faster. Paper tax returns (and other paper correspondences) take the IRS much longer to process, especially these days due to COVID-19 mail processing delays.

RELATED: Things That Can Delay Your Tax Refund

You can track the status of your tax refund using the IRS Where’s My Refund? online tool. You can also check on your refund using the IRS smartphone app, IRS2Go, or by calling the IRS Refund Hotline at 1-800-829-1954.


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