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

Tips for Filing a Late Tax Return

The IRS encourages people who have not yet filed their 2020 individual income tax return to do so as soon as possible. The deadline to file 2020 tax returns was May 17, 2021.

Here are some important tips and information if you have missed the May 17 due date.

Deadline to File 2020 Tax Returns

Most 2020 tax returns (Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR) were due by May 17, 2021. This is an extended deadline (from the original April 15 Tax Day) that was announced in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This means that most individuals were required to file and pay their 2020 taxes by May 17. For exceptions, see below.

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 2020 state tax return.

RELATED: IRS Extends Tax Deadline to May 17, 2021

Extended Deadlines for Certain Taxpayers

Some individuals may be eligible for an extended due date for filing and paying their 2020 income taxes. This includes the following:

U.S. Military

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 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.

Disaster Victims

The IRS has 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 is June 15, 2021.

RELATED: Common Tax Questions & Answers

Tax Tips for a Filing/Paying Late

If you missed the May 17 deadline for your 2020 tax return, it’s recommended that you file now to get your tax refund (if you’re owed one) and to avoid any further late fees and interest charges.

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 (i.e. electronically) 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.”

RELATED: Tax Preparation Tips for Your 2020 Return

File Now for a Tax Refund

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.

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.

>> Start Your Free E-file

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.

RELATED: Things That Can Delay Your Tax Refund

File Now to Reduce Penalties & Interest

Generally, taxpayers need to file their tax return (or request a tax extension) and pay any taxes due by the deadline in order to avoid IRS penalties and interest. Any 2020 taxes that have not been paid by May 17, 2021 will accrue late fees and interest charges.

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 May 17 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.

The IRS “failure to file” penalty is typically 5% of the tax owed for each month or part of a month that a tax return is late, up to 5 months, reduced by the “failure to pay” penalty amount for any month where both penalties apply. If a tax return is filed more than 60 days after the deadline, the minimum penalty is either $435 or 100% of the unpaid tax, whichever is less. The “failure to pay” penalty rate is typically 0.5% of the unpaid tax owed for each month or part of a month until the tax is fully paid or until 25% is reached. The rate is subject to change.

RELATED: How to File Your Federal Income Tax Return


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