Consequences of Not Filing

Every year, the IRS and the media put out lots of information and reminders about the due date for filing your tax return. The most common tax forms and due dates are as follows, but due dates vary if they fall on a weekend or holiday.  You may refer to the tax form's instructions for the due date:

  • IRS Form 1040 series for individuals – April 15
  • IRS Form 1120 series for corporations – March 15
  • IRS Form 1065 series for partnerships – March 15 for years beginning after December 31, 2015. Prior year returns, April 15.

Not filing your return on time can have negative consequences, ranging from delaying your refund to civil and criminal penalties. If you owe taxes and fail to pay them, you could face penalties for failure to pay.

File your tax return and do it on time. If you can’t file by the due date, you should request an extension of time to file. If you don’t, you can be assessed a penalty.

If you owe taxes

Even if you have an extension, any taxes you owe are still due on the tax return due date. The IRS will charge you interest and a penalty for paying late. These charges are based on the amount you owe and the length of time it takes to pay it. The sooner you pay the tax, the better it is for you. If you can’t pay all at once, you have options for making payments over time.

If you end up with a penalty

In some cases, the IRS will waive the penalties for filing and paying late. However, you’ll need to ask the IRS to do this. The IRS will usually consider the following:

First-Time Penalty Abatement – You may qualify for administrative relief from penalties for failing to file a tax return, pay on time, or to deposit taxes when due under the IRS's First-Time Penalty Abatement policy if the following are true:

    • You didn’t previously have to file a tax return or you have no penalties (except the estimated tax penalty) for the three tax years prior to the tax year in which you received a penalty;
    • You filed all currently required tax returns or filed a valid extension of time to file; and
    • You have paid, or have arranged to pay, any tax due.

 Reasonable Cause – You have a reason for not filing or paying on time, including:

    • You were unable to determine the amount of deposit or tax due because of matters beyond your control;
    • You received necessary financial information late;
    • You didn’t know you needed to file a tax return;
    • You were unexpectedly out of the country for an extended period of time;
    • You had a death in your immediate family;
    • You or a member of your immediate family suffered a serious illness that kept you from handling your financial matters; or
    • You lost your tax documents in a fire or some other disaster.

This list doesn’t include all possible reasons. Be prepared to explain to the IRS what issues you faced and why they caused you to file your tax return or pay your taxes late. You should also be prepared to show the IRS you’ve corrected the situation, and you won’t have problems filing and paying on time in the future.

If you file your return or pay your taxes late, you can suffer a variety of consequences. This is true whether you have a refund coming or owe taxes.

Delay in receiving your refund

You will not get your refund until you file your tax return.

Penalties and interest

The IRS may charge you interest and penalties.

The IRS may file a return on your behalf

This is called a Substitute for Return (SFR). Because the IRS may not have complete information about your situation, they may overstate your tax liability. This could mean you’d owe more taxes than if you filed your own return, or you will receive less of a refund than if you had filed your own return.

Collection actions

When you file a return or the IRS files a substitute return that shows a balance due, the IRS will try to collect that amount. Depending on your situation, the IRS may file a lien that attaches to your property or rights to property or place a levy on your bank account, wages, or other sources of income.

Identity theft

Another possible consequence of not filing your own return is that someone else might use your Social Security number and file a false return, stealing your identity. If this happens, when you do file, your return and any refund will be delayed while the IRS determines which return is correct.

“Losing” your refund

You must file your return within a specified period to receive a refund. In general, you can “lose” your refund if you don’t file within the statute of limitation.

In general, you have three years from the due date to file and ask for your refund. If you don’t file within that time, you generally won’t get your refund.

Have a different tax issue?  Browse common issues and situations at Get Help.

Is your tax problem more complex?  If your issue is causing you financial hardship, you have tried repeatedly and aren't receiving a response from the IRS, or you feel your taxpayer rights are being violated, consider contacting Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS).

Do you feel that you need help from a tax professional but can’t afford one? You may be eligible for representation from an attorney, certified public accountant (CPA), or enrolled agent associated with a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic.

Last modified February 13, 2017