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 partnership 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 to file your tax return, any taxes you owe are still due on the tax return due date. The IRS will charge you interest and a late paying penalty. 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

If you filed your tax return or paid your taxes late, the IRS may have assessed one or more penalties on your account. 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:

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

    • You exercised ordinary business care and prudence to determine your taxes;
    • You had matters beyond your control that left you unable to file or to determine the amount of deposit or tax due;
    • You didn't receive necessary financial information;
    • You didn’t know you needed to file a tax return even though you made efforts to find out;
    • 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.

First-Time Penalty Abatement – You may qualify for administrative relief from penalties for failing to file your tax return on time, pay your taxes 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.

If you file your tax 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. Consequences include:

Delay in receiving your refund

You won't 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 tax return on your behalf

This is called a Substitute for Return (SFR). Because the IRS may not have complete information about your situation, it may overstate your tax liability. This could mean you’d owe more taxes, or you will receive less of a refund than if you had filed your own return. If the IRS files an SFR, its still in your best interest to file your own tax return to take advantage of any exemptions, credits, and deductions you're entitled to receive.

Collection actions

When you file a tax return or the IRS files an SFR for you 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 tax return is someone else might use your Social Security number and file a false tax 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 tax 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 of the tax return to file and ask for your refund. If you don’t file within that time, you generally won’t get your refund.

Browse common tax issues and situations at Get Help.

If your IRS problem is causing you financial hardship, you've tried repeatedly and aren't receiving a response from the IRS, or you feel your taxpayer rights aren't being respected, consider contacting Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS).

You may be eligible for representation from an attorney, certified public accountant (CPA), or enrolled agent (EA) associated with a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC). LITCs may also provide information about taxpayer rights and responsibilities in different languages for individuals who speak English as a second language.

Last modified March 20, 2018