Tax Debt Relief

How Many Years Back Can I File Taxes? How to Get Unclaimed Refunds

reviewed by Drew O. Mark
December 15, 2018

As the end of year approaches, it’s natural to start thinking about tax season. Yet, some people skip out on filing during a tax year. Last year, the IRS noticed an 8.5% drop in the number of federal tax filings they received.

That seems strange since filing your taxes is the law. So, why don’t people file? No matter the reasons, it’s something that could cost them in the long run.

Are you one of those people who skipped filing your taxes? What if you’ve waited more than a year? Two? Three or more?

You’ve got to be asking yourself one question. How many years back can I file taxes?

The short answer is 3 years from the tax due date. But, let’s look at some of the details involved in filing a back tax return.

Here’s what you need to know.

How Many Years Back Can I File Taxes?

By law, you have 3 years from the date the tax filing was due. Taxes for each prior year are due on April 15 of the next year. Since this is 2018, we filed taxes for 2017 this past April.

That means the farthest back you can file right now is your 2015 tax return. The deadline for filing your 2015 back taxes will be April 15, 2019. If you don’t make that deadline, it’ll be too late.

Should You Bother to File?

Many people think they shouldn’t file a return if they make below a certain amount. It’s true that you aren’t required to file if your income is below the threshold. But, you may still be able to claim a refund.

If you earned at least $2,500, you might have a refund waiting. Many low-income earners are eligible for earned income credit. This credit gives you money back on your taxes, even if it’s more than you actually paid.

It’s worth filing to be sure. You’ll lose nothing if you file. There are no fees to pay if you are due a refund.

You’ll need to file your taxes to claim it. The IRS will not send out a refund if you didn’t file. The money will sit and wait for up to 3 years.

If you don’t claim it within the 3 year period, you are no longer entitled to receive it. The treasury absorbs it.

Evaluate your tax situation

By evaluating your tax situation, you can identify areas where you may be able to reduce your tax burden and make informed decisions about your financial future.


Substitute Returns

It’s important to know that the IRS can file a substitute return on your behalf. They do this if it appears you will owe money. Should that happen, they do not credit you for any deductions or exemptions that you qualify for.

This causes you to owe more in taxes than you should. File your taxes yourself to make sure the amount is accurate. A tax professional can help you calculate and file an amended return.

When the IRS files a substitute tax return for you, you have 90 days to file your own tax return to correct it. You’re notified and provided with a tax assessment. If you don’t pay, the amount gets turned over to collections.

What Is The Process?

The process for filing a past tax return is almost the same as a regular return. The difference? You’ll need to download tax forms and instructions for the year you are filing for.

Each year, tax rules and laws can change. Current year tax law does not apply to past years. Make sure you have the right forms.

If you’re thinking about how many years back to file your taxes, here’s some advice.

Figure out which of the past 3 years you need to file for. Gather all your documents for those tax years. Fill out your tax year forms according to the instructions and file them with the IRS.

You’ll have to mail the forms since they are not for the current year. Filing online through the IRS is only for current returns. You can find the address in the instructions.

Another alternative is to have a tax professional file them for you. It will cost you a fee for their services. But, the accuracy and ease of filing your prior year returns make it worth it.

Are There Fees Involved?

That depends. If a refund is due, you will not pay any fees. You’ll receive your refund and the process is over.

If you owe taxes for any year you haven’t filed, you’ll pay fines to the IRS. The IRS calculates those and includes interest, too.

Interest varies according to how much you owe and how long it’s overdue. You might pay interest as high as 25% of the tax return.

Keep in mind, you still want to file even if you’re going to owe. The longer you wait, the more you will owe the IRS in the long run.

What If I Do Owe?

Depending on your situation, you may find you owe taxes. Your best bet to deal with tax debt is to seek help from a tax professional. They are familiar with all tax laws, even from prior years.

A tax professional will make sure your taxes are accurate. This is important to avoid overcharges by the IRS. A tax professional will also help you file important forms with the IRS.

If you can’t pay what you owe, the IRS accepts payment plans. There are fees involved, and you’ll need to contact them to set up an installment agreement.

File Your Back Taxes Today!

It’s important to file your tax returns on time. It keeps you current and receiving those refunds that you deserve! But, if you’re wondering how many years back you can file taxes, it’s not too late.

Don’t wait. Gather your documents and file that tax return. You may have a refund waiting for you to claim.

Looking for more information to help guide you through your taxes? Check out some of these articles!

Clinton F Wassor

Clinton F. Wasser, holding a Master of Science in Legal Studies of Taxation, brings a wealth of expertise in tax planning and compliance to his writing. With a career rooted in the workings of the tax landscape, Clinton navigates difficulties with finesse. Beyond his professional accomplishments, he generously volunteers his time to educate high school students about the nuances of taxes. As an author, Clinton marries his real-world experience with a passion for simplifying tax concepts. He has found that his technique empowers readers to better understand the world of taxation.
Read more