What Happens If You Don't File?

Some estimates project that there are as many as 7,000,000 taxpayers who have outstanding tax returns from prior years. Those who fail to file their taxes on time or at all may face the following consequences.

  • Loss of a tax refund. There is no penalty for failure to file if you are due a refund; however, you cannot obtain a refund without filing a tax return. If you wait too long to file, you may risk losing the refund altogether. In cases where a return is not filed, the law provides most taxpayers with a three-year window of opportunity for claiming a refund.
  • Loss of any  Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Even if you are not otherwise required to file a tax return, you must file in order to receive this credit. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) sometimes called the Earned Income Credit (EIC), is a refundable federal income tax credit for low-income working individuals and families. Congress originally approved the tax credit legislation in 1975 in part to offset the burden of social security taxes and to provide an incentive to work. When the EITC exceeds the amount of taxes owed, it results in a tax refund to those who claim and qualify for the credit. To qualify, taxpayers must meet certain requirements and file a tax return, even if they did not earn enough money to be obligated to file a tax return. The EITC has no effect on certain welfare benefits. In most cases, EITC payments will not be used to determine eligibility for Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), food stamps, low-income housing or most Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) payments.
  • A statute of limitations applies to refunds and credits. After the expiration of the refund statute, not only does the law prevent the issuance of a refund check, it also prevents the application of any credits, including overpayment of estimated or withholding taxes, to other tax years that are underpaid. It is also worth noting that the statute of limitations for the IRS to assess and collect any outstanding balance does not begin until a return has been filed. Or put another way, there is no statute of limitations for assessing and collecting the tax if no return has been filed.
  • A "Failure to File" penalty may be assessed when you miss the tax filing deadline; the sooner you file, the more likely you are to be able to negotiate or decrease this penalty.

Regardless of your reason for not filing, it is important to file your tax return as soon as possible even if taxes own can not be paid at the time of filing..

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