How to File Taxes Without the Previous Year's Return

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While having your last year's tax return can come in handy when you go to file your taxes, having it is not completely necessary. Taxpayers will often use their previous year's return as a template of sorts, if their living or work situation hasn't changed from the year before. But, there are other documents you can use to file in the absence of last year's return. Your W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, that you receive from your employer, or even your last pay stub of the year, can be used to help you get your taxes in on time instead.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

If you no longer have your tax return from the previous year, you can use your W-2 or pay stub to help file your current tax documentation.

Find Your Tax Documents

Throughout the year, you trigger taxable events when you get paid from your job, sell real estate or receive dividends and interest from various investments you may have. All of these things carry tax implications. When it's time to file taxes, simply gather any W-2s you have received as well as any 1099s and other tax-related documents. If you have unearned income, such as income from investments, it is important that you include this information when you go to file, otherwise, you could be grossly under-reporting your income. Even though you can prepare your taxes yourself without a previous year's return, it may be a good idea to meet with a tax consultant or other qualified tax preparer to assist you in filing your taxes correctly.

What if I'm Missing Documents?

If you're missing tax-related documents, you can generally obtain this information elsewhere. For example, if you never receive or misplace an IRS Form 1099-DIV, Dividends and Distributions, from dividends for any investments you received for the year, then you can contact the financial institution directly to request a duplicate. You could also use your year-end financial statement or log into your account, and both should detail your balances as well as dividends you were paid to date.

Sometimes, for whatever reason, you may not receive a W-2 or a 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income from an employer or client you performed work for. In this case, you can contact the payer directly to request a duplicate. In the event you still do not receive this duplicate, you can then contact the IRS and the agency will get in touch with your employer for you. If you should have received an IRS Form 1099-MISC, it is important to note that payers are not required to issue this form for jobs that paid less than $600. However, you are still responsible for keeping track of and reporting this income; this is where meticulous record keeping will prove invaluable.

Using Your Last Pay Stub

You can also use your last paycheck stub of the year to help file your taxes if you don't have the previous year's return. While this is not general practice, the IRS allows taxpayers to file their taxes using their last pay stub to fill out Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, or Form 1099-R, Distributions From Pensions, Annuities, Retirement or Profit-Sharing Plans, IRA's Insurance Contracts, Etc. Form 4852 is a simple, single page form that is easy to complete using information gathered from your year-end pay stub. Included are instructions to assist you in completing the form correctly, as well as space for you to explain how you reached the totals and what you did to try to obtain your W-2.

    Warnings

  • IRS tax forms change every year. Use the correct form for the tax year you are preparing your return for.

References

About the Author

Tara Thomas is a Los Angeles-based writer and avid world traveler. Her articles appear in various online publications, including Sapling, PocketSense, Zacks, Livestrong, Modern Mom and SF Gate. Thomas has a Bachelor of Science in marine biology from California State University, Long Beach and spent 10 years as a mortgage consultant.