What Happens If I Send My Tax Return Late?

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The U.S. Internal Revenue Service takes punctuality very seriously. If you file your taxes after the deadline and you owe the IRS money, you will have various penalties levied against you. The amount of the penalties depends on factors such as how much you owe and how long you wait to file.

Failure to File Penalty

The IRS requires timely filing of income tax returns, postmarked by the annual due date. Optimally, taxpayers will submit payment of any taxes owed with income tax return. If you can't afford to pay your tax bill, submit your income tax return by the due date anyway, minus the full payment. Failure to file your taxes by the due date will result in a Failure to File penalty fee of 5 percent of your unpaid tax amount for every month or partial month you are late in filing. Filing even one day late will tack 5 percent onto your tax bill. The Failure to File penalty can't exceed 25 percent of your tax total tax due.

Failure to Pay Penalty

If you compound your late filing with a failure to pay your taxes, the IRS will also penalize you with a Failure to Pay penalty. This penalty amounts to one-half of 1 percent of the total amount of taxes past due. The IRS charges this penalty starting from the first day past the due date. If you have both the Failure to File and Failure to Pay penalties, the IRS will not charge you more than 5 percent of your owed taxes during any month. If you wait for more than 60 days to file your return, the IRS will charge you either $135 or 100 percent of your unpaid taxes as a penalty -- whichever amount is smaller. The IRS also charges interest for unpaid tax owed from the due date until the date you pay your taxes. The IRS calculates interest quarterly, compounded daily, and bills a taxpayer for interest due after tax payment.

Risking Your Refund

If the federal government owes you money, you can file late without penalty, but you risk losing your tax refund if you wait too long. To claim your tax refund, you have to file your income tax return within three years of the original due date. If more than three years elapses, you can't claim your refund and your tax dollars revert to Uncle Sam.

Requesting an Extension

Instead of filing your income tax return late, request an extension. Use Form 4868 to file a formal request for an extension. If approved, you will have six months to file your income tax return. If you owe taxes and file an extension, you will still be responsible for paying your tax debt to the IRS by the original due date, or you will incur Failure to Pay penalties and interest charges on the unpaid taxes. If you paid 90 percent of your estimated tax bill at the time you requested an extension, the IRS may waive the Failure to Pay penalty. The IRS also offers installment plans to help taxpayers pay taxes due without penalties. To arrange an installment plan, file your taxes on time and apply for the installment plan online, by phone or by mail. You'll have to pay a fee to set up the plan.

Other Repercussions

Applying for grants or student loans typically requires that you furnish a copy of your most recent income tax return. If you don't have a copy of your return because you didn't file it yet, you may not be able to proceed with your financial aid application.