When you put your tax return in the mail or click the "e-file" button on your software, you might feel like you're done for another year, but that's not always the case. If later you discover an error on your return, you don't have to dread the day the IRS finds it and comes knocking on your door, nor do you have to give up the big tax credit you missed. Instead, you can file an amended return -- or multiple amendments, if need be -- to correct any mistakes.
The IRS doesn't put a limit on the number of times that you can amend any particular year's tax return, as long as you're filing within the statute of limitations. The time to amend is the longer of three years from when you filed the return or two years from when you paid the tax, whichever is longer. If you're using the filing date, remember that any return filed early is counted as being filed on the due date. For example, if you file your return on March 1 even though it's not due until April 15, your three years starts running on April 15.
Amending for Refunds
If you're receiving a refund on your original return, wait until that return gets processed before submitting an amended return. For example, say that your original return entitled you to a $1,000 refund, but then you realize you forgot to claim a tax credit that entitles you to an extra $500 refund. Wait until the first one gets processed before filing the amended return. Otherwise, your additional refund could be further delayed by processing errors, which can be a pain to sort out with the IRS.
Amending for Additional Taxes
If you find an error that causes you to owe more taxes, filing an amended return -- and paying the additional taxes -- as soon as possible will stop additional interest and penalties from accruing. For example, say you find a mistake that means you owe an extra $2,000 in taxes. If you're filing the amended return one year after it was due, you also owe a year's worth of interest. However, if you act quickly enough and submit the amended return before your filing deadline, you won't owe any interest because it's considered to be filed on time. For example, suppose you filed your original return in February, but realized your mistake and filed the amended return before April 15. Since you amended and paid before your filing deadline, you won't owe any interest or penalties. Even if your amended return is processed first, the original return will eventually get processed, too, and when the IRS sorts it out you will have minimized your liability for interest and penalties because you filed the amended return sooner rather than later.
When you amend your return, it might get a little more scrutiny from the IRS and you might have your original return double-checked, too, according to Bankrate.com. You probably don't have to worry about the extra attention turning into a full-blown audit, however, as long as the IRS sees that you're doing your taxes correctly -- or trying to. Getting it right is the most important thing, even if it takes you several amended returns to do so.
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