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What happens if you file taxes late?

Key takeaways

  • If you miss the tax-filing deadline and owe taxes, you may be on the hook for penalties and interest on any unpaid balance.
  • If you don't file your taxes on time but don't owe money, you won't face penalties. However, you may delay or miss out on a potential refund.

You didn't intend for it to happen. But suddenly it's mid-April and you've missed the tax-filing deadline. Here's what may happen next if you file your taxes late. (PS: State and local deadlines may vary, so check with the relevant agencies to determine the impact of filing late.)

What happens if you file taxes late?

The ramifications of missing the federal income tax deadline depend on whether you owe the IRS money, they owe you, or you can call it even.

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If you owe taxes

If you haven't settled your tab with Uncle Sam by Tax Day, your bill will likely keep growing as penalties and interest pile on.

First, you may face a failure-to-file penalty. This is equal to 5% of the taxes you haven't paid, charged monthly for up to 5 months. If you're more than 60 days late, the minimum penalty is the smaller of 100% of the taxes you owe or $485.

You could also get hit with a failure-to-pay penalty. This one is assessed at the smaller rate of 0.5% of your unpaid taxes, but it's reapplied each month until you max out at 25% of your unpaid balance. If you owe both penalties in a given month, the failure-to-file penalty is reduced so that you are not paying more than 5% in penalties each month.

In addition to the penalties above, you likely will also be charged daily interest on what you owe in taxes. This rate is updated quarterly but is generally the federal short-term rate plus 3%. Unpaid penalties may be charged interest in addition to interest that balances accrue.

If you give the IRS the cold shoulder on your unpaid taxes, it may raise penalty rates over time and put liens on, or repossess, your possessions.

If you don't owe taxes

If you don't owe taxes, you won't face any penalties for not filing your tax return. But you may still want to file a tax return for two reasons:

  • You could be owed a refund. Filing your tax return gives you the opportunity to claim credits and deductions you're eligible for, as well as make sure you didn't overpay taxes throughout the year, which may lead to you receiving money back from the government. You may still be able to claim a refund if you file late—but you typically have to do so within 3 years of when your tax return was originally due.
  • The IRS may not have accurate income data for you. In the short term, this may impact the kinds of financial aid you receive from colleges or loans you're eligible for, among other financial services. Longer term, it may lead to lower Social Security payments, specifically for those who are self-employed.

What can you do if you have to file your taxes late?

If you foresee you won't be able to get your federal tax return in by Tax Day (April 15, 2024, or April 17, 2024 if you live in Maine or Massachusetts), you can ask the IRS for extra time. This extension typically gives another 6 months—until October 15, 2024, for 2023 income taxes—to file your tax return. It doesn't, however, impact how long you have to pay your taxes. Payment is still due by Tax Day for income earned in 2023. Anything you have not paid by then you may start running up the failure-to-pay penalties and interest described above until you've paid in full.

If you can't afford to pay everything you owe by the deadline, you might consider a payment plan, which may decrease the penalties you face. Both short-term and long-term plans are available and can be requested online by completing the Online Payment Agreement Application, through the mail by filling out Form 9465 (Installment Agreement Request), or by phone by calling the phone number on your balance notice.

Those who can't pay what they owe in taxes may be able to settle for less if they request an Offer in Compromise (OIC). Check your eligibility with the IRS's OIC Pre-Qualifier tool and then you can complete the application package as instructed in the Form 656 Booklet. If you can't afford to pay any of your tax debt, you can see if you can delay collection by calling the phone number on your collection notice.

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This information is intended to be educational and is not tailored to the investment needs of any specific investor.

Fidelity does not provide legal or tax advice. The information herein is general and educational in nature and should not be considered legal or tax advice. Tax laws and regulations are complex and subject to change, which can materially impact investment results. Fidelity cannot guarantee that the information herein is accurate, complete, or timely. Fidelity makes no warranties with regard to such information or results obtained by its use, and disclaims any liability arising out of your use of, or any tax position taken in reliance on, such information. Consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific situation.

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