File Late Taxes: A No-Nonsense Guide

It’s impossible not to hear about clever tax strategies that let you keep more of your hard-earned money, but anyone who has dealt with taxes for a while knows: the cleverest tax strategy of all is to stay out of trouble with the IRS, and, if you’re in trouble, to get out as soon as possible.

It’s easy to find yourself behind on your taxes: you might have been overwhelmed by other things, you might not have had the money to pay, you might have been missing the proper forms, or you might have thought that you didn’t need to. Unfortunately, the IRS doesn’t judge your reasons for not filing — they just want you to file your past tax returns as soon as possible.

There’s a bright side, of course. Most people who file past year taxes end up owing little or no money, and are, in fact, more likely than average to get a refund. If you do owe money, getting in touch with the IRS is the fastest way to make the fees stop accumulating. You may even qualify for a payment plan that breaks your tax liability into manageable monthly installments.

So what can you do? Here’s how to file a 2010 or 2011 tax return.

Unlike traditional taxes, the IRS doesn’t allow you to e-file late taxes. Fortunately, there’s an easy way around this. When you want to file past year taxes online, you can do most of the work at your computer, and just print out and mail the result.

There are a few important steps to take before you file past year taxes:

  1. First, get as much information from the IRS as you can ahead of time. For example, if you’re trying to file 2010 taxes, get your 2009 and 2011 tax returns, if you’re able. You can ask the IRS for them, or order them online.
  2. Next, get a hold of all of the financial records you have from the year in question. That means any bank statements, employer tax forms, brokerage statements, records of property purchases and sales, etc., as you can find. Often, having the right information on hand is the difference between finishing up your taxes in minutes or spending months trying to file.
  3. Pick out a reputable, high-quality site that will allow you to file 2011 taxes online. You’ll want to select a site that has a full range of offerings, including a help system focused on late filing. With a top-tier site like PriorTax you won’t have to worry about wading through those old 2011 tax forms. The powerful tax application will take care of everything and the free live help will be there if you have a question.

Once you’ve done this, there rest of the process should be pretty easy. You can visit the site you’ve chosen, and they will guide you step-by-step through the filing process.

Here are some quick tips to make things go as smoothly as possible:

  • Don’t wait to start the filing process until you’re sure you can pay the money you will owe. Not only is the failure-to-file penalty more severe than the failure-to-pay penalty, but the IRS is often willing to set up payment plans for past year tax payers.
  • Remember to get all the information you will need. It’s best to get your W-4 or 1099, and then start the filing process with those. If you need more information after that, it can take a while to get it.
  • Take advantage of the extra features of the site you use: FAQs, live help, tax glossaries, and other tools can make the whole process much less confusing.
  • Don’t panic: once you start filing your 2010 or 2011 taxes online, the worst is over. It can be a long and tedious process (though it isn’t always!), but just getting started is often the toughest part.

As the deadline to file 2012 taxes approaches, it’s also a good time to look into filing 2008 taxes, filing 2009 taxes, filing 2010 taxes, or filing 2011 taxes as well.

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