I Didn’t File Tax Returns for 10 Years. What Do I Do Now?

“Dear Jim,

I am embarrassed and ashamed that I’m stuck in my current situation, but in a nutshell here it is:

The last time I filed a tax return was roughly ten years ago. Prior to that, I had an amazing job, owned my home, and was moving toward getting married. Then everything fell apart.

I lost my job due to cutbacks, was forced to sell my home, fell into a deep depression and eventually the relationship fell apart.

I just sort of clammed up and didn’t take care of anything I should have. I eventually emptied my 401K, and was later hit with a 66K Federal Tax Lien, and a smaller 6K State Tax Lien.

In the last few years, I’ve slowly come out of my depression, have a steady job, and want to take care of things without having wages garnished to the point I can’t survive.

I can’t afford an expensive tax attorney, and the ads I see on TV for “IRS Tax Experts” make me leary.

Where do I go to find someone that can help me without being raked over the coals financially?

Thanks so much!!”

afraid alone

Let me encourage you to get this situation behind you.

Here is how you clear up several years of unfiled returns and potential balances owed.

  1. Understand what back years you are required to file. Normally, the IRS only requires the past six years. However, it may be in your advantage to file farther back if the IRS has already filed a return for you (called a substitute for return). If you do not have all of your information statements (W-2s, etc.) you can get them from the IRS for the past 10 years.
  2. File the required returns. Make sure you file them to the appropriate IRS unit. You will have to monitor the returns to make sure the IRS processes them correctly.
  3. While the returns are being processed, you can ascertain how much you owe – from the returns you just filed and the past balances. I suspect that many of the prior balances have expired as the IRS has a 10 year statute of limitations to collect on back taxes.
  4. You will determine your ability to pay the IRS and apply for the most appropriate option: installment agreement, not collectible status, or other options.
  5. You will need to apply for and follow through on your application until you reach agreement with the IRS.

Once you are in an agreement with the IRS, you need to complete the terms of the agreement and you will have all of this behind you.

The best advice I can give is to take action, stay proactive in solving your problem, and do not give up until you have an agreement.

As far as getting help, you should always look to a tax pro who you can trust. Each situation is different. Finding a local tax pro you can visit and consult throughout the process is important.

Do You Have a Question You'd Like Help With? Contact Debt Coach Damon Day. Click here to reach Damon.

A good consumer tip is to ask a tax pro to do the work in piecemeal. This will allow you to control your costs and get results at each step of the process. For example, you could: first, have a tax pro access your situation for a fee. Second, engage a professional tax return preparer to complete the required returns. Lastly, have an experienced tax pro complete the agreement with the IRS.

Let me know if I can point you in the right direction to get help.

Be persistent in this process.



Jim Buttonow is one of the resident debt experts here at GetOutOfDebt.org that helps people for free. Jim is a licensed CPA who spent 19 years with the IRS coordinating large compliance teams of IRS agents and specialized personnel. In the last 5 years, Jim has invented consumer and practitioner software and treatises on how to address many different tax issues. He has also represented many people before the IRS examination, collection, filing, and appeals functions. He currently assists taxpayers on an active pro bono tax practice aimed at serving people in need. He can be reached at IRSMind.com.

If you have a tax question you’d like to ask just use the online form. I’m happy to help you totally for free.

Jim Buttonow, CPA/CITP, practices in the area of IRS and State tax controversy. He has more than 29 years of experience in IRS practice and procedure. Reach Jim at jim@buttonowcpa.com or through his website www.buttonowcpa.com
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