Tips for Filing Multiple-Year Tax Returns

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Citizens or residents of the United States and Puerto Rico must file a federal income tax return for all years of earned and unearned income from all sources anywhere in the world. Ignorance of this law is not an excuse to skip the filing of your tax returns. If you have some unfiled income tax returns, it is never too late to voluntarily prepare and file them.


Vital Information

The IRS Tax Code says you must file your income tax return each year by April 15. You will need to find all paperwork for the years you are filing. Of special importance are your old W-2s and Form 1099s. If you cannot locate these income documents, you have two options. Call the IRS at (866) 681-4271 and request income data for the years you are filing. Alternatively, you can use Form 4852 as a substitute and estimate your income for those years.

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Preparation begins with the earliest year you are filing. Therefore, you need the tax forms and instructions that relate to that year. These are on the IRS website (, from a local tax firm or at your local IRS office. Claim the correct number of exemptions, the appropriate credits for that year as well as your itemized deductions. If you have no support documents for these itemized items, then it is best to take the standard deduction for the tax year at hand.


Consider the Tax Code

The Tax Code is complex and it is best to consult a tax attorney if there is any possibility that you might owe money to the government. Remember, people who owe the government money will also be responsible for penalties and interest from the deadline for that particular tax year. This could accumulate into a very large amount of money and you would be wise to seek a professional to represent you.

If you are still confident that you can do this on your own, it is best to request an installment agreement when you file the tax returns. This will allow you to make monthly payments until your balance comes down to zero.


Never Too Late

It is never too late to file a return. The longer you wait, the higher the penalties and interest will build. If the IRS notifies you to file your back taxes, you will lose any negotiation advantage that would be yours if you file voluntarily. Another point to keep in mind is that the IRS can file tax charges against you if they track you down and contact you first.

Repeat the same process outlined above as you complete each year coming forward until you are current. Now you can file your multiple-year tax returns. It is not necessary to send each one separately. They can be boxed together and sent as a single mailing to the address listed in the IRS request for you to file back taxes.


If you did not receive a communication from the IRS, the group of multiple year tax returns should go to the IRS address where you normally would file your returns. A list of those mailing addresses appears at the IRS website as well as in the instructions for each year's return. Once everything about your multiple-year tax filings has been resolved, it is best to make a pledge to yourself to be an early filer in the future.