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I haven’t filed taxes for years, how far back do I have to file?

Tax season can be a stressful time for many, and it’s not uncommon for individuals and businesses to miss filing deadlines. But what happens if you’ve missed not just one, but several years of tax filings? This post delves into the world of back taxes, providing clarity on how far back you can go to file and what you can do to rectify past tax mistakes.

Understanding Back Taxes

Back taxes refer to any tax liabilities that haven’t been paid by the due date. Various reasons, from personal hardships to simple oversight, can lead to individuals and businesses finding themselves behind on their tax obligations.

Reasons for owing taxes can vary from a gambling addiction, to a severe illness such as cancer. People have been scammed out of their money and need to pay taxes on top of what they lost. Some people get too stressed out and bury their heads in the sand for years. These are real reasons people have owed – and while they vary ALL Taxpayers have the right to ask for expert help to resolve back taxes.

Tax Filling

Legal Time Frame for Filing Back Taxes

The IRS typically can only demand that taxpayers file back taxes for the last six years. In practice, in 2024 the IRS can only ask that taxpayers file tax returns going back to 2018. The statute of limitations for the IRS to audit tax returns is usually three years, but if you’ve omitted more than 25% of your income, that period extends to six years. It’s crucial to understand these timelines to assess your situation accurately.

A taxpayer reached out to me as he knew he was going to owe taxes. He was excited that he had finally gotten straight with the IRS and filed 23 years of tax returns going back to 1996! Little did he know that the IRS could only ask for the last six (6) years of tax returns. Filing unnecessary returns can only hurt you in most cases.

Consequences of Not Filing Taxes

Failing to file your taxes can lead to a range of penalties, from fines to interest on the unpaid amount, and in extreme cases, legal action. The failure-to-file penalty is usually the most severe penalty followed by the failure-to-pay penalty, emphasizing the importance of filing even if you can’t pay in full immediately.

I just had someone ask me why the IRS was being so mean to them. The IRS Revenue Officer was not giving them a break. The problem was they had not filed their taxes in about 8 years. The IRS had been asking them to file their tax returns for about two (2) years and had finally lost patience with them and garnished every available income stream. If you cannot show you are willing to start filing your tax returns – the IRS will eventually lose patience and it can cost you dearly.

How to File Back Taxes

Filing back taxes requires a few steps:

  • Gather Your Documents: Collect all necessary financial documents for the years you didn’t file, such as W-2s, 1099s, and any records of deductions or credits you’re eligible for.
  • Find the Right Forms: Tax forms and laws may change from year to year. Ensure you’re using the correct forms for each tax year you’re filing for.
  • State Taxes: Don’t forget about state taxes. The process can vary significantly depending on where you live.

If you do not have your information to file, the IRS does keep information reported to it going back 10 years. In 2024 you can get your Wage and Income Transcripts going back to 2014. The IRS does not keep track of state tax payments. If you need your income information going further back the Social Security Administration will have records reported to them going back further. You will have to contact the State you lived in at the time to get the State taxes you paid in a given year.

Options for Payment

If you owe money, the IRS offers payment plans, including installment agreements. In certain cases, you might qualify for an Offer in Compromise, allowing you to settle your tax debt for less than the full amount. Understanding these options and when to seek professional help can be crucial in navigating back tax filings. The IRS Fresh Start program and other initiatives can be confusing as it is often a PR campaign to get favorable press for the current administration – there are tweaks to the programs over the years but the basic options have remained fairly consistent.

It is very important that when you talk to a Tax Professional they review ALL of your options with you and let you decide. I had one elderly lady that I thought could qualify for a Hardship Status where she wouldn’t have to pay anything to the IRS. Her and her children wanted to do an Installment Agreement to pay the whole balance with time. That is what she was comfortable with.

Preventing Future Back Tax Issues

Staying organized and proactive with your taxes can prevent future issues. Regular check-ins with a tax professional (bookkeeper and/or CPA) can also help, especially if you have a complex tax situation. Reach out to us at Guardian Tax Law to get support with your taxes

It is ideal for business owners to have someone stay on top of their bookkeeping so they can regular see how their business is doing. If your books are in order it is easy to produce a regular Profit and Loss statement and see if your business is thriving, or where is it hurting. This is also more important than ever to make regular Estimated Tax Payments to make sure you do not owe taxes moving forward. The penalty for not making at least quarterly Estimated Tax Payments just increased 4x, from 1-2% to 8% in November of 2023.


Filing back taxes can seem daunting, but understanding your obligations and the available resources can make the process more manageable. If you’re behind on your taxes, it’s important to take action now to avoid further penalties and interest.

We have saved people thousands, and in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars through our Free Consultations. One elderly lady owed over $120,000.00. We could have charged her $4,500.00 or more to do an Offer In Compromise – but referred her to a CPA. She amended her return for less than $200.00 and wiped out the entire balance. 

Call Guardian Tax Law to understand your Rights and Options and the best way to resolve your case.