While I recommend getting help from a tax professional to file a previous tax year’s return, I also understand that some may choose to brave the process on their own.

In the spirit of such independence, here are some tips for filing back taxes.

Take a deep breath

Though you may think the IRS is an evil organization, I assure you it is not. The IRS is not out to humiliate you.

Think of the IRS as what it is empirically, and perhaps you’ll be less fearful. The IRS is simply an agency that is tasked with enforcing tax laws and collecting tax revenue.

IRS agents will, in fact, be civil when you extend your hand to ask a question, file a form, or file back tax returns, regardless of what you’ve heard. So put on your bravest face, and get started.

Gather all the info you need before you begin

Think back to when you were in school. You had to do your homework in order to succeed.

By analogy, you need to ‘do your homework’ when it comes to back taxes. Look through your files, collecting all pertinent informational returns. Forms W-2 and 1099 are the most common. These returns have the numbers you’ll use when filling out your tax forms, the exact same way they function when you file your taxes normally.

If you happen to have misplaced your prior years’ informational returns, don’t worry. Simply go to the following IRS page: http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Get-Transcript.

  • Once there, select ‘Get Transcript Online,’ to digitally access all the information the IRS has on file for you for several years, including Forms W-2 and 1099. From there, verify your identity by filling out the form and answering a series of multiple choice questions about yourself. (These questions help to protect your privacy.)
  • If you get an error message during this process, there has most likely been a problem verifying your identity through information they have from credit bureaus. If this occurs, you may feel tempted to choose the second option on the website I provided above, which is ‘Get Transcript by Mail.’ However, I recommend instead using Form 4506-T at this link: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f4506t.pdf. This allows you to request information for more than one tax year in one fell swoop.
  • Once you have filled out this form, mail it and wait 5 to 10 business days to receive the information you requested.
  • One more thing to note about Form 4506-T: While the information you request will be identical to what the IRS has been sent by your employers, it will not be in the traditional form of a W-2 or 1099. The numbers will be in the form of a line-by-line transcript, so be aware.

Use the proper forms and follow the proper laws

This may sound weird, but in filing back taxes you’ll have to go back in time, figuratively of course.

I can’t stress this enough though: You must use both the forms, including instructions, and the laws as they were written during the pertinent tax year(s).

For example, if you didn’t file your tax return for Tax Year 2012, you’re going to have to find Form 1040 with a big ‘2012’ on the top of it, indicating that this is the exact form used for that tax year.

In other words, you can’t use Form 1040 for Tax Year 2014 in filing your 2012 taxes.

For convenience, here are links to Forms 1040, 1040A, and 1040EZ for Tax Years 2010-2013:

Form 1040

Form 1040A

Form 1040EZ

In addition to the ‘main’ 1040 form that applies to your back tax scenario, all accompanying forms and schedules also have to be in exact form for the year you’re filing.

For instance, if you have business deductions that have to be made and your filing back taxes for Tax Year 2010, you’ll have to use Schedule C with ‘2010’ written on top. You can’t mix and match forms for different tax years.

In this same vein, when you file back taxes for a given year, you have to use the specific tax laws as they existed and were written in that year. A simple example of what I’m talking about is the amount of the standard deduction, which generally goes up every year. Don’t try to take a single standard deduction of $6,200 when you file your 2010 back taxes, when the IRS only allowed $5,700 that year. The $6,200 figure applies for Tax Year 2014.

Send your taxes the proper way

Back taxes cannot be filed electronically outside a six month window of the April deadline for any given tax year. Therefore, if you’re like most that haven’t filed, you will have to send in your overdue returns using the postal system.

I recommend sending your tax returns individually, meaning one tax year per envelope, and also mailing it certified mail, return receipt requested.

You have to fill out both a certified mail receipt (the smaller dark green label with the barcode) and the domestic return receipt (the larger light green label). Certified mail entitles you to the signed return receipt indicating that the IRS did, in fact, receive your tax return.

This way, you have an added level of assurance that your back tax return reached the IRS’s proverbial hands. So while it’s not the time to panic, you shouldn’t take the unnecessary risk that your return has been lost in transit.

This may sound overly simple, but as a final note, make sure you address the envelope housing your tax return properly. A back tax return is sent to the same address as one filed on time for that specific tax year. My suggestion is check and double check the address because, again, you shouldn’t take chances at this point.

Let us help you

If all this sounds like too much to handle, Dino Tax Co is at your service. We are always willing, able, and eager to take any tax preparation burden off your shoulders, gladly hoisting it onto our own. So let us help you; we’re the beast deal in town (in case you haven’t heard).