You may not have filed your taxes for a variety of reasons: maybe you endured personal or business hardship or you were merely forgetful. Not filing your taxes is a crime called tax evasion. Tax evasion is prosecuted by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and can have hefty penalties associated with it.

Can I File Now, If I Have Not Filed in a Long Time?

Yes. If you have not filed your taxes in a long time, you should contact a tax attorney and try to file all your taxes. It is not the policy of the IRS to prosecute you if you made a mistake or if your tax return was lost. There are ways that you can defend a charge of tax evasion. 

If you have not filed taxes in a long time, you should know:

The Good News

  • The IRS is less likely to prosecute you for failing to pay your taxes if you voluntarily come forward before they contact you and arrange to pay the taxes and any penalties that you owe.
  • Generally, the IRS does not enforce the filing of tax returns that are older than 6 years.
  • If you cooperate with the IRS, you are less likely to be prosecuted.
  • The IRS may owe you money.
  • You may be able to negotiate a settlement with the IRS, depending on your ability to pay. This could significantly diminish your overall tax debt.
  • If you go to a tax professional, you may not have to deal directly with the IRS.
  • If you have lost or misplaced old tax documents such as your past W-2's and 1099s, a tax professional should be able to obtain these documents.
  • If you do owe taxes, you can probably work out an installment plan with the IRS to pay off your debt.
  • The IRS may accept reasonable estimates of charitable contributions, medical expenses, and other deductions.
  • The entire process of clearing up your nonfiling status could take as little as a few weeks, depending on how complicated your situation may be.
  • The IRS is more likely to prosecute you if you derive your income from illegal sources. 

The Not-So-Good News

  • The IRS does not have to prove the exact amount you owe to convict you of a tax crime.
  • The IRS can collect taxes, interest, and penalties for all of the taxes you have owed over the years, even beyond 6 years.
  • The IRS has programs in place to identify nonfilers.
  • The filing of a return starts the audit and collection time limits.
  • The IRS is more likely to prosecute you if your behavior has been blatantly fraudulent. That is, if you have been repeatedly contacted by the IRS about your non-filing status and you continue to fail to file year after year, you are more likely to be prosecuted.

Do I Need a Tax Attorney?

If you don’t know what to do if you have not filed taxes in years, don’t panic. There may be some options available for your relief. You may wish to hire a tax lawyer for advice. A knowledgeable tax attorney will be able to advise you of how you can assess your tax debts and communicate with the IRS on your behalf to ensure that your case is resolved with your best interests in mind.