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Can You File Your Taxes Late if You Don’t Owe?

Written by Nickel - 5 Comments

Can You File Your Taxes Late if You Don't Owe?

I’ve received a couple of last minute questions from readers about whether or not you need to file your taxes on time if you don’t owe anything. Interestingly, the answer is “no” — here’s why…

All relevant penalties (for both underpayment and failure to file) are based on the amount owed. In the case of failure to file, it’s typically 5% of your unpaid taxes per month (or portion thereof) after the deadline that they receive your return, topping out at 25%. If you file on time but pay too little, you’ll face a penalty of 0.5%/month of the amount due (plus interest).

So… If the IRS owes you money, there’s actually no need to file on time. You’ll need to file no later than April 15, 2015 to claim your refund (after that it’s forfeited) but you won’t be penalized for filing late.

This isn’t to say that you should go ahead and file late. After all, that’s your money. You might as well claim it as soon as possible. And don’t forget the possibility that you’re mistaken, and you actually do owe taxes. In that case, you may unwittingly subject yourself to the wrath of the IRS.

If you want to be on the safe side, you should at least request an extension and then sort things out after the deadline.

Published on April 17th, 2012
Modified on April 27th, 2012 - 5 Comments
Filed under: Taxes

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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5 Responses to “Can You File Your Taxes Late if You Don’t Owe?”

  1. 1
    cs Says:

    Would you get interest on your refunds if you file late and you are expecting refunds?
    I know that if you amended your returns and are getting more refunds, IRS will pay you interest on top of refunds!

  2. 2
    Bucky Says:

    wow, good info. I thought you had to file an extension.

  3. 3
    Nickel Says:

    Bucky: Well, you probably should file an extension just to be on the safe side, but assuming that you really don’t owe anything, then your penalty will be $0 so you can get away with it.

  4. 4
    Nickel Says:

    cs: Good question. I don’t think you’ll earn any interest from doing this. It would be nice if you did, as they seem to pay higher than market rates.

  5. 5
    Pat Says:

    My brother didnt file his 2011 tax. It is only income and nothing else to report. Which form should I use to fill it out for him? I am in Massachusetts. So I will have to do a State form as well.

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