Is it too late to get tax credits from previous years?

By Reagan Van Coutren, 2022 Get It Back Campaign Intern

You can file your federal taxes from a previous year for up to three years after the original due date (usually around April 15).  States may have different time frames for their acceptance of late tax returns. Check with your state’s Department of Revenue if you intend to file a state tax return for a previous year.

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Why would I want to file a late tax return?

You may want to file a prior year tax return to claim tax credits that you may have missed out on like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the Child Tax Credit (CTC), or stimulus checks. You also may need to file back taxes if you had too much money withheld from your paycheck.

Filing taxes for previous years can help reduce any penalties or interest you may owe if you were required to file taxes in previous years but did not. If you are eligible for tax credits in the future and don’t owe taxes, you may be able to get more money back.

Filing a past due tax return can also help you avoid tax liens, making it easier to protect your credit. Having prior year tax returns can also help with applications for loans and financial aid. When you apply for a loan, financial institutions typically need copies of filed tax returns.

If you do gig work or work for yourself, claiming self-employment income on a federal tax return also helps you build your Social Security benefits. When you work for someone else, your employer reports your earnings to the Social Security Administration. If you are self-employed, your income will not be reported if you don’t file a federal tax return. This means that you could miss out on Social Security or disability benefits in the future.

What happens if I file taxes late?

There is no penalty for filing taxes after the deadline if you are due a refund and don’t owe taxes. When you file your tax return, be sure to include any schedules or other forms required for different tax credits.

The IRS may charge fees for late filing and late payment if you owe taxes and file late. This means that if you are eligible for a tax credit, the amount of the credit may be reduced. The IRS offers payment plans to help you stay compliant. Learn more about the different fees the IRS charges and options for paying them.

How do I file a late return?

Your tax fling process will depend on whether you are filing a tax return for the first time, or you are amending a return. Either way, first gather documents about income you’ve received for the tax year you are filing for. Also, if you received any notices from the IRS, have those ready.

If you did not file taxes for a prior year, you will need to file all tax forms (including any schedules) for that year. You will file these forms in the same way as a regular, on-time return. Learn more about filing prior-year taxes.

If you filed taxes during a prior year but did not claim a tax credit, you will need to file what is called an amended return by filling out Form 1040X, “Amended US Individual Income Tax Return” for each year. If you are claiming an eligible child for tax credits, you will also need to include the Schedule EIC (for the EITC) or Schedule 8812 (for the CTC) when you file each amended return. You should not amend a return until after the IRS has processed your original tax return.

How long does it take to get my refund after filing taxes for a previous year?

It can take up to 21 days to receive your refund when you file a previous year tax return for the first time electronically. Amended returns, on the other hand, take up to six weeks if the return is mailed, or about two weeks if the return is filed electronically. Timeframes may change depending on what time of year you file. You can check the status of your return using the IRS’ Where’s My Refund? tool.

What do I need to know about the 2021 expanded EITC and the 2021 expanded Child Tax Credit?

To provide on-going relief due to COVID, the government passed historic expansions to tax credits for 2021 only. The 2021 expanded Child Tax Credit is worth up to $3,600 for each child under 6 years old, and $3,000 for each child between 6 and 17 years old. The 2021 expanded EITC is worth up to $1,500 for workers not raising children or up to $6,700 for workers raising children in their home.

If you were eligible for these credits and didn’t claim them, it’s not too late. If you missed out on these expansions, you can file your 2021 federal tax return by April 18, 2025, which is three years after the original due date.

Where can I get tax help?

There are resources available to help you file a prior year tax return. Some Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites have the ability, outside of the busy tax season, to help with past returns. Contact your local VITA sites to see if they can help. In addition, tax preparers at can help file past returns.



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