What Happens If I Miss the Tax Filing Deadline?

By Colin Dodds · February 12, 2024 · 10 minute read

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What Happens If I Miss the Tax Filing Deadline?

If you miss the annual deadline for filing your income taxes, you don’t necessarily need to panic. Missing that tax filing deadline may not mean a big penalty, and you may have more options than you think. However, it can be wise to take steps to remedy the situation as soon as possible.

For 2023 tax returns, the deadline is set for April 15, 2024. If you’re wondering what might happen if you miss that date, read on. You’ll gain insights and steps to take, including:

•   Reasons why someone may miss the tax-filing deadline

•   What are the penalties for missing the tax-filing due date

•   How tax extensions work

•   What deadlines mean if you’re owed money

•   How to get your taxes in on time

•   How to file a late tax return

When Is the Tax Filing Deadline?

Usually, the tax-filing deadline is April 15 for the prior year. So if you are filing your return for tax year 2023, April 15 of 2024 would be the due date.

Worth noting: If April 15 falls on a weekend or holiday, the next business day is used. In the case of 2023, April 15 fell on a Saturday, but on Monday, April 17, the Emancipation Day holiday was observed in Washington, D.C. For this reason, the federal tax-filing date was actually on Tuesday, April 18, that year.

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Reasons Why Someone Might Miss the Tax Filing Deadline

Turning in school papers, paying your credit card bill, applying for rebates: Life is full of deadlines that sometimes are missed. Missing the deadline for taxes is no exception. Here are some common reasons why people don’t file on time:

•   You think you don’t owe any money and figure, why bother to file?

•   You think you do owe money but can’t afford to pay your tax bill, so you avoid it entirely.

•   You are missing tax documents and didn’t have time to hunt for them or know where to find them.

•   You ran out of time to get organized and file or simply procrastinated.

•   You had trouble understanding taxes, got stressed out by the process, and didn’t get it finished.

•   You couldn’t afford a tax preparer but realized you didn’t know how to file on your own.

•   You got sick or injured or had a family emergency that interfered with filing.

•   You had a change in status (i.e., were in the middle of a divorce or became widowed) and didn’t know how to file in those new circumstances.

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Are There Penalties for Missed Tax-Filing Deadlines?

“What happens if I miss the tax deadline?” you may wonder. The answer is: It can cost you. For individuals, the IRS can levy penalties for a few infractions related to the annual tax filing deadline. Here’s a closer look:

The most common punishment for this offense is a late payment penalty that’s equal to 0.5% of the money owed. But it’s important to be aware of these finer points:

•   The IRS can penalize a taxpayer for “failure to file,” which occurs when a person fails to file their tax return by the appropriate April date or by the date specified if the person requests and receives an extension. The IRS can levy a penalty of 5% of the taxes owed per month for each month that the taxes are owed after the April filing deadline passes if you didn’t get an extension. This hits a cap of 25% after five months and can’t go any higher.

•   Another infraction when missing the tax deadline is “failure to pay.” This occurs when a taxpayer doesn’t pay the money they owe on their tax return, even if they file on time. The most common punishment for this offense is a late payment penalty that’s equal to 0.5% of the money owed. That may not sound like much, but it’s due every single month, until the tax is paid in full. And that penalty can be as much as 25% of the overdue taxes.

•   What if both “failure to pay” and “failure to file” penalties are applied in the same month? In this case, the “failure to file” penalty will be lowered by the sum of the “failure to pay” penalty applied that month.

•   The IRS can also penalize taxpayers for failure to pay estimated taxes over the course of a year. The penalty will be calculated based on the amount of the underpayment, how long the taxes were left unpaid, and the interest rate the IRS charges.

•   Another reason the IRS may charge a penalty is if your check to the government bounces. You will likely be assessed an additional 2% on the amount owed to the government.

One last note: You may wonder what happens if you file just a day or two late. It does matter! Even a single day late counts against you; the IRS takes deadlines very seriously.

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How Do Extensions Work?

There are years when completing your taxes by the April deadline is just too much to accomplish. Preparing for tax season and completing a return isn’t always simple. As a taxpayer’s financial life evolves, filing can become quite complex and time-consuming. And even if you use a professional tax-preparer, April can be an extremely hectic time for them, and they may not be able to fit you in before the big deadline.

So what happens if you’re missing the tax deadline? Don’t just sit back. This is when an extension may come in handy.

•   The way to get one is to file an IRS Form 4868 , which is an application for permission to take an extra six months (until October) to file your taxes. Taxpayers, however, can’t be late when requesting the extension. You have to submit the form by the April deadline.

•   You can file for an extension online or by mail.

•   An extension only applies to filing your return. It’s important to note that you still have to send the IRS a check for your estimated taxes by April 15 or whatever the due date is in a given year.

•   If you take, say, another month to file the complete return and you owe more than you estimated on Form 4868 in April, you may face penalties for the shortfall.

•   Those penalties will typically grow with each month you take to file, even with the extension.

•   If you overestimate the taxes you owe and pay too much by the April deadline, then you’ll receive a refund after you eventually file.

What Deadlines Mean If You’re Owed Money

All of this discussion about deadlines and penalties ignores one issue: What does all of this mean if you expect to get money back from the government in the form of a tax refund?

A tax refund happens if you overpay your taxes over the course of a year, whether through your regular paycheck deductions, quarterly payments, or other means. When you file your return, it’s a chance to get that money back. Tax refunds are quite common — in terms of 2022 returns filed in 2023, the IRS issued 237.8 million refunds to individuals, totaling about $512 billion.

All of the deadlines and penalties described so far apply to anyone who owes money to the IRS in a given year. For taxpayers who are owed money by the government, the rules are different. Some specifics:

•   There is no late-filing fee for taxpayers who file returns requesting a refund from prior years.

•   The annual tax filing deadlines have a different significance for people who will receive a refund check from the IRS. For these taxpayers, there’s a real incentive to file taxes ahead of the deadline. The sooner you file, the sooner you’re likely to receive your refund. The IRS says it issues roughly 90% of its refunds in under three weeks, though it warns that some returns require additional review and may take longer as a result.

•   After a return is three years overdue, the IRS will no longer pay that money. The good news is that there is no late-filing fee for taxpayers who file returns requesting a refund from prior years.

It may seem unlikely that people would leave money unclaimed, but consider this: The IRS announced that it had more than $1.5 billion in unclaimed income tax refunds due to individual taxpayers who never got around to filing their federal income tax returns in 2019. Those unclaimed funds eventually become property of the U.S. Treasury.

So, as you see, it could definitely pay to file that return.

Tips for Filing a Late Tax Return

If you missed the tax filing deadline or know that’s going to happen, here’s advice:

•   You can file the IRS Form 4868 requesting an extension by the tax filing deadline. Even if you do file for a tax extension, however, know that any funds owed are still due by the April date, but you may be able to send in the actual return later.

•   Always file your return as soon as possible. You may want to contact a tax professional to assist you with this, or you can reach out to the IRS for help. You might want to call the IRS Tax Help Line at 1-800-829-1040 or visit your local IRS office.

•   If you owe money but can’t pay it all at once, pay as much as you can, as soon as you can, and look into available options, such as payment plans with the IRS. These can give you an extended timeframe in which to pay what you owe. You may want to consult the IRS’ online Payment Plan tool.

Tips for Getting Your Taxes in on Time

Now that you’ve read about how complicated it can be if you miss the tax filing deadline, here are a few tips to help you get those returns in on time:

•   Get organized early. Gather all the records you’ll need to file (such as a W-2) as they become available.

•   Check against last year’s return to see if there were any forms you had then (say, a Form 1099 reflecting interest on a bank account) that you don’t have now. Track down anything that’s missing.

•   Create or log into an account at IRS.gov to make tracking your progress easier. You can make payments there, too.

•   Make sure you’ve withheld enough money so that you don’t owe too much when you file. If you do wind up having to pay a significant amount, develop a plan early to pay it on time or as close to on time as possible.

•   Know your banking details or open a bank account so that you can use direct deposit, which is usually the fastest way to get a refund.

The Takeaway

Life happens: Sometimes, despite your best intentions, deadlines get missed. When that happens with tax filing, though, there can be some very real financial penalties involved. That’s why it’s important to know when your tax returns are due and then do everything in your power to file on time.

If you can’t get your return finished by Tax Day in mid-April, know the right moves to request an extension and possibly look into a payment plan for money owed that you can’t pay all at once. Having your bank account information handy, especially when you are due a refund, can be valuable.

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When is the tax deadline?

The deadline for tax-filing is usually April 15 for the previous year’s taxes. However, if that date falls on a weekend or holiday, it will move forward by up to a few days.

How long are the tax extensions given if I miss the tax deadline?

The usual tax extension is six months. However, this is a longer timeline to file your return. Funds owed are still due in April. It can be wise to pay as much as possible towards your total debt to the IRS by Tax Day, and then send the remainder as soon as possible, perhaps via a payment plan with the IRS.

What happens if you miss the tax deadline by one day?

The IRS takes deadlines seriously. For every month that you are late filing your return, you will be assessed a penalty on the total amount owed. That wording of “a month” does not mean the first 30 days after the deadline are a kind of freebie during which you can send in your return and any payment due without penalty. Rather, being even a single day late puts you into that “one month” late category.

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