Tax Blog

Unfiled Taxes: What to Do If You Miss the Tax Filing Deadline 2023

If you’ve missed the tax filing deadline 2023, you’re likely feeling a mix of stress and uncertainty. Whether you’re expecting a refund or owe money to the IRS, unfiled taxes can lead to complications. This post will walk you through the steps you need to take to resolve your unfiled taxes and minimize penalties.

Immediate Actions for Unfiled Taxes

How do I resolve unfiled taxes?

1. File an Extension

Why It’s Important: Filing an extension is the first line of defense when you’ve missed the tax deadline. It provides you with additional time—usually up to six months—to gather all necessary documents and information to complete an accurate tax return.

How to Do It: To request an extension for filing your federal income tax return, you’ll need to submit Form 4868. This can be done electronically or via mail. Don’t forget about your state taxes. Each state has its own procedure for filing an extension, so make sure to check the specific requirements for your state.

What to Watch Out For: An extension to file is not an extension to pay. You are still expected to make an estimated payment of what you owe to avoid or reduce late payment penalties.

2. Make an Estimated Payment

Why It’s Important: Making an estimated payment as soon as possible helps to minimize the accrual of interest and late payment penalties. The IRS charges interest on the unpaid balance, which compounds daily.

How to Do It: Use last year’s tax return as a guide to estimate your current tax liability. The IRS offers multiple payment methods, including direct pay, debit or credit cards.

What to Watch Out For: If you overestimate your tax liability and make a larger payment, the excess amount will be refunded after you file your actual tax return. Conversely, if you underestimate, you’ll still have to pay interest on the amount you failed to pay initially, but you’ll at least avoid the estimated payment penalty.

3. Complete Your Tax Return

Why It’s Important: Completing and filing your tax return by the extended deadline ensures that you comply with IRS regulations and avoid the hefty “Failure to File” penalty, which can be much more severe than the “Failure to Pay” penalty.

How to Do It: The IRS encourages taxpayers to e-file their returns. It’s faster, more secure, and usually more accurate than paper filing. Use tax preparation software to guide you through the complexities of tax codes and deductions.

What to Watch Out For: Ensure all information is accurate to avoid future complications or an audit. After e-filing, you’ll receive a confirmation that your return has been received and accepted. Keep this for your records.

Payment Options for Unfiled Taxes

Will the IRS work with you on unfiled taxes?

When you’re facing unfiled taxes and can’t pay your tax bill in full, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. However, the IRS offers several payment options designed to help taxpayers in various financial situations. Understanding these options can help you make an informed decision and minimize additional penalties and interest.

1. Payment Extension

Why It’s Important: A payment extension allows you a brief respite—up to 120 days—to pay your tax bill in full without setting up a more formal installment agreement. This is a good option if you expect to have the necessary funds within a few months.

How to Do It: You can apply for a short-term payment extension through the IRS Online Payment Agreement application. Alternatively, you can call the IRS to request an extension.

What to Watch Out For: Even with an extension, interest and late-payment penalties will continue to accrue until the tax is paid in full. You’re generally eligible for a payment extension if you owe less than $100,000 in combined tax, penalties, and interest.

2. Installment Agreement

Why It’s Important: An installment agreement allows you to make monthly payments over an extended period, making it easier to manage larger tax debts without crippling your finances.

How to Do It: To apply for an installment agreement, you’ll need to fill out IRS Form 9465, which can be submitted online or by mail. Once approved, you can make your monthly payments via direct debit, check, or money order.

What to Watch Out For: There is a setup fee for installment agreements, which varies depending on how you choose to make your payments. Interest and penalties will continue to accrue on the unpaid portion of your debt throughout the duration of the installment agreement.

3. Offer in Compromise

Why It’s Important: An Offer in Compromise (OIC) allows you to settle your tax debt for less than the full amount you owe. This is a viable option only in extreme cases where paying the full tax liability would cause significant financial hardship or if the IRS will never be able to collect it from you.

How to Do It: Before applying, you must meet specific eligibility criteria, which can be checked using the IRS’s Offer in Compromise Pre-Qualifier tool. If eligible, you’ll need to submit Form 656, the Offer in Compromise application, along with a detailed financial statement.

What to Watch Out For: There’s a non-refundable application fee, and initial payments are generally non-refundable as well. Given the complexity of an OIC, it’s highly advisable to consult a tax attorney to guide you through the process. 

Understanding Penalties for Unfiled Taxes

What happens if you don’t file taxes?

1. Failure to File Penalty

Why It’s Important: The Failure to File penalty is one of the most severe penalties imposed by the IRS. It’s designed to encourage taxpayers to file their tax returns on time, even if they can’t pay the full amount owed.

How It’s Calculated: Rate: The penalty is assessed at a rate of 5% of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month that the tax return is late.

Cap: The penalty can accumulate up to a maximum of 25% of your unpaid taxes.

What to Watch Out For: If your return is more than 60 days late, the minimum penalty is either $435 or 100% of the unpaid tax, whichever is smaller.

Exceptions: The IRS may waive this penalty if you can show a “reasonable cause” for not filing on time, such as a natural disaster, serious illness, or other extenuating circumstances.

2. Failure to Pay Penalty

Why It’s Important: The Failure to Pay penalty is imposed to encourage timely payment of taxes. While less severe than the Failure to File penalty, it can still add up over time and exacerbate your financial burden.

How It’s Calculated: This penalty is assessed at a rate of 0.5% of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month the payment is late.

Cap: Like the Failure to File penalty, this one also caps at 25% of your unpaid taxes.

What to Watch Out For: In addition to the penalty, interest accrues on the unpaid amount from the due date until the tax is paid in full.

Installment Plans: If you enter into an installment agreement, the penalty rate may be reduced.

3. Concurrent Penalties: When Both Apply

How It Works: If you incur both the Failure to File and Failure to Pay penalties in the same month, the IRS reduces the Failure to File penalty by the amount of the Failure to Pay penalty for that month.

What to Watch Out For: Even with the reduction, you could still face a substantial financial burden. The total penalty for both failing to file and pay can be quite significant over time.

Prioritization: If you’re facing both penalties, it’s usually more cost-effective to address the Failure to File penalty first, as it is the more substantial of the two.

How to Avoid Additional Penalties

1. File Even If You Can’t Pay

Why It’s Important: The Failure to File penalty is one of the most punitive penalties levied by the IRS. By filing your tax return on time—even if you can’t pay—you avoid this penalty and significantly reduce your overall financial liability.

How to Do It: Again, the IRS recommends e-filing as it’s faster and generally more accurate. You’ll also receive a confirmation that your return has been received. If you prefer or if it’s too late to e-file, you can also file a paper return. Make sure to send it via certified mail to have proof of the date you mailed it.

What to Watch Out For: If you can’t file by the deadline, make sure to file for an extension. However, remember that an extension to file is not an extension to pay. Along with your return, make an estimated payment of what you can afford to reduce any Failure to Pay penalties.

2. Negotiate with the IRS

Why It’s Important: The IRS is often willing to work with taxpayers who show a willingness to resolve their tax obligations. Negotiating with the IRS can lead to more manageable payment terms and may result in the reduction or abatement of certain penalties.

How to Do It: After filing your return, contact the IRS as soon as possible to discuss your situation. The sooner you initiate the conversation, the more options you’ll have. Discuss the possibility of setting up an installment agreement or obtaining a short-term payment extension.

What to Watch Out For: Be prepared to provide financial statements and other documentation to prove your inability to pay the full amount. Given the complexities of tax law and IRS procedures, consider hiring a tax professional to negotiate on your behalf.

What Happens When You Miss the Extension Deadline?

How do I file late or old tax returns?

Consequences of Missing the Extension Deadline

Additional Penalties: If you haven’t filed your tax return by the end of the extension period, the Failure to File penalty continues to accrue, reaching up to 25% of your unpaid taxes. Similarly, the Failure to Pay penalty continues to accumulate, also up to a maximum of 25% of your unpaid taxes.

Accruing Interest: The IRS calculates interest daily on your unpaid balance, including any penalties. The interest compounds from the original due date of the tax return, not from the end of the extension period. This means the longer you wait, the more you’ll owe.

Immediate Actions to Take If You Owe Back Tax

File Your Tax Return ASAP: Don’t Delay. The longer you wait to file, the higher your penalties and interest will be. File your tax return as soon as possible to stop the Failure to File penalty from increasing.

Partial Payment: If possible, make a partial payment to reduce the Failure to Pay penalty and interest.

Contact the IRS: Contact the IRS immediately to discuss your situation and explore any remaining options for payment plans or other relief.

The IRS can take collection actions, including garnishing wages or seizing assets, to recover the unpaid taxes. While rare for simple cases of unfiled taxes, repeated failure to file or pay could even lead to criminal charges.

When to Seek Professional Help for Back and Unfiled Taxes

Dealing with back and unfiled taxes can be a complex and stressful endeavor. While some situations can be resolved independently, there are instances where seeking professional help is not just advisable but essential. 

Indicators You Need Professional Help

Complexity of Your Case

Multiple Years of Unfiled Taxes: If you have several years of unfiled tax returns, the situation becomes exponentially more complicated.

High Tax Liability: If you owe a significant amount in back taxes, penalties, and interest, professional guidance can be invaluable.

Tax Liens or Levies: If the IRS has taken or is threatening to take collection actions like liens or levies, you need expert intervention.

Criminal Investigation: In extreme cases, failure to file or pay taxes can lead to criminal charges. Immediate legal counsel is crucial in such scenarios.

Benefits of Professional Help

Expert Guidance

Navigating IRS Procedures: Tax professionals understand the intricacies of IRS protocols and can guide you through the maze of forms, deadlines, and requirements.

Strategic Planning: A tax attorney can help you develop a strategy for resolving your tax issues in the most financially advantageous way.

Negotiation and Representation

Dealing with the IRS: A tax professional can negotiate with the IRS on your behalf, potentially reducing penalties and setting up manageable payment plans.

Legal Representation: Should your case escalate to legal proceedings, a tax attorney can represent you in court, providing expertise that could be pivotal to your case.

How to Choose a Tax Professional

Credentials and Experience

Specialization: Look for professionals who specialize in tax resolution and have experience dealing with cases similar to yours.

Track Record: Research their success rate in resolving tax issues and read reviews or ask for references.


Initial Meeting: Many tax professionals offer a free initial consultation to assess your situation and propose a course of action.

Fee Structure: Understand their fee structure, including any retainer fees, hourly rates, or flat fees for specific services.


Unfiled taxes are a serious matter that can lead to a host of financial and legal complications. However, the situation is far from insurmountable. By taking immediate, informed action, you can significantly mitigate the adverse consequences and set yourself on a path toward resolution. Here’s a recap and some final thoughts:

The Importance of Immediate Action

Time is of the essence when dealing with unfiled taxes. The longer you wait to address the issue, the more penalties, interest, and other consequences will accrue, exacerbating an already challenging financial situation. Immediate action, such as filing an extension or making an estimated payment, can halt or reduce some of these penalties.

Understanding Your Options

Whether you’re facing a one-time oversight or multiple years of unfiled returns, you need to understand your options. From short-term payment extensions and installment agreements to more complex solutions like an Offer in Compromise, various avenues are available to you. Each comes with its own set of procedures, benefits, and drawbacks, so careful consideration and, possibly, professional advice are key.

The Value of Professional Guidance

For complex cases, especially those involving significant amounts of money or legal actions like liens and levies, professional help is often the answer. Tax attorneys and other tax professionals can provide expert guidance, negotiate with the IRS on your behalf, and even represent you in court if necessary. Their expertise can be the difference between a manageable resolution and a financial disaster. Take advantage of a free consultation and learn your options.

Final Thoughts

Unfiled returns are a daunting issue, but they don’t have to spell financial ruin. The key to navigating this challenging situation is immediate action and a thorough understanding of your options. Whether you choose to handle the matter yourself or seek professional guidance, the first step is always to confront the issue head-on. By doing so, you take control of your financial future and open the door to resolving your tax obligations in the most efficient and least punitive way possible.

Call us today for a free consultation. 312-345-5440.