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What If I Messed Up My Taxes?

Yesterday, I got a panicked call from a friend of mine who knows that I blog about personal finance. “I just filed my taxes online,” she said, “and I left out one of my W2s! What am I going to do?” It was a simple oversight–she had the W2, she just had been so concentrated on the other one that she forgot to enter any of the second form’s information.

We talked about the situation and I assured her that she’s not the first or last person in the history of the IRS to have done so. What she needs to do now is fill out a 1040X, preferably soon (see below on when to send it in).

Because the IRS does not take 1040X forms electronically, she’ll have to fill it out by hand or use a tax program and print it, then mail it in. It’s unlikely that she’ll need to go to a tax center such as H&R Block, as her return isn’t very complicated, she just made an error. (You don’t have to file amended returns if you made a calculation error, as the IRS will sort this out and inform you, but in her case she didn’t enter a lot of data to begin with.)

Not surprisingly, this was a panic-inducing situation for her at first. Nobody wants to be on the wrong side of the IRS. Our cultural imagination conjures up evil men in dark suits and sunglasses just waiting to take us off to jail or pillage our bank accounts. Sorry, IRS employees, it’s a cultural thing.

When Should I Send in My Amended Return?

Most sites agree that if you’re expecting a bigger refund once you file an amended return, you should wait until it initially comes through and then send in your amended return. You have 3 years in which to correct your return (huge errors may mean that auditors show up before then, so don’t draw it out for 3 years if you know you made a mistake). My advice is to fill out the paperwork right away and make your decisions about when to send it once you see whether you’re still getting a refund or whether you owe.

It will take the IRS a bit longer to process your 1040X than it does to process your 1040.

You can also call the IRS once you’ve filled out the 1040X to ask what you should do next and when you should send it in. I’m not a tax professional, so I don’t want to give specific advice on timing. But since I saw several warnings in my research (including from tax software websites) about sending amended returns in too soon, I wanted to add a caution. Please do your own research on this or call the IRS.

What Happens if I File an Amended Return?

If you have to amend your return and you’re panicking, take a moment to breathe. If your amended return is correct, the IRS will notice you but they probably won’t pay much attention as long as it matches up with your W2s and doesn’t have anything else to draw their attention.

If the IRS decides to audit you, don’t panic. Most people have to file 1040Xes because they left out something big or made a simple dumb mistake. It happens to all of us and you’re not a bad guy. Keep records of your 1040X, your original 1040, your W2s & 1099s, and anything else that provides documentation. You should be doing this anyway, for up to 7 years, but if you’re worried about an audit then this is your insurance. Answer their questions, own up that you made a mistake and explain that you fixed it, show them your records.

But as many people file amended returns for all kinds of reasons, don’t panic and expect to be audited just because you had to do one. You’ve got plenty of company.

Other tax questions you may be asking:

{ 3 trackbacks }

-> What Should I Do If I Can’t Pay My Taxes? What Options Do I Have? | Bible Money Matters
April 16, 2009 at 9:36 am
IRS - Late Filing Tax Return Penalties - Need Some Motivation?
April 16, 2009 at 10:24 am
Weekly Personal Finance Roundup: April 18, 2009 | Money Beagle
April 18, 2009 at 10:49 am

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Bible Money Matters April 16, 2009 at 9:36 am

I always get that feeling when filing that i’ve forgotten something. The only time I did forget something I actually didn’t figure it out, the government did. Apparently one year we forgot to pay taxes on unemployment income my wife brought in. We had to pay that back plus late fees.

Bible Money Matters’s last blog post: What Should I Do If I Can’t Pay My Taxes? What Options Do I Have?

calgirlfinance April 16, 2009 at 1:47 pm

Great post, Mrs. Micah.

I filed my taxes, then I received an amended W-2C on Monday, I was notified that I would receive this on Friday 4/10. However we put the new info into TurboTax and it didn’t change the amount owed. Do we still need to file an amended return? The W-2C had the amount that I contributed to the Roth 401K, so I don’t think it affects our tax liability.

mrsmicah April 16, 2009 at 2:18 pm

@Pete whoops! I see how it’d be easy to overlook that.

@Calgirl I sent you an e-mail with my thoughts, but my short answer is that you don’t have to scramble to send one in as soon as your return is processed since it’s not going to affect your actual tax liability. Since you’ve got 3 years to correct it, I’d find some time in the next 6 months (and preferably a couple months from now) to call the IRS and double-check with them. But I wouldn’t stress over getting it fixed right now.

Aryn April 16, 2009 at 6:07 pm

If she got a refund, the IRS will probably note the additional W-2 and send her a corrected form. They do match them up to returns- which I discovered while filing some taxes in the year I had an inheritance. The deceased’s employer had filed an incorrect W-2 and the IRS let me know before anyone else did. Just to be safe, she should see if her electronic filer can send a corrected return. Sometimes you can do that.

Aryn’s last blog post: The 10-10-10 Rule for Spending

ZemoG April 19, 2009 at 2:07 pm

After you file the return, you can not e-file a 1040x. If you used tax program from home it will allow you to amended your return. By the end of tax season the IRS may have all the information from the W2’s on their system. They will correct it or send you a notice.

Jacobson February 26, 2010 at 12:00 am

My wife and i got into a fight, real bad. She left and then filled her taxes “single” alone and it was accepted by irs. it’s has been a 2 weeks.
Now she feels bad, is scared. We have decided to fix it and amend the taxes (which will include my tax information)
We file the amended forms and mailed it ASAP.
We are ready to pay back IRS, the 1000 refund.
Are we going to be in trouble?

Angela May 8, 2011 at 4:02 pm

I need some advice: My friends father did my taxes. Ok, let me give you a little info about myself for 2010: I worked up until June of 2010, and got laid off, and was on unemployment all year, I’m still on it, so I got my W2 from my old job, and my W2 from unemployment at the end of January. Well, suppososedly 2009 had some kind of rebate for unemployment where you didn’t pay on the first couple thousand of unemployment’s taxes or something like that. He used a 2009 book for my 2010 taxes by accident. (The man is losing his mind or getting careless and lazy) It came out that I’m getting over $2,000! Which didn’t sound right at ALL, but he explained everything, rechecked everything and it DID come out right, that IS what it was supposed to be: if it was 2009! But it’s not, it’s 2010, and 2010 does not have that rebate. So now I have no idea what I’m getting back, WHEN I’m getting it (“Where’s My Refund” website won’t tell me anything because I don’t know the amount I’m getting) or if the IRS will even fix the problem, this man won’t give me my original W2’s back {Hes extremely overweight and ‘doesn’t feel good enough to go upstairs’, everytime I come over and ask for them), I don’t know what to do…Does anyone have any idea what to do or what is going to happen? I called a professional tax place and told them about this and they said the IRS will fix the problem themselves, also I told the guy that prepared my taxes what the tax place said, that he screwed them up and he mumbled something, incoherently, about possibly having to filing some kind of amendment (I know NOTHING about taxes, I can do BASIC taxes, with a 1040Ez for a single person, with one income. For example, I did my own federal for 2009 when I was working all year in 2009, I can’t do local or state, I don’t know how.) If anyone knows anything about all this federal tax stuff, can you please, please, please tell me what happened, or what’s going to happen, or what I should do? I didn’t even see the taxes after he filled everything out, he told me the amount I get back, I pre-signed the paper, so who knows? What if he put his bank account down so he could get it and I won’t? (I think he might of tried to do that with my 2007 taxes, because I gave him my bank account number to fill in and when I called wondering why it was so late, the IRS said the bank account number didn’t match my info so they sent me a paper check. I’m suspecting someone used their own account…they are kind of shady. I know I shouldn’t of gone through these people, but I had no choice, it was too late to figure them out myself, and I didn’t have the money to take it to a professional preparer.) Ok, ok…So if anyone can give me any answers I’d really really appreciate it beyond words!! Thank you, thank you!!!

Angela May 8, 2011 at 4:04 pm

^ Oh, and YES I did have taxes taken out of my unemployment compensation.

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