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:
- What are the penalties for late taxes?
- What if I can’t pay what I owe?
- What if I didn’t file on the 15th?