Do I really have to file a tax return?

You may wonder if you in fact can slip thru the cracks by not filing a tax return. After all, the IRS has to handle the entire population of the US, over 300 million people, plus corporate tax returns.

After considering how disorganized many government agencies can be, it might be tempting to just not file and see what happens.

The fact that you are contemplating this question could be because you heard from a friend that you don’t need to file. Or it could be other factors, such as family illness, stress, or lack of paperwork organization.

From my experience, whether you file your taxes or not makes a difference. Here’s why:

  1. If you file your taxes on time, generally the IRS only has three years to make a change or audit of your return. But if you don’t file a tax return on time, you aren’t starting the clock. So you are essentially giving the IRS more time to audit you.
  1. If time goes by and the IRS has received a W-2 or a 1099 indicating that you earned income, oftentimes they will file an SFR, Substitute for Return. When the IRS files a tax return for you, they have no knowledge of any of your deductions. They don’t know whether you have children that you can claim a deduction for, or any credits for that college course you took. So the IRS will allow you only the bare minimum deductions and assess your tax based on that. Chances are their calculations will result in your owing a lot more tax than actual.
  1. If you did not file a tax return on time, but should have received a refund, after 3 years you can no longer get the refund. It will be too late and the IRS will not issue the refund to you.

In the last six months, I have worked on two client cases where both clients did not file taxes for over ten years. Now, they were in IRS collections. One of them was having their entire paycheck taken by the IRS every payday. The other was about to have his house seized. In both cases, this stress could have been completely avoided by simply filing tax returns on time.


reneeRenee Sieradski is a tax professional in Phoenix, AZ. She specializes in assisting businesses and individuals who have fallen behind on their taxes to take advantage of government programs that enable them get their finances under control and stay on track. Renee has been in practice since 1999, but has specialized in the Real Estate Industry for the past 10 years, assisting a local Phoenix billion dollar real estate holdings firm who owned property across the US, as well as working with several local Realtors and Mortgage Loan Officers and Brokers.

Renee regularly post tax advice blogs on her website at