April 18 was the original deadline for filing your 2015 taxes. But if you missed that date, you shouldn't just assume that it's too late to get your tax return in. Because of the way that the Internal Revenue Service charges interest and penalties for late-filed returns, it's always smart to file sooner than later. Moreover, filing is the only way you can get a refund that you're entitled to, and you can still get it even if you missed the April deadline. Let's take a closer look at the rules governing filing your 2015 tax return.
Going past the deadline
First of all, there are many taxpayers who anticipated that they wouldn't get their returns filed on time. If you filed for an automatic extension to file your 2015 tax return on or before the April 18 deadline, then you have until mid-October to complete and file your taxes. As long as you paid your full tax bill by the April deadline, then no interest or penalties will apply to extended returns that you get to the IRS in time for the extended October 17 due date.
If you didn't file for an extension on time, it's too late to do so after the tax deadline passes. However, there's still a good reason to file your return as soon as possible. The IRS charges a late-filing penalty equal to 5% of any outstanding tax you owe for every month or part of a month that you're late, up to a maximum of 25%. Once you file, that penalty goes away. Even if you can't pay your tax bill right away, the penalty for late payment is much lower, at just 0.5% of your outstanding bill per month.
Penalty-free late filing
You might notice that because of the way that the IRS charges penalties for late filing, those who are due a refund don't need to worry about incurring additional penalties and interest. That might lead you to assume that you never really need to file.
However, one thing to keep in mind is that if you're owed a refund, you won't be able to claim it unless you file a return. That's true not only if you've had too much money withheld from your paycheck but also if you qualify for certain refundable tax credits, such as the Earned Income Credit. In order to claim a refund, you need to file your return within three years of the original due date of the return. So as of right now, you can file a return for the 2013, 2014, or 2015 tax years and claim a refund even though you'd be late in filing. However, for tax returns from 2012 and before, you've missed your window to go back and try to get a bigger check back from the IRS.
More importantly, filing a return is your best defense against what the IRS can do if you never bother filing at all. In some cases, the IRS will get information from your employer or other sources of income indicating that you should have filed a return. If you don't, the IRS will send you a letter giving you a final filing deadline. If you ignore that letter, then the IRS sometimes prepares what's known as a Substitute for Return. This return uses information that the IRS has but also can make assumptions that tend to work against you, such as claiming no deductions and using a filing status that is inaccurate and unfavorable.
Filing a return can also forestall collection actions from the IRS. If the IRS prepares a return of its own on your behalf, then it can start the clock for levying against your wages or filing a federal tax lien. Those items can have a huge impact on your financial life, making it much more difficult to get credit.
Just because tax season has come and gone doesn't mean you should give up on filing your tax return. Even if you missed the deadline, go ahead and get your taxes filed. The benefits can end up being larger than you anticipated.