What Happens if My Tax Return Is Late?

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  • The tax-filing deadline this year is April 18.
  • Being late with your taxes could hurt you -- especially if you owe the IRS money.

Not filing taxes on time could have consequences.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tends to stick to the same schedule when it comes to tax-filing deadlines. Most years, the deadline is April 15. Sometimes, that deadline will get pushed out by a few days if the 15th happens to fall on a weekend, or if there's another conflict.

This year, for example, Emancipation Day, which is a Washington, D.C. holiday, is observed on April 15. That forced the IRS to extend the tax-filing deadline to April 18, 2022.

Either way, one thing the IRS won't do is move the tax deadline up. And in extreme cases, it might even move the deadline back many weeks. During the first year of the pandemic, for example, the IRS extended the tax-filing deadline to mid-July.

Even though the tax-filing deadline is hardly a secret, some people inevitably wind up missing it. And unfortunately, that's not a good thing, whether you owe the IRS money or the IRS owes you.

When you're due a tax refund

Technically, there isn't an IRS penalty for being late with a tax return when you're owed money by the IRS. Rather, you'll face a self-imposed penalty -- having to wait longer for that money to hit your bank account.

And that doesn't just mean having to wait longer for money to spend on fun things. In some cases, it could cost you.

Let's imagine you're carrying a balance on your credit cards that your tax refund could help you pay off. If you submit your return two months late, you'll automatically delay your refunds by that much time. But getting that money sooner could prevent you from racking up more interest on the sum you owe.

In some cases, getting your refund sooner could also prevent you from racking up debt in the first place. Many people are struggling these days with higher gas prices and inflated living costs. If your paycheck keeps falling short, but you're owed $2,000 from the IRS, that refund could be the reason you pay your bills in full or not. But if you're late with your tax return, you'll have to wait even longer to get that money.

When you owe the IRS money

If you owe the IRS money from 2021 and you're late with your tax return, you'll be penalized for submitting your return after the deadline. Specifically, you'll pay a 5% penalty for each month or partial month your return is late, up to 25%.

You can avoid that penalty, however, by requesting atax extension by the tax-filing deadline. That will give you six more months to submit your return. If you meet that extended deadline, you won't be charged the 5% penalty for being late.

But note that if you get an extension, your tax bill itself will still be due by the original filing deadline. If you're late with that, you'll be penalized, but to a lesser degree than you would by being late with your return itself.

Start as early as possible next time

The tax-filing deadline is very consistent, so it pays to get organized early and make sure your taxes are done in time. You may have already missed that boat this year, but if so, consider it a wakeup call to start the filing process earlier next year. Doing so could spare you a world of stress -- and help ensure that you don't have to risk costly penalties or wait too long on a refund.

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