Can I Go to Jail for Past-Due (Delinquent) Taxes?

Past-due taxes

Past-due (delinquent) taxes create a stressful situation for taxpayers who fall behind or file late.  Liens, wage garnishment, and fines only increase anxiety for those behind on their taxes.  To make matters worse, there is a question of an even bigger punishment for delinquent taxes: Can you go to jail for falling behind on taxes?

The question is more complicated than a simple yes or no.  Many factors play into decisions the IRS makes regarding criminal charges for tax issues.


Key Insights:

1.)  Why the IRS can file criminal charges against you

2.)  How long does the IRS have to make their case against you?

3.)  What other penalties can the IRS impose for delinquent taxes

YES, You Can Go to Jail for Past-Due Taxes

You can go to jail for cheating on your taxes, but not because you owe some money and can’t pay.  It would take a lot for the IRS to put you in jail for fraud.  Furthermore, the IRS cannot simply take your bank account, your car, or your house.

Yes, late filing is a serious non-compliance issue.  However, in most circumstances, the IRS gives a taxpayer multiple chances to file by sending notices to late filers.  Additionally, the IRS rarely prosecutes late filers who voluntarily and promptly file an accurate return.

The IRS is significantly more forgiving with people who can’t pay as opposed to non-filers.  Therefore, late filing penalties are much higher than late payment penalties.  Good news is, that the IRS will not put you in jail for not paying your taxes if you file your return.  However, the following actions WILL land you in jail:

  • Tax Evasion: Any action taken to evade the assessment of a tax, such as filing a fraudulent return can lend you in prison for five years
  • Failure to File a Return: Failing to file a return can land you in jail for one year, for each year you did not file.
  • Helping Someone Evade Taxes: Helping someone else get out of paying their taxes can carry a three to five year prison sentence depending on what action is alleged.

How Long Does the IRS Have to File Charges for Past-Due Taxes?

Tax evasion, fraud, or failure-to-file can take a while to prove.  However, the IRS has time to make their case.  The statute of limitations on tax crimes is up to six years.  Normally, the IRS will not file charges for failing to file six years later, unless it becomes a chronic issue.

What Other Penalties can the IRS impose?

Tax fraud is hard to prove.  However, failing to file a return or failing to pay your taxes is not.  What’s worse is that the IRS has plenty of additional penalties it can impose if you either don’t pay or try to get away with not filing.  These include: fines, liens, wage garnishment, and more.

The best way to avoid problems with the IRS if you are either going to file late or are unable to pay your taxes is to contact a skilled criminal tax attorney.

Contact a Tax Attorney

If you need help filing or are unable to pay your taxes, call Ayar Law at 800.571.7175 to receive free, no-obligation tax advice from an experienced tax attorney.

Executive Summary:

  • The IRS does have the ability to file criminal charges against you for failing to file our taxes, tax evasion, or tax fraud.
  • Penalties stretch from one to five years in prison depending on the charge.
  • More likely, the IRS will impose fines, liens, or wage garnishments for delinquent taxes.
  • Contact an experienced attorney to solve issues regarding delinquent or past-due taxes.

Venar Ayar, Esq.

Venar Ayar, Esq.

Attorney-at-Law, Master of Laws in Taxation
Principal and founder, Ayar Law

Venar is an award-winning tax attorney ranked as a Top Lawyer in the field of Tax Law. Mr. Ayar has a Master of Laws in Taxation – the highest degree available in tax, held by only a small number of the country’s attorneys.