How Many Years of Unfiled Tax Returns Should You File?


unfiled tax returnsIt may seem overwhelming if you have many years of unfiled tax returns to file. The good news is that the IRS generally only requires taxpayers to file six years of delinquent returns.

The six-year rule can be adjusted in certain cases, particularly if there has been criminal intent to violate tax laws. However, most of the time the IRS will be satisfied if you file six years of delinquent returns and agree to a payment arrangement.

Refunds for Unfiled Returns

You won’t be able to receive a tax refund for returns more than three years past due. However, you also won’t be charged any penalties for failing to file returns that resulted in a refund.

You should still file these returns (if they are in the six-year period) because otherwise the IRS may assume that you owe a balance and try to collect taxes for these returns.


You may owe a substantial amount in penalties if you have several years of delinquent returns. You should understand your penalty abatement options, including first-time penalty abatement and reasonable cause penalty relief.

Even getting one year of penalties abated can result in significant savings and make a payment plan more manageable.

Substitute for Return

The IRS may have already filed a Substitute for Return for some prior tax years. The returns you file will replace these returns, but expect the IRS to make sure your numbers match.

The IRS will need copies of your W-2 and 1099 forms for each tax year, so find these documents and input the numbers correctly to avoid problems.

Payment Plans

After you use penalty abatement and any other tax resolution strategies, the IRS will generally expect you to pay off the remaining balance with a monthly installment agreement. In some cases, you may be able to pursue other options, such as an Offer in Compromise or currently not collectible status.

There are many different types of payment plans available, but you may want to consider the following strategies when negotiating your installment agreement:

  • If possible, make a lump sum payment to reduce the amount you need to pay each month.
  • See if you qualify for a streamlined agreement for faster processing of your request.
  • If you need to pay less than the minimum amount set by the IRS, submit a Collection Information Statement that shows your financial situation to the IRS.

Contact an Attorney

Consult a tax attorney if you need help with unfiled tax returns or negotiating an IRS installment agreement.

Get help handling issues caused by unfiled tax returns by calling Ayar Law at 800.571.7175 to get free, no-obligation tax advice from a highly qualified and experienced tax attorney



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.