As the end of each tax season approaches, tax preparers get a lot of questions from worried or procrastinating taxpayers. One of the most common is what to do if they haven't filed taxes in recent years. Once you miss a year filing your income taxes, the problem can often balloon into several years and may become overwhelming. The good news is that it's often not as hard or as expensive as you may think. Here's a handy guide to filing prior years.

Where to Get Your Information

If it's been more than a year or life has been hectic, taxpayers often cannot find their W-2 or Form 1099 information. You can still file by collecting these documents again. If you have several years to file, focus on putting together the most recent 3 calendar years' worth of documentation. This is because you forfeit any refunds if you file more than 3 years late. 

Start by contacting employers from the year in question if you can remember all of them. Call your brokerage companies or use your online accounts to locate tax statements for any taxable investment accounts. Do the same for college tuition expenses and student loan expenses (if applicable). 

If any employers have dissolved or you cannot locate contact information, you can then turn to the IRS for W-2 information. The IRS gets copies of all W-2s and Forms 1099 sent to you, so you can request a copy of these directly from their website. Due to recent security problems, you will have to wait for copies to arrive by mail. If you've moved since your last tax return was filed, either change your address or use Form 4506-T to request your transcript be sent to a different address. 

If you were self-employed or have other income, you may need to rely on your own records to determine income and expenses. This can involve looking at bank statements and credit cards statements from prior years. Reconstruct mileage by using records of jobs you did. Check with vendors to see if they can provide copies of sales receipts for large business purchases. 

How to File

Now that you've gathered as many records and information as you can, it's time to get it filed. You will likely need to consult with a professional tax preparer to do this for two reasons: first, it can be difficult to find do-it-yourself software that can file prior years and secondly, you may need further help reconstructing past information. 

The good news is that most taxpayers can use a regular tax preparer to file missing years and will not need to pay a tax attorney or even a CPA. Unless you haven't filed for more than 7 years, have unusual tax situations or need to respond to IRS audit paperwork, you should be able to file with any qualified professional.

For more information, contact HBE Becker Meyer Love LLP or a similar organization.

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