What Happens If You Don’t File Taxes, or File Taxes Late?

There are penalties for failing to file a tax return or pay a tax bill. Here's how they work and how to avoid them.
Tina Orem
Sabrina Parys
By Sabrina Parys and  Tina Orem 
Edited by Des Toups

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

Nerdy takeaways
  • The failure-to-file penalty is usually 5% of the tax owed for each month your return is overdue, up to 25% of the bill.

  • After 60 days, the minimum penalty is $450 or the amount of tax owed, whichever is smaller.

  • If you're due a refund, or you're not required to file income taxes, there's no penalty for not filing taxes, according to the IRS.


If you owe taxes and didn't file your federal income tax return by the tax deadline, there may be consequences in the form of penalties and interest. The caveat is that not everyone is required to file taxes.

Track your finances
A NerdWallet account is the smartest way to track your savings, credit cards, and investments together in one place.

What happens if you don't file your taxes?

If you owe taxes and you don't file or file late, the IRS may apply a penalty known as the late-filing penalty or the failure-to-file penalty. The penalty for not filing taxes is usually 5% of the tax owed for each month or part of a month the return is late, up to 25% of your bill.

Internal Revenue Service. Failure to File Penalty. Accessed Apr 15, 2022.

If your return is more than 60 days late, the minimum penalty for not filing taxes is $510 or the amount of tax owed, whichever is smaller.

The agency recommends taxpayers who missed the filing deadline file as soon as possible. Filing and paying now can reduce the fees and interest you'll pay on your tax bill.

Late filers may be eligible for tax relief in the form of a penalty abatement if they meet certain conditions. For example, you might be eligible for penalty relief if you have a reasonable explanation for filing late or if this is your first time missing the deadline. The IRS has more information on how to apply for penalty relief on its website.

Internal Revenue Service. Penalty Relief. Accessed Apr 15, 2022.

What happens if you file taxes late but don't owe anything?

There is usually no failure-to-file penalty if your tax return results in a refund. Keep in mind that you typically have just three years to claim that tax refund, though. The IRS estimates that there were approximately $1.5 billion in refunds unclaimed for 2019. Taxpayers had until July 17, 2023, to file and claim their refunds from the 2019 tax year.

How to avoid a failure-to-file penalty

A tax extension can get you an extra six months to finish your tax return, but you would have had to have filed for one by the April tax deadline for it to apply.

If you did get an extension, remember that it only gives you more time to file your tax return. It does not give you more time to pay your taxes. The agency still expected you to estimate your tax bill and submit an estimated payment by tax day. Otherwise, anything you owe past the tax deadline might be subject to that late-payment penalty and interest.

Some people, such as natural disaster victims, certain members of the military or Americans living overseas, may automatically get more time to file. Remember to keep your eye on the calendar for your extension deadline, though — if you miss it, that failure-to-file penalty could come back to haunt you.


Get ready for simple tax filing with a $50 flat fee for every scenario

Powered by

ColumnTax Logo

Don’t miss out during the 2024 tax season. Register for a NerdWallet account to gain access to a tax product powered by Column Tax for a flat rate of $50 in 2024, credit score tracking, personalized recommendations, timely alerts, and more.

checkmarkNo hidden upgrades and fees
checkmarkIncludes federal and state

for a NerdWallet account


What happens if you don't pay your taxes?

The IRS will issue a late-payment penalty. The late-payment penalty is not the same as the late-filing penalty.

The late-filing penalty affects people who owe taxes and don’t turn in their Form 1040 and other important tax documents on time. The late-payment penalty affects people who pay their taxes late. It is 0.5% of your unpaid taxes for each month your outstanding taxes are unpaid, plus interest.

If both the failure-to-file and the failure-to-pay penalties are issued in the same month, the late-filing penalty is reduced by the amount of the late-payment penalty for that month, so you'd pay a combined fee of 5% for each month (or partial month) your return is late.

IRS. Failure to File Penalty. Accessed Feb 17, 2023.

How long can you go without filing taxes?

If you're trying to test limits, this is a risky proposition. While the government usually has just six years to charge you with criminal tax evasion, it has forever to collect the taxes you owe and assess penalties. In addition to the failure-to-file penalty, these things could happen to you when the IRS catches up to you:

  • Failure-to-pay penalty: If you don’t pay the taxes you owe by the deadline, the agency can penalize you 0.5% of the unpaid balance every month, up to a total of 25%.

    Internal Revenue Service. Failure to Pay Penalty. Accessed Apr 15, 2022.

  • Interest: On top of the failure-to-pay penalty, interest accrues on your unpaid taxes.

  • A substitute return: If you fail to file but the IRS has some information needed to calculate your taxes, such as your W-2 form, you may be notified by mail that it has filed a return on your behalf. It won’t consider the tax credits, deductions or other tax breaks you may have taken if you’d done your taxes.

  • Lost refunds: You may be missing out on money you’re owed. In most cases, you get a three-year window to file previous years’ returns.

    Once this window closes, you forfeit your tax refund.

Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.