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How to File an Amended Tax Return for Federal Taxes

Get your hands on IRS Form 1040X and follow these steps to amend your tax return.
Oct. 10, 2018
Income Taxes, Personal Taxes, Taxes
Make a Mistake on Your Tax Return? Here's How to Fix It
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You can correct a mistake on your federal taxes by filing an amended tax return using IRS Form 1040X. Here’s how it works and what you need to know.

1. File IRS Form 1040X

  • IRS Form 1040X is the form you fill out to file an amended tax return. On that form, you show the IRS your changes to your tax return and the correct tax amount.
  • If you’re filing Form 1040X to get money back, you generally need to do so within three years of filing your original return or within two years of paying the tax, whichever is later.
  • You might catch an error before the IRS does or receive new tax documents after you’ve already filed — if your employer sends you a revised W-2, for example. In those cases, don’t fire off a letter to the IRS saying, “Forgot to include some income. Here’s 10 bucks” or “You owe me $50.” Fill out Form 1040X.

2. Don’t freak out

Nobody will bang on your door and yell at you for forgetting to carry the 1. If the IRS catches a math error on your return, it might just fix the problem and move on. Or it might send a letter explaining what it flagged and request more information, says Joel Mutnick, a CPA and audit director at Florida-based Fiske & Co.

“They’re often going to give you three options, right in the same letter: Do you agree with this? If so, fess up. How are you going to pay us? If you disagree with us, explain to us why,” he says. “Or the third one is we agree in principle but we don’t agree with the amount.”

Be sure to respond, he adds.

3. Don’t assume an amended tax return is too hard to do on your own

  • People with simple tax situations and small changes might be able file an amended tax return on their own, says Kim Sheehan, a CPA and associate partner at Alloy Silverstein in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
  • Many major tax software packages already include modules that will file an amended tax return, too.
  • “If a preparer prepared your return in the first place, they could just probably easily prepare the amended return for you,” she adds.
  • And note: amending your federal tax return could mean having to amend your state tax return too.

4. See if your preparer charges for an amended tax return

  • If you used a human tax preparer, don’t assume he or she will amend your tax return for free or pay the extra taxes, interest or penalties from a mistake. If you forgot to give the preparer information or gave incorrect information, for example, you’ll likely have to pay for the extra work.
  • If the error is the preparer’s fault, who pays for an amended tax return may depend on the wording in your client agreement, Mutnick says.

    IRS Form 1040X is what you fill out to show the IRS your changes to your tax return and the correct tax amount.

5. Don’t procrastinate on an amended tax return

  • Generally, the IRS audits only returns from the previous three tax years — though there are major exceptions. So it might be tempting to wait and see if the IRS will catch you in an error, but Sheehan says it might be cheaper to fess up sooner rather than later.
  • The IRS charges interest and penalties on outstanding tax liabilities going all the way back to the original due date of the tax payment. So the longer you wait to fix a mistake, the more expensive that mistake can get, Sheehan warns. “I would never say just sit there and hold off to see if you can make it through these three years,” she says.

6. Buy some stamps

  • You can’t file Form 1040X electronically — you have to mail it.
  • If you’re fixing more than one year of returns, you’ll need to fill out a separate Form 1040X for each and mail them in separate envelopes.
  • You’ll also need to include forms or schedules affected by the changes.

7. Where’s my amended return?

  • Track the progress of your amended tax return online or call the IRS at 866-464-2050.
  • It can take three weeks for an amended return to show up in the IRS’s system and up to 16 weeks to process.
  • If nothing has happened after 16 weeks, call the IRS again or ask someone at a local IRS office to research your return.