The do-over is one of the greatest of human inventions. Mess something up? It’s okay, just try again!
Unfortunately, unless you’re a golfer taking a mulligan, it seems like as we grow up we have fewer and fewer chances for pretending that our mistakes didn’t happen. Taxes, surprisingly, is one time where this isn’t the case.
If you make a mistake when you file your taxes, you might have the opportunity to correct it by filing an amended tax return.
The IRS estimated that 5 million taxpayers filed an amended return in 2014, so if you need to do it this year, you’re probably in good company. But most people don’t have to do it (5 million is still small compared to the total number of taxpayers) so there’s a good chance you didn’t even know you were allowed to correct your tax return.
Why would I file an amended tax return?
"Hey, guess what," you say. "I don’t like filing my taxes once, so I’m not going to do it twice!"
Trust me, I get it. But there are times when you’ve made a mistake and an amended return will help get things straightened out.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to file an amended return. Even if you make a mistake, it’s not always necessary. If you made a math error, for instance, the IRS will typically catch those and fix the error for you without you needing to take any additional action.
Here are some times when it does make sense to file an amended tax return:
You filed without including that W-2 from your previous job
You got a corrected 1099 form after you already filed
You got married but didn’t change your filing status
You forgot to claim a dependent or deduction
You remembered to include a dependent or deduction...but not one you actually qualified for
You can file an amended return up to three years after the file date of the original return or within two years of paying the tax, whichever is later.
While you don’t have to file an amended return if the error is in the IRS’s favor, it could be a good idea to. If you realize you didn’t claim a deduction, you could end up getting a refund. Just make sure it’s worth the time it’ll take to actually file your amended return. Getting a few bucks back might not be worth the hassle.
If you catch a mistake and you’ll actually end up owing money, you might be tempted to ignore it and hope for the best. But if you can get the correction in quickly, you can avoid the penalty that the IRS might impose on you for failing to pay the correct amount.
How to file an amended tax return
You don’t need to wait around for the IRS’ permission to file an amended return. If you discover a mistake, you can talk to your tax preparer or take charge and file yourself.
In order to file an amended tax return, you need to fill out a 1040X form. You can change everything from your filing status to your deduction amount here. You should also have your original return on hand so you know the original information you included, since you’ll need to add that to the 1040X.
Even though it’s the 21st century, I have some bad news for you: you can’t e-file your 1040-X. That means you’ll have to mail it in the old fashioned way – not a huge deal but it’s something you should be aware of if you’re used to normally e-filing your return.
Once you refile, the IRS notes that it can take up to 16 weeks for your amended return to be processed. You can call the IRS to figure out your amended return’s status, or you can use the appropriately-named "Where’s My Amended Return?" tool.
No matter how you look it up, there are a few different statuses you should be aware of.
Received is just that – the IRS has your amended return and...that’s about it. There’s nothing else to check on.
When the status changes to adjusted the IRS has crunched the numbers and determined that you either owe money, are getting a refund, or nothing has actually changed.
Once it’s completed, your return will have been processed, everything has been corrected, and you can go on living your life.
Filing an amended tax return is a pretty straightforward process. It’s not necessarily one that you want to go through, but everyone makes mistakes and it’s nice to know that even the IRS allows for a little wiggle room so we can make things right.