Amending a Tax Return: Is This Really Necessary?


So you’ve realized that you messed up on part of your federal tax return? Are you freaking out? Do you feel like you’re being followed by someone in a black suit?

First of all, chill. It’s going to be alright. Second of all, we’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about amending your tax return, starting with whether or not you even need to do this. Let’s dive in.

Do I Even Need to Amend My Tax Return?

If you find that you made an error when filing your taxes, don’t panic. It happens. In fact, if you discover that you made a clerical error or an error in your math, the IRS may fix those errors for you without you even filing an amended return. The IRS may also accept your return without certain required forms attached or schedules completed. In those cases, they will either fix it themselves (yes, please!) or contact you for the needed information.

However, if your error has to do with your filing status, your income deductions, or your tax credits, then you will need to file an Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, which is called Form 1040X. This form must be filed via snail mail. (Form 1040X can be used to correct Form 1040, Form 1040A, Form 1040EZ, Form 1040NR, Form 1040NR-EZ.)

How Long Do I Have to File an Amended Return?

If you’re claiming a refund, you must file Form 1040X within 3 years of the date you filed your original return or within 2 years after the date you paid the tax (whichever date is later). If your amended return will result in you getting back even more money, first, do a happy dance. Then, wait for your original refund to be deposited before filing your amended return. This is to ensure there is no confusion in getting you back all of the moolah you deserve. (Just don’t wait past the 3-year mark.)

If you filed your original return earlier or later than it was due, check out these questions and answers:

  • What if I filed early? If you filed your original return early, let’s say on February 25, then the IRS considers that as filing on the due date (typically April 15). This means that you would still have 3 years from April 15 to file your amended return.
  • What if I had an extension and filed earlier than the extended date? If you had an extension to file that allowed you until October 15, for example, but you actually filed “early” on August 15, then the IRS considers your taxes filed on August 15. You would have 3 years from August 15 to file your amended return.

How Long Does It Take to Process My Amended Return?

Because it cannot be submitted electronically and is processed by a real person, it can take up to 16 weeks to process your amended return.

How Can I Check the Status of My Amended Return?

You may start to feel uneasy about the status of your amended return after putting it in the mailbox. Luckily, the IRS does have an online tool to help you check your form’s status. Once your amended return is in the IRS system, which can take up to 3 weeks, it will show up using this tool. The site does update daily, so you can check it often if you’re anxious to know its status.

What Info Is Needed In Order to Check the Status of My Amended Return?

To access the online tool, you will need:

  • Your date of birth
  • Your social security number (or taxpayer ID if it’s not the same as your social security number which is not the case for most people)
  • Your zip code

What is the Phone Number to Call for Amended Tax Returns?

If you’d rather speak to someone on the phone than use the online tool to check on the status of your amended return, you can call their toll-free number: 866-464-2050. The IRS says they will be able to help you over the phone if it’s been at least three weeks since you mailed your amended return. If you’re having trouble getting a real person on the phone, follow these steps.

Where Do I Send My Amended Tax Return?

Unfortunately, you cannot file the 1040X electronically. Since the mailing address is based on where you live, you’ll need to look up that address on page 18 of the IRS’ instructions.

How Do I Pay?

This is definitely a bummer, but it may happen that because of the changes on your amended return, you now owe some more money to the IRS. Even though you cannot file your Form 1040X online, you can pay online by using the IRS Direct Pay system or The Electronic Federal Tax Payment System. If you don’t have the money to pay the whole amount right now, then you can look into setting up a payment plan with the IRS.

Is There a Penalty for Filing an Amended Tax Return?

The good news is that you do not have to pay a fee to the IRS to file an amended return. The more good news is that if your amended return means you owe more money, but you caught your mistake and you pay that additional money before the April 15 tax deadline, then you won’t have to pay any penalties or interest on that additional money. The not-so-good news is that if you owe additional money and didn’t pay it before April 15, you will have to pay a penalty and interest on that money. Because the money you owe will continue to add up, don’t wait to file an amended return.

Why Is This Taking So Long?

If it’s been over 16 weeks since you mailed your amended return and you haven’t heard anything, you’re probably losing patience and wondering what on earth is going on. We understand. Try to calm yourself by looking at this list of reasons the IRS gives for why it might be taking so darn long to process your amended return:

  • Your form has errors
  • Your form is incomplete
  • You forgot to sign your amended form
  • More information is needed from you
  • Your form includes a Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation
  • Your form is affected by identity theft or fraud
  • Your form had to be routed to a specialized area
  • Your form needs clearance by the bankruptcy area within the IRS
  • Your form needs review and approval by a revenue office
  • You have asked for a review of an appeal or requested a reconsideration of an IRS decision

*Note that if the IRS needs more information from you to finish processing your amended form, they will contact you.

Does Amending a Return Trigger an IRS Audit?

This is a great question. Why would you point out your mistakes, right? You don’t want the IRS to think something is amiss with your taxes, right? Well, not quite. There is no evidence that filing an amended return will trigger an audit.

What Happens If You Don’t Amend an Incorrect Tax Return?

If the amended return isn’t filed and you owe the IRS more money, they have up to 3 years (even longer in some situations) to catch your error. This could result in you owing even more money than if you had just filed an amended return as soon as you noticed the mistake.

Is It Better to Amend a Return or File a Tax Extension?

These two processes are not the same. If you’ve already filed your taxes before you noticed the error, then you will need to file an amended return.

What If I Need to File an Amended Form for More Than One Year?

If you notice that you’ve made an error on multiple years’ returns, then you will need to file a Form 1040X for each of those years.

What About My State Taxes?

If you made a mistake on your federal return, chances are there is a mistake on your state return as well. You will need to check with your state’s agency to see how to amend that form.

What If I Still Have Questions?

If you think you made a mistake, the worst thing you can do is wait and see what happens. If you’re still questioning whether or not you need to file an amended return or need help filling out the Form 1040X, we recommend that you consult a CPA as soon as possible. Then, take a deep breath, come up with a better plan for next year, and keep growing your business into a success.

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Amy Northard, CPA

Amy Northard, CPA

Founder of The Accountant for Creatives®
+ taxes + bookkeeping + consulting
+ Hang out with me over on Instagram!

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