Amended Tax Returns Question

Question from a reader:”Can I amend back as many tax returns that I want to?”

My answer is: No.  You can only amend back three years for the Federal government.  Four for the state of California.  The extra year is to allow for catch up, I suppose.  If the IRS or any state authority asks for more years, you obviously have to provide the return for whatever it is they are looking for.  If software isn’t available, you need to get copies of the forms for the specific years and file manually.  If you were expecting a refund, you need to refresh yourself with the rules for amended returns and geting a refund. The place to start for looking for older forms would be the irs website and after that, search engines.  If you can find old copies of the tax software you might try and get them from vendors but please make sure they are the finalized forms.  You won’t be able to have anything to compare them to so double check that any software sources for forms is the most recent for that year.

Form 1040X must be filed within 3 years from the date of your original return or within 2 years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later.  If you are looking to get a refund from five years ago and you have exceeded the time limit, you won’t get your refund.  There are situations as well that you may be capped on the amount of the refund that you will be getting despite the fact that you at the time may have been entitled to more cash. 

For now, amended tax returns need to be sent by mail and signed manually.  In a few years they may be electronic but we are concerned about the present now.  That means that you may need to wait several months as of the writing of this blog before you can get any refunds from an amended return.

Are amended returns audited more or less than normal returns?  I don’t think so but they are reviewed and received by people so pay attention to details.  Take your time or have your tax professional double check everything before you send in your amended return.  I just taught my tax students how to do amended returns and everybody – and I mean everybody – makes mistakes at least the first time they try to do an amended return.

If you are doing your own using tax software be careful and double check everything for resonableness.  Make sure that you include changes for everything and watch for the cascade affect where adding or subtracting income or dependents changes credits, deductions and the overall complextion of your return – you may go from a refund to an amount due – or vice versa.

The important thing is to be accurate and thorough. So, if there are any new schedules or changes to existing ones, make sure that they are included in the amended return package.  The IRS doesn’t want to see every form unless they ask for it. 

Double check with your state regulations as well.

When you are writing your explanations, go into detail.  The IRS is training a lot of new hires and they get OTJ-On The Job Training.  That means they give them the amended returns to review and look for errors.  Explain clearly what was amended so there will be no reason for the return to get kicked back to you.

Don’t balk if you discover that you need to amend a tax return and that there is an amount due.  Take care of it as soon as possible and pay any penalties that may need to be taken care of.  It is better if you catch the error than the taxing authority.  If the error is a large one they will catch it sooner or later.

I could post a picture of a form 1040X but since it is close to the weekend and we are all burnt out from roller coaster finanial news I will show you something to take your mind off of taxes.   If all goes well with your amended return you (and in the case of our photo, your partner)  will be happier.  How much happier?  A LOT happier! 


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Kim Isaac Greenblatt


Amending tax returns can be profitable or costly but they still should be done if you need to do them .

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