What can I do if I Inadvertently Made a Tax Mistake When I Filed?

wiseGEEK Writer

You filed your return, checked and double checked it, and added everything up to your satisfaction. As you’re reviewing your form after you mailed it, you realize you made a tax mistake. This may be good news if you owed taxes and forgot to take an important deduction, or it may be bad news if you forgot to include other income or profits made from your savings account. It doesn’t matter if you owe taxes or have them owed to you; you should always file an amendment when you’ve made a tax mistake, and especially if you owe money to the IRS, you don’t want to be penalized for not paying your full tax share or risk being audited in the future.

The Internal Revenue Service logo.
The Internal Revenue Service logo.

There is a handy IRS form, 1040X, which can help you if you’ve made a tax mistake. The only issue at hand in amending, is you are limited as to the time period in which you can file one. Generally, you have three years from the due date of filing (April 15 for most individuals) to amend the return. Technically if you made a mistake in filing your 2007 tax return, you can amend it by 2011. However, if you owe money you might have to pay fees or fines, so filing the 1040X sooner is better. You don’t get any rewards or breaks for your honesty if you owe money, and it’s better not to accrue fees or interest on money owed.

A W-9 form, a type of US tax form.
A W-9 form, a type of US tax form.

Some people are concerned that if they made a tax mistake and it means they’re owed a bigger return, they’re more likely to be audited. This is usually not the case, as long as you document carefully why you made a tax mistake. If you forgot about a huge business expense for your home office, like the purchase of a computer, be sure to include receipts so there can be no doubt that the claim that you owe fewer taxes is legitimate. When you amend a return that works to the IRS’s favor, you may be even less likely to get audited, though your original return may be scrutinized to be sure no other mistakes exist.

Occasionally, you’ve made a tax mistake and the IRS catches it. If it’s a simple math mistake, like an incorrect addition or subtraction figure on your return amount, the IRS may simply correct it for you and send you a correction sheet. If this means you now owe money, you’ll be presented with a bill for the amount owed. Again, sometimes this works in your favor, and you get a larger return than you expected.

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