Question

I’m active-duty military. I need to file back taxes for last year’s and this year’s returns. How do I file past taxes?

Answer

To file back taxes for the past two previous years, you must file two separate Forms 1040.

For 2020, you can either file an extension or file Form 1040 by April 15, 2021.

File past taxes for last year’s return on the 2019 Form 1040. Use the 2019 software or instructions. You’ll have to mail this return in, because you can’t e-file a previous year’s return.

At this time, your 2019 return is late and subject to penalties and interest. This is true unless you qualify for a special situation giving you an automatic deadline extension for:

  • Filing your return
  • Paying taxes
  • Filing a claim for a refund
  • Taking other actions with the IRS

To receive the automatic extension, one of these must apply:

  • You served in a combat zone or have qualifying service outside a combat zone.
  • You served in a contingency operation:
    • On deployment outside the United States
    • Away from your permanent duty station

If either applies, you can receive a filing extension. This deadline is extended for 180 days plus the amount of time you would have otherwise had to file when you entered the combat zone after the later of:

  • The last day you were in a combat zone, have qualifying service outside a combat zone, or serve in a contingency operation
  • The last day of any continuous qualified hospitalization for injury from:
    • Service in the combat zone
    • Qualifying service outside a combat zone
    • Service in a contingency operation

You won’t pay penalties or interest for failure to file a return or pay taxes during this extension period.

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