Can the IRS File a Return for Me? Yes, but It’s Not Pleasant.
The IRS wants you to file a return voluntarily and on time every year. But, if you don’t file a return on time, the IRS can eventually file a return for you – it’s called a substitute for return, or SFR.
The IRS uses the information it has (usually information statements about your income, like Forms W-2 and 1099) to file for you. But the IRS doesn’t give you any credits or deductions that you might use if you prepared and filed your own return.
You’ll owe the maximum possible taxes and penalties.
Lower your taxes and penalties by filing a correct return, with all your deductions and credits, to replace the return filed by the IRS.
The IRS can take 2-3 years to file a tax return for you, so you have time to act if you haven’t filed a return. Here’s what will happen:
- The IRS will send a series of notices (starting about seven to eight months after the return was due) asking you to file.
- If you don’t file, the IRS will then put you into a “tax delinquency investigation.”
- If you still don’t file or explain why you don’t need to file during the investigation, the IRS can start filing a return for you (the SFR) – and start collecting on your tax bill.
The IRS may automate this process or send a local IRS revenue officer to get more information from you to file an SFR. Either way, the best move is to immediately file a tax return.
If the IRS has already filed an SFR for you, you can reduce your tax bill by filing an accurate return to replace the SFR.
One word of caution
After the IRS files an SFR, the IRS will scrutinize any return you file to replace the SFR.
It’s best to order your Forms W-2 and 1099 from the IRS (these are called wage and income transcripts) and use them to make sure you properly report everything on your return.
You should also make sure you’re prepared to back up any items on your return, since the IRS is more likely to audit your new return.
Learn about unfiled tax returns – or get a tax pro to help. Your tax pro can deal with the IRS for you and prepare and file your new return to minimize taxes and penalties.
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Related tax terms
Automated Substitute for Return (ASFR) Unit
Related IRS notices
IRS Letter 1862 - Initial Contact Letter - Substitute for Return Program
IRS Notice CP2566 - The IRS Still has not Received Your Form 1040 - You Must File a Tax Return
IRS Notice CP59 - Form 1040 Tax Return Not Filed
IRS Notice CP516 - Unfiled Form 1040