How Do You File an Amended Tax Return?

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If you realize you made a mistake on your tax return, don't panic: The IRS gives you time to fix the problem by using an amended tax return. To file an amended tax return, you'll need a copy of your original return as well as any new information related to the change. Whether you're hoping to score additional deductions, noticed an error on your return or need to report overlooked income, amending your taxes can help you set the tax record straight.

Should I File an Amended Tax Return?

Some tax return mistakes are caught and corrected by the IRS when it reviews your return. Other times, you may come across new information (perhaps a tax deduction you didn't know you could claim) or realize an error (mistakenly claiming a dependent), which you'll need to correct by filing an amended tax return. It's important to fix a mistake on your taxes, even if it leads you to owe more money than planned—it's better to update your return now than chance an IRS audit or steep fines later.

Consider filing an amended return if you need to make any of the following changes:

  • Adjusting the filing status on your tax return
  • Claiming a different income amount
  • Correcting the deductions you claimed (or failed to claim)
  • Correcting the tax credits you claimed (or failed to claim)
  • Changing the status of your dependents

For some errors, you might not need to file an amended return. Mistakes that may not require you to file an amended tax return include:

  • Mathematical errors: Per the IRS, many mathematical errors are caught when tax returns are processed. When math errors are detected, the IRS typically handles them.
  • Missing forms: Did you forget to attach a tax form to your original return, like a W-2 or 1099? If so, the IRS may mail you a request for this missing information when it processes your return.

If you're considering filing an amended return due to one of the mistakes above, the IRS advises you to wait until receiving the refund (if applicable) from your original return first. Then you can file an amended return to claim any additional refund amount. From there, you'll have to be patient: Amended returns typically take up to 16 weeks to process, according to the IRS.

Steps for Filing an Amended Tax Return

Before you file your amended tax return, wait until your original tax return is completely processed and you have received your refund or paid any amount due. If you're amending your 2019 taxes and filed the original tax form electronically, you can opt to file your amended return electronically; however, you must submit amended tax returns for all other years in paper form by mailing them to the IRS.

Go through each step carefully to minimize any chance of errors.

1. Collect All Supporting Documents

The first step to filing an amended tax return is to make physical copies of all the supporting documents you need, such as schedules and any completed worksheets. Also make copies of your original tax return and all the original forms you submitted with it.

2. Download and Print the 1040-X Form

Download and print the IRS amended tax return form 1040-X. To amend multiple years, you'll need a separate 1040-X for each tax year. If you were born before 1955, you can file with Form 1040-SR.

3. Review Your Amended Return

Carefully review your original tax return and the material for amending it to confirm all your information. If you use a tax filing service, see if it supports assistance for amending taxes. Whether you have help or not, beware of any scams to steal your personal information in the process.

4. Fill Out and Submit the Necessary Forms to the IRS

Instructions for form 1040-X tell you exactly how to complete your forms and where to send them, so read through them carefully.

The IRS suggests the easiest way to make the entries for Form 1040-X is to add the changes directly in the margins of your original tax return. From there, you can transfer the numbers to your Form 1040-X. Remember to check the box at the top of the form to show which year you are amending.

5. Check Your Amended Return Status

About three weeks after mailing your return, you can start tracking your amended return online. Check to see if the IRS needs any additional information from you so you can contact them to complete the process.

If you think you need to submit an amended tax form, don't delay: The IRS puts a deadline on how long you have to file it—usually three years from the date you filed your original tax return or two years from the date you paid your taxes, whichever is later. You can review this helpful guide from the IRS for more information about when you may need to file an amended tax return (and how to file one).

Do Taxes Impact My Credit Report?

There was a time when not paying your taxes had the potential to show up on your credit reports and, by extension, hurt your credit scores. In the past, both paid and unpaid tax liens could appear on your credit reports from all three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax). Today, while it's not ideal for your financial health to put off paying your taxes (and it could eventually cost you more), unpaid taxes won't damage your credit.

While your taxes may not directly damage your credit report, anything you owe to the IRS can ultimately cause you to incur additional debt and penalties.

How to Use Your Tax Return to Impact Your Credit Score

If you're getting money back based on your original or amended tax return, you can use that refund to help boost your credit score. Make sure to prioritize catching up on any late bills first (payment history affects your credit score more than any other credit scoring factor). Then, put your refund to good use:

  • Pay off credit card debt. If you use your return to put a dent in your credit card debt, you can reduce your credit utilization ratio, which reflects how much of your available credit you're using. Lower credit card balances typically help credit scores.
  • Pad your emergency fund. Contributing to your personal emergency savings may not sound as exciting as a refund-sponsored shopping spree, but it can be a boon for your credit and finances in the future. Dedicating a savings account just for emergencies can help you dodge financial disasters in case of unexpected expenses such as a needed home repair or urgent medical procedure.

The Last Word

Be sure to check on updates from the IRS so you don't miss out on any information relevant to your amended return or your tax filing this season. Your extra efforts with the IRS just might lead to more money in your pocket.