Filing Back Taxes and IRS Audits

Navigating the complexities of the U.S. tax system can be challenging.

Table Of Contents

How Many Years Can You File Back Taxes?

Filing back taxes refers to submitting tax returns for previous years that you did not file on time. The IRS generally recommends that you file all delinquent tax returns to stay compliant and to receive any refunds due. Here’s what you need to know about the time frame for filing back taxes:

  1. General Rule: You can typically file back taxes for the past six years. The IRS expects taxpayers to file all returns for the last six years to be considered in good standing.
  2. Claiming a Refund: If you are due a refund, you must file your return within three years of the original due date to claim it. For example, to claim a refund for a return due on April 15, 2021, you must file by April 15, 2024.
  3. Statutory Period: Although the IRS focuses on the past six years, there is no statute of limitations on filing a return if you haven’t done so. It means you can file returns older than six years, but the IRS may prioritize compliance for the most recent six years.

How Long Can Irs Audit Your Tax Return?

An IRS audit can be a daunting prospect. Understanding the statute of limitations for audits can help alleviate some concerns:

  1. Standard Audit Period: The IRS typically has three years from the date you file your tax return to initiate an audit. This period is known as the “assessment statute of limitations period.”
  2. Substantial Understatement: If you omit more than 25% of your gross income on your tax return, the IRS has six years to audit that return. This extended period is designed to give the IRS more time to investigate significant discrepancies.
  3. Fraud or Non-Filing: In cases of fraud or if you fail to file a tax return altogether, there is no statute of limitations. The IRS can audit your return at any time, even many years after the due date.
  4. Foreign Income: If you fail to report certain types of foreign income, the IRS also extends the audit period to six years.

Why It Matters

Understanding these time frames is crucial for several reasons:

  1. Compliance: Ensuring that you file all required tax returns, even if late, helps you stay compliant with IRS regulations and avoid penalties.
  2. Financial Planning: Knowing the time limits for audits can help you retain the necessary records and documentation for the appropriate period, aiding in accurate financial planning and preparation.
  3. Claiming Refunds: Being aware of the three-year window for claiming refunds ensures you don’t miss out on money that is rightfully yours.


Staying informed about the deadlines for filing back taxes and the period within which the IRS can audit your tax returns is essential for maintaining financial health and compliance. While the IRS generally looks back six years for unfiled returns and three years for audits, certain circumstances can extend these periods. By understanding and adhering to these guidelines, you can better navigate the tax landscape and avoid unnecessary complications.



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