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How to File Back Taxes Without Records
What happens if you haven't filed your taxes at all? Most people file their taxes before the May 17 deadline: it's estimated that 90% of all tax returns the IRS processes in a given year are submitted before the deadline.
What to do if you are missing tax records
You may have fallen behind on your back taxes from prior years because of extenuating circumstances like health problems or fleeing domestic violence. Other times, people simply forget to take care of their taxes in a timely manner when life gets in the way. One of the most common reasons people neglect back taxes is because they anticipate owing a lot of money they cannot pay.
Even if you cannot pay, you should still file your current and back taxes. Regardless of your reasons for falling behind on your taxes, it's always best to file your tax return on time if you can. This will make your life easier and ensure your taxes are assessed correctly, plus you'll avoid associated failure to file penalties.
However, if you're missing records that you need to file your taxes, this can complicate and delay the process of catching up on your tax returns. Here's what you can do if your records are missing and you want to file your back taxes with minimal delays.
Request a tax transcript from the IRS if you can't get copies from the payers
Today, many employers and financial institutions (among other types of payers such as publishers and freelance gig platforms) will make your tax forms available to you online. Many will allow you to access these forms at any time, but sometimes this information is only available in a very short window. If the company has gone out of business, it can prove difficult or impossible to get these records directly from the source.
If your employer or clients will not release copies of your tax forms, you can see which forms were filed with the IRS by requesting a tax transcript.
A tax transcript details types of income that were reported to the IRS, such as:
- Wages and salaries on Form W-2
- Non-employment compensation, royalties, and other miscellaneous income on 1099-MISC
- Retirement plan distributions on 1099-R
- Interest on savings and other assets on 1099-INT
- Dividend payments on 1099-DIV
- Stock sales and other investment activity on 1099-B
If you are missing records to correctly file your back taxes, the transcript you want is the Wage and Income Transcript. You can request information as far back as the past 10 years.
Tax transcripts provide you with verification of which forms were filed with the government and can help assure you that your entries on your back taxes are accurate. People will often request them to properly respond to IRS notices, deal with identity theft, and prepare back taxes.
Thoroughly examine your financial records for items that are not reported on tax transcripts
If you are self-employed, it's plausible that you do not receive 1099 forms from every client. You still need to report your income that does not show up on a tax transcript and all of your business expenses.
If you need to assemble this information, you need to start with these areas:
- Bank statements
- Digital payment processor records (I.e. PayPal, Venmo)
- Credit and debit card statements
- Email receipts
- Paper receipts
- Canceled checks
- Deposit slips
Even if you are not self-employed, you may have miscellaneous income that must be reported, such as proceeds from personal property sales or a winning lottery ticket. You could also be missing crucial deductions for health insurance and medical expenses, charitable donations, and student loan interest payments. Make note of these items in a spreadsheet.
If you are self-employed, it's a good idea to start separate bank, credit card, and payment processor accounts so that your business expenses are easier to differentiate from your personal expenses, and more likely to be deductible as a result.
How Jackson Hewitt can help
Falling behind on your taxes can be a scary prospect but it doesn't have to be. Lacking the necessary records can present a temporary roadblock, but there's a very strong chance that the IRS has backups if you're unable to get in touch with the original payers. For records where the IRS does not have copies, start with your own financial records then organize them.
If you need help requesting & getting all of your records in order, Jackson Hewitt’s team has a wide variety of tools to manage tax issues. Whether simple or complex, our team is trained to work directly with the IRS and keep our clients updated throughout the process. Contact us to learn about our resolution process and see how committed Jackson Hewitt is to working hard for the hardest working.
About the Author
Jo Willetts, Director of Tax Resources at Jackson Hewitt, has more than 35 years of experience in the tax industry. As an Enrolled Agent, Jo has attained the highest level of certification for a tax professional. She began her career at Jackson Hewitt as a Tax Pro, working her way up to General Manager of a franchise store. In her current role, Jo provides expert knowledge company-wide to ensure that tax information distributed through all Jackson Hewitt channels is current and accurate.
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