Mess Up Your Taxes? Breathe. You Can File an Amendment to Fix it

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Taxes are tricky. Sometimes you don’t get everything right on the first try.

Did you know you can get a second chance?

I was happy to learn about amended tax returns this year because I filed incorrectly.

Even though I’ve lived with my partner for years, the IRS has always considered me “single” because we never put a ring on it. So this year, again, I filed as single.

Then I remembered, I was solely responsible for bringing home the bacon throughout 2016, while my partner cooked it and other stay-at-home cliches.

For my hard work, the IRS considers me “head of household.” Thank you very much.

For a second, I lamented my incorrect filing status because it meant a lower refund. Eh, we’ll do it better next year. But I work with some scrappy Penny Hoarders who know a thing or two about money, and I learned about amended tax returns.

Salvation! I can let the IRS know who wears the skinny jeans in my house — and get my due return.

Why File an Amended Tax Return

You can file an amended tax return to make these corrections on forms 1040, 1040A, 1040-EZ, 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ:

  • Change your filing status.
  • Correct your income.
  • Add deductions or credits you missed.

You don’t need to file an amended return to correct math errors — the nerds at the IRS will take care of that for you.

You also don’t need to file an amendment if you forgot to attach necessary forms to your original return. The IRS will contact you to fetch those.

In most cases, married couples can’t change their filing status from joint to married filing separately after the due date. (You probably don’t want to, anyway.)

How to File an Amended Tax Return

You can’t file an amendment electronically. You have to send paper through the mail. This stopped millennial me in my tracks.

Then I realized I could get about $600 back, and I was convinced to cough up the cost of printing and a stamp.

You file using form 1040X. (Detailed instructions are here.) It’s free, save for that stamp and the cost to print the form.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • You have to file the amended return within three years of filing the original or two years of paying the tax, whichever is later.
  • If the IRS owes you a refund on your original return, wait until you receive it.
  • If you’re amending multiple years at once, fill out a separate 1040X for each year and mail them in separate envelopes. (I know, this stamp bill is really climbing…)
  • Check with your state agency to find out whether changes to your federal return affect your state return.
  • You don’t have to attach copies of your W-2s or 1099s again, unless you received them after the original filing and are including them in the amendment.

What Happens Next?

If you’re expecting an additional refund, keep an eye out for it! You can check the status of your amended return here.

Dana Sitar ([email protected]) is a senior writer/newsletter editor at The Penny Hoarder. Say hi and tell her a good joke on Twitter @danasitar.