How many years back can you file your income tax return when the government owes you?
If the IRS owes you a refund, you're in a great situation. First, the good news. There is no late filing penalty if you are due a refund. Now, the bad news. You have three years from the original due date to file a tax return and still get a refund. This is called the statute of limitations for claiming a refund.
What that means, in practical terms, is that right now you can still file your 2001 tax return and get a refund. You have until April 15, 2005, to file your 2001 return. What if you file your 2001 return on April 16, 2005? Kiss your refund goodbye, because it is gone forever.
Now, if you need to file tax returns earlier than 2001, you should still file those returns at your earliest convenience. You may be thinking, why should I file if I am not getting a refund? The IRS may think that you owe taxes. And the only way to prevent them from collecting more tax is to file a return.
So, bottom line, you should file any and all late tax returns. You will get refund checks if the return is less than 3 years late. And you will prevent collections activity on the earlier tax years.
Also, I have provided a handy guide to filing back taxes. This should provide additional tips and suggestions.