your tax return — May 11, 2013

Flexing the X

by Bob Williams

amending a tax return

We don't know about you, but spring is one of our favorite seasons. Plants and animals are coming out of hibernation; we can start getting into those short-sleeved shirts again; and eating a salad for lunch actually sounds like a good idea. Oh, yeah -- one more thing: doing our taxes is about as far from our minds as last February's trip to the Deep Freeze.

And then IT happens.

You finally get the W-2 from that place you worked at for an eye-blink while you were laid off last year. Or that IRA interest statement you searched for in vain in April finally shows up under Couch Cushion Number 3. Or maybe you've come to understand that letting your fourth-grader do your addition on your taxes as a parent-daughter bonding moment may only have had short-term benefits.

No matter what the reason, reality finally sinks in: You've got to change your income tax return. Now what?

Take a deep breath, pour yourself another latte and sit down. Let's take a calm look at what needs to be done.

Find Your Mistake

If you discover an error after you've filed your tax return, you can correct it by amending your return. Knowing a few ground rules before you start to fix your problem can save you extra time and worry.

The first question is, do you need to amend your return? Generally speaking, you should file an amended return if your filing status, number of dependents, total income, tax deductions or tax credits were either reported incorrectly or omitted altogether. Check the 1040 instructions for more reasons to amend.

In some cases, you don't need to amend your return. For example, the IRS usually corrects math errors on W-2s  and schedules and such when they process an original return. If they need a form that you should have included, but didn't, they'll request it. In those cases, don't amend your return. It's sort of, Don't Call Them, They'll Call You.

They'll Hear it On the X

If you should amend your return as filed, you'll need a Form 1040X, the Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. This will amend a previously filed 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ, 1040NR, or 1040NR-EZ. Since the IRS needs to know the year of the return that's being changed, be sure to check the box on the Form 1040X for the year of the return that you're amending. Oh, and remember: You'll have to mail your 1040X by Postal Service. The IRS does not accept amended returns electronically.

Here at, we make filing your amended return fast and simple. You can amend your 2012 return by clicking on My Forms and then clicking on the Misc tab. Scroll down to the Form 1040X - 2012 Amended Return form and select it. Complete the form with the appropriate numbers from your original income tax return. Don't forget to include an explanation on Part III of the form (at the bottom), telling the IRS why you're amending your original return. Click Save when you're done. Then go back into your return and make whatever changes you need -- like adding that extra W-2. Save the return, and print everything out.

And Then … ??

Since we're on the subject of printing your return, just where do you send all this rescue paperwork? Download the 1040X instructions from the IRS. You'll find the addresses for amended returns -- grouped by states -- on Page 5. Make sure you have all your forms, especially the ones you're adding to the amended return, before mailing off the package. If the IRS expected to get something you didn't include, it will only delay processing of your return.

There are some finer points that may also come into play in your situation:

  • Don't wait too long before amending a return. Generally, you must file Form 1040X within three years from the date you filed your original return, or within two years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later.
  • If you're filing to claim an additional refund, wait until you get your original refund before filing Form 1040X. You can cash that IRS check while waiting for the additional refund.
  • If you owe additional tax for the year, you should file Form 1040X and pay the tax due as soon as possible to limit penalty or interest charges. Interest is charged on any tax not paid by the due date of the original return -- even if you filed an extension.

So we can view the 1040X as a sort of tax return hammer, that's there to help us fix a leaky 1040. And with most do-it-yourself projects, it pays to plan, to make sure you have all the problems identified, and to do the repair right. Then you can go out and have your own Spring Fling.

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