There’s no getting around it: taxes are the worst. And while it’s great to get a tax return check in the mail, putting those returns together isn’t so fun either. That’s especially true if you realize you made a mistake on your tax return. What do you even do in that situation? Does the government get to keep the extra money you paid? Don’t worry, I would never let you pay more than you need to. Today’s post is all about what to do when you make a mistake on your taxes.

How to file an amended tax return
How I feel about doing my taxes

My taxes were a total nightmare this year. I spent the first half of 2014 as a management consultant, and worked in multiple states while I traveled to my clients. That meant that I got a W2 for each state I worked in – in 2014 that was Maryland (my primary residence) and New York. I’d been through the multi-state W2 process before so I figured I could handle my returns myself.

And then it got even more complicated. I started a new job last June, which meant a new W2. Plus, I no longer had access to my HR portal at my old company to see my W2s online. So come this April, I waited patiently to get my W2s in the mail and filed my tax return.

A few weeks after I submitted my return, I was cleaning out some old piles and saw… a W2 I hadn’t included! UH OH. I didn’t see my NY W2 when it first came and totally forgot about it. That meant I overpaid NY tax, MD tax (at first I owed the state money), and federal tax.

OMG Excited

The worst part? For all of my financial guru-ness, I had no idea what to do! At first, I was worried that I had just made a very expensive, irreversible mistake.

Luckily, some frantic Googling and a call to my dad (who somehow knows how to fix everything) helped me out. Turns out, there is something you can do when you make a mistake on your tax returns.

If you realize you need to update your tax return, you can file an amended one. You actually have three years after the date you filed your original return to make changes. Turns out, the IRS cares a lot if you pay them on time, but they’re not so picky if you take a while to get more money back from them. Here’s what the IRS has to say about filing an amended return.

To change your taxes, you’ll have to file a federal income tax amendment: form 1040X. You’ll also have to file an amended return for each state that’s affected. So in my case, I had to file three amended returns.

Unfortunately, all amended returns need to be submitted via paper and mailed in. You’ll likely want to send it certified mail to make sure it gets there. While that’s a pain, the good news is that if you filed an original return electronically (i.e. via TurboTax or H&R Block), you can use that same system to create your amended return.

HR Block

Then you can print and mail your federal return straight from your computer, but you might just have to fill in paperwork by hand for certain states (like I had to do for Maryland). This wasn’t too much of a pain though, since my electronic work told me exactly what numbers to input, and gave me instructions for mailing each amended return.

The other thing to keep in mind? Amended returns take a lot longer to process than original returns. So be prepared to wait about 2-3 months for your check.

The good news? You’re not alone in making a mistake. About 5 million tax payers- 4% of the 131.2 million returns received filed an amended return last year. And if you realize that you made a mistake too, now you know that there’s something you can do about it!

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