If you've already filed your income tax return but discover you made a mistake, what should you do? Making things right can be done by using Form 1040X to amend a tax return. You can amend a return to claim a tax break you did not get the first time around or to correct an error that may have increased your tax.

Corrections to a tax return are made by filing an amended return. By amending a return, you can correct errors and claim a more advantageous tax status, like a refund.

All of us make mistakes - it's a fact of life. Once you've filed your tax return, if you find an error or an oversight, do not panic. There are few mistakes in life that cannot be fixed, and your tax return is no different.

images depicting correcting a tax return and amended tax return

Can you change a federal income tax return?

It is no longer possible to change your original income tax return once it has been mailed or sent electronically. The only exception is if your e-filed tax return is rejected, you can make changes before submitting it again.

To make changes after you have filed your original tax return, you must file an amended tax return using a special form called the 1040X, entering the correct information and explaining why you are changing the information. The entire return does not have to be redone. Simply make the necessary changes and adjust your tax liability.

An amended return must typically be filed within three years of the date on which the original return was filed or within two years after payment of the tax, whichever comes first.

What are the benefits of filing an IRS amended return?

If you amend your tax return, you may be able to claim a tax credit, take a deduction you missed, or report additional income and withholding.

The correction you made may result in an additional refund or tax due as a result of your 1040X form.

If you're due a refund, the IRS will send it to you after accepting your amended return. If you owe tax, you must send the 1040X tax form along with the amount owed. The IRS will bill you if you owe interest or penalties.

When Not to File an Amended Return

In the case that your return is taking a long time to process or you haven't received your tax refund for over 21 days, you should not file a tax amendment. It will not speed up the process, and it might even slow it down; a tax amendment can only be applied to changes or corrections to your accepted tax return.

There is the possibility that you might have made simple math errors or forgotten to attach certain forms if you did not eFile your taxes (eFiled returns are automatically calculated and no paper forms are required). In most cases, the IRS will catch the errors and correct them while processing your original return.

When the IRS needs additional information from you (i.e. a missing form or clarification of information included in the original return), they generally send you a letter. Remember, the IRS will not call or email you.

info icon Helpful Resource: What to do when you recieve an IRS letter

How to File an Amended Federal Tax Return

To file an amended return, the most important thing to know is that you shouldn't start over and file Form 1040 and all the attached forms again. You should only file one complete tax return. You then file Form 1040X - Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return and correct only those items that are incorrect.

Amending a return is fairly straightforward. Here are the steps.

Collect Your Documents and Forms

The first step is to gather your original tax return and any additional documents necessary for your amended return.

You may need to have a new W-2 or amended 1099 form if you need to correct your income reported on your return. To claim a tax deduction or credit that you missed out on, you'll need supporting documents, such as receipts, an amended or new Form 1098 Mortgage Interest Statement, or Form 1098-T.

In the event that you filed your tax return using online tax software, you can access your tax return online or print a copy of it by logging into your account. Your accountant can assist you in finding the proper paperwork and in filing your amendment if you filed with them.

Using the Get Transcript tool on IRS.gov, you can order a copy of your tax transcript if you are unable to locate your tax return. The transcript includes most of your tax return lines, such as income, deductions, credits, and taxes paid.

You'll need Form 1040-X to amend a return, as well as any forms affected by your changes. As an example, you'll need a copy of Schedule A if you're changing your itemized deductions. If you want to add interest or dividend income to your return, you'll need to file Schedule B. Changes to revenues or expenses from a trade or business require Schedule C and Schedule SE. Updating capital gains and losses requires Form 8949 and Schedule D, etc.

Fill Out Form 1040-X

Taxpayers who need to make changes to a previously filed federal tax return must use Form 1040-X: Amended U.S. Individual U.S. Income Tax Return.

Example of IRS Form 1040-X

There are three columns on Form 1040-X:

Column A

Listed in column A is the information you previously reported on your tax return. Complete this column with the copy of your tax return you gathered in Step 1.

1040-X Column A Example

Column B

The amount in Column B indicates how the original return needs to increase or decrease. Example: To include $1000 of interest income missed from your previously filed tax return, you would enter $1000 on line 1, column B.

Form 1040 X Column B Example

Column C

The correct amount is shown in column C. Enter the result by adding the amounts in column A and column B.

Form 1040 X Column C Example

Part III

You'll need to explain your reasons for amending your return in Part III of Form 1040-X.

Form 1040 X Part III example

Submit Your Amended Return

Amended tax returns can be e-filed as of the 2019 tax year.

You must print Form 1040-X and any other forms you are amending if you are amending your return for 2018 or earlier. Include any necessary supporting documents, including:

  • Updated W-2s and 1099 forms.
  • Forms or schedules that have been updated
  • Your CP2000 notice if you're amending your tax return as a result of an IRS notice

Complete all forms and documents and mail them to the address on the notice.

You will need to make an additional tax payment if amending your tax return results in a higher tax bill. A payment can be made electronically for an amended return that was e-filed. Otherwise, a check should be mailed with the amended return. Paying now instead of waiting for an invoice from the IRS minimizes the interest and penalties you'll owe you'll owe.

If you file an amended tax return on paper instead of electronically, it can take the IRS eight to 12 weeks to process the amendment. Using the IRS' Where's My Amended Return? tool, you can check the status of your amended return. You need to wait about three weeks after mailing your return for the information to appear in the IRS system.

How to File an Amended State Tax Return

Normally, you'll also have to file an amended state tax return if you amend your federal income tax return. There are different forms for each state.

You can amend your state tax return in two easy steps:

  1. Fill out Form 1040X, amended federal income tax return
  2. Then, get the appropriate form from your state and use the information from Form 1040X to fill it out

A state's amended return is typically filed on a special form, similar to the IRS's. In some states, the form number also has the suffix X. You can e-file amended returns in some states, but you must file paper returns in others.

If your state requires it, attach a copy of your amended federal return (Form 1040X) to your amended state return.

Due Date For Filing an Amended Return

In order to receive a refund, you must file an amended return by the later of these dates:

  • Within three years of the date you filed your original tax return
  • Within two years of the date you paid the tax

You will have one of these filing dates if you received an extension on your original tax return:

  • Your actual filing date within the extension period
  • Due date for filing a tax return after the extension period expires

You have more time to file an amended tax return when you have bad debt or worthless security. In this case, you have seven years from the due date of your original return to file an amended return.

An amended tax return can also be filed by a business owner if he or she had a net operating loss (NOL). The amended return must be filed within three years of the due date of the return for the NOL year.

Keeping Track of Your Amended Tax Return

The IRS's online tracking tool allows you to monitor the progress of your amended tax return.

Additionally, you can check the status of your amended tax return by contacting the IRS.

It can take as long as 16 weeks for the IRS to process an amended return after it shows up in the system.

After 16 weeks, if nothing has happened, you should contact the IRS again or ask a local IRS office to check your amended return.

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