by Sally Herigstad

Everybody makes mistakes – there are no exceptions. If you discover an error or something you missed on your return after you filed it, don't panic.

Fortunately, most mistakes in life can be fixed, and your tax return is no exception.

When should I file an amended tax return?

A Form 1099 that slipped under the couch, a substantial business deduction you forgot, or any other item that changes your tax return may mean you need to file an amended return.

Sometimes you need to file an amended return for something that is not your fault. For example, your employer may send a corrected form, which means the amounts you used when you filed your return need to be corrected.

Unless the change to your tax liability is inconsequential, it's best to change your return.

In some cases, you should file an amended return even if the changes don't impact the amount of tax you owe. For example, if you entered an incorrect Social Security number, you should amend your return to avoid future problems.

How to file an amended return

The most important thing to know about filing an amended return is that you should not start over and file Form 1040 and all the attached forms again. You only file your complete tax return once. After that, you file Form 1040X – Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return and change only the items that are incorrect.

If the incorrect items are entered on other forms or schedules, you attach the corrected forms or schedules to Form 1040X. Do not attach copies of forms or schedules that do not change.

You cannot e-file your amended return. Instead, the IRS requires that you print the Form and file it by mail.

Don't forget your state income tax return. If you live in a state with a state income tax, you generally must amend both returns.

Am I in big trouble with the IRS?

Simply put, not really.

Even if you make a huge mistake such as forgetting to enter your Form W-2, the IRS has seen it all before. Unless you committed fraud or tax evasion, they won't hold it against you. All they really want is the money.

That said, the sooner you fix any errors on your return, the better.

If you owe more tax because of a mistake on your return, the sooner you file and pay the tax, the less penalty and interest you will have to pay.

Don't automatically assume you have to pay a penalty. If you amend your return before it is due (before April 15), then your amendment is timely, and no interest or penalty will accrue. Also, the IRS can be quite reasonable, especially for a first-time mistake. Attach a statement with your amended return, and specifically ask for an "abatement" of any penalty.

Besides, if you have to amend your return, you might as well get it over with. It probably won't be as hard as you expect.

How can I avoid mistakes in the future?

You can avoid most tax return mistakes by organizing your information before doing your taxes and not waiting until the last minute to start your return. Tax software takes care of the math and checks your return for errors, missing information and potential savings.

It's also very important to read your tax return before you file it. Comparing it to last year's return can help jog your memory about deductions and other items.

Don't hang on to your unfiled return too long, however, because you're afraid it's not perfect. It's better to file your return on time, even if you have to amend it later, than to pay penalties for late filing.

Have you ever requested an abatement of penalty for a tax return?

If you'd like to join in on the discussion around this post, we'd love to see you in the conversation over on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

Photo credit: ktpupp via photopin cc

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Upcoming Tax Dates

May 2 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
File Form 941 for the first quarter of 2017. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter timely, properly, and in full, you have until May 10 to file the return.

May 2 — Federal unemployment tax.
Deposit the tax owed through March if more than $500.

May 2 — Form 720 taxes
File Form 720 for the first quarter of 2017.

May 2 — Wagering tax
File Form 730 and pay the tax on wagers accepted during March.

May 10 — Employees who work for tips
If you received $20 or more in tips during April, report them to your employer Details

May 10 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
File Form 941 for the first quarter of 2017. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter timely, properly, and in full.

May 11 — Communications and air transportation taxes under the alternative method
Deposit the tax included in amounts billed or tickets sold during the first 15 days of April.

May 13 — Regular method taxes
Deposit the tax for the last 15 days of April.

May 16 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in April.

May 16 — Nonpayroll withholding
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in April.

May 25 — Communications and air transportation taxes under the alternative method
Deposit the tax included in amounts billed or tickets sold during the last 15 days of April.

May 27 — Regular method taxes
Deposit the tax for the first 15 days of May.

May 31 — Wagering tax
File Form 730 and pay the tax on wagers accepted during April.

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