04/17/2014 10:45 am ET Updated Jun 17, 2014

I Didn't File Taxes -- Now What?

April 15 has come and gone, but if you didn't file your tax bill, all is not lost, even if you think you will owe taxes. Take a deep breath and learn what you can do next to avoid serious consequences if you didn't file your taxes by the April 15 deadline.

Get help if possible
First, no advice here is a good substitute for talking to a qualified tax professional about your situation. If you can afford to meet with one, do it, and be honest about the reasons that led you to avoid filing. They will make it their goal to help you set your situation straight.

Act now
Yes, the deadline has passed, but it wouldn't be a bad idea to file for an extension using IRS form 4868, "Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return" following all of the instructions now. Really -- right NOW is the time to file this. Yes, it will be late, but you're showing good faith and an that you are making an attempt to rectify your mistake.

The bad news here is that if you are expecting to owe taxes, you will be expected to include a payment with the paperwork. However, the form states that you can make a partial payment, but there will be penalties involved. The IRS will charge interest on what you haven't paid, and you may be charged a fee in addition to the interest. Pay as much as you can so that you won't owe as much down the road.

Lost paperwork
If you are still waiting on W-2s or 1099 or other forms to report your income, and you didn't keep good records or have lost paperwork, do your best to estimate the amount you earned. Be as honest and thorough as possible so that you don't come in too low or too high, either of which could raise red flags later on.

If you are filing the extension on paper, consider including a note explaining the reasons behind the late filing. It isn't required, but it can't hurt if you have some solid reasons, such as some hardship that resulted in a loss of paperwork, or a complicated work year with a lot of details like expenses, a heavy load of private contracting with a large number of sources, or some other reason that complicated your efforts.

State what efforts you are making, but be accountable for your actions. "I forgot" isn't a good reason. "I don't have the money right now" might be more forthright, but list the attempts you've made and outline your strategy to make good on the debt. Keep it short, professional, positive, and to the point.

Cash back with that?
If you didn't file taxes but are expecting a refund, IRS agents are not likely to view your delinquency as an attempt at fraud, nor will they withhold your refund if you are late to file. You are also not alone. In a press release, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said that almost $760 million in unclaimed taxes from 2010 are about to expire. "The window is quickly closing for people who are owed refunds from 2010 who haven't filed a tax return. We encourage students, part-time workers and others who haven't filed for 2010 to look into this before time runs out on April 15," Koskinen said.

While you can claim a refund for up to three years, don't wait: get the extension application in now, or go ahead and file late. Your tax return will be at the bottom of the pile, but you will have done what you needed to do.

Stop dreading it: just do it

No matter the reasons behind your decision to not file your taxes by April 15, the sooner you buckle down and do it, the better off you will be, and a weight will be lifted off of your shoulders. Face whatever fears, tears, or other reasons for resistance and just get it done. You will be surprised by how much better you feel, and much closer to feeling secure about your financial future.

Shirley Pulawski is a freelance journalist who frequently contributes to

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