FAQ: Can the IRS impose penalties if a return is not filed/tax not paid?

Yes, the IRS can impose penalties if a tax return is not timely filed or if a tax liability is not timely paid. As with all IRS penalties, the rules are complex. However, a taxpayer may avoid a penalty if he or she shows reasonable cause.

Failure to file

The penalty for failure to file a timely return is five percent of the net amount of tax due for each month or partial month of the delinquency, up to a maximum of 25 percent. The penalty runs from the due date of the return until the date the IRS actually receives the late return. If the failure to file an income tax return extends for more than 60 days, the penalty may not be less than the lesser of $135 (subject to annual inflation adjustments) or 100 percent of the tax due on the return. The penalty applies to the net amount due, which is the tax shown on the return and any additional tax found to be due as reduced by any credits for withholding and estimated tax payments.

Failure to pay

The failure-to-pay tax penalty is generally one-half of one percent of the amount of the unpaid tax for each month of the delinquency, up to a maximum of 25 percent for 50 months. For failure to pay tax shown on the return, the penalty is imposed on the amount shown on the return, less amounts that have been withheld, estimated tax payments, partial payments and other applicable credits. For failure to pay a deficiency within the number of days allotted after the date of a notice and demand, the penalty is imposed on the tax stated in the notice, reduced by the amount of any partial payments.


Complexity enters when a taxpayer is subject to both the failure-to-file and the failure-to-pay penalty. In this case, the failure-to-file penalty is generally reduced by the amount of the failure-to-pay penalty. Every taxpayer’s situation is unique, so please contact our office for more details.

Reasonable cause

The failure-to-pay penalty does not apply if the taxpayer shows that the failure-to-pay was due to reasonable cause and not to willful neglect. Generally, the taxpayer must pay the tax due before the IRS will abate a failure-to-pay penalty for reasonable cause.

Certain entities

The Tax Code authorizes the IRS to impose specific penalties on certain entities that fail to file returns. These include a partnership that is required to file a partnership return but does not timely do so, or files a return that does not contain the required information; and an S corporation that is required to file its information return but does not timely do so, or files a return that does not contain the required information, and certain persons with certain interests or stock in a foreign partnership or corporation, among other entities.

Penalties are one of the most complex areas in the Tax Code. If you have any questions about penalties, do not hesitate to contact our office.