How to file your income tax return

It is not unusual to make mistake while filling taxes. If you haven't filed your taxes in a few years, you may be wondering how you can dig your way out of bad situation. At this time you might be surprised to learn that filing process can be the quickest way out of tax trouble, but you will have to protect yourself in the process.

Here are five steps to help you take control of your back taxes.

1. Collect All Your Tax Documents

Do you remember when was the last year you filed and do you have a copy of that tax return? Do you still have W-2s and other tax documents for the years you didn't file? If you are missing something you can request copies of your tax documents from the IRS for free, or contact your employer or the institution that would have sent them to you. Keep in mind that they may not still have them on file, however, or at least they may not be easily accessible. Also, there might be a fee if you choose this option.

2. Prepare the Tax Returns Yourself or Hire a Tax Professional

It is important to use reliable and easy-to-use software (read reviews on our site to see what is best for you) if you are going to prepare your tax returns yourself. Plan on spending about two to three hours on each tax return you need to file.

Better option is to do that with an experienced tax professional, because he can help you deal with the IRS.

The best way to find a tax pro is to ask your friends. Look for someone with significant experience in preparing back taxes. If you need advice on how to handle incomplete tax documentation or an advocate who will negotiate with the IRS on your behalf, a tax professional is the way to go.

3. Don't be late and Protect Your Tax Refunds

Many late filers are entitled to tax refunds, believe it or not. There are strict time limits for refunds, audits, and debt collection, and you must respect them if you want refund. In most cases, you have three years from the date your tax return was due before your refund "expires." But if you owe other tax debts, such as because you have a balance due from another year, your refund will typically be applied to that debt.

4. Don't Owe, Pay Off Your Tax Debts

Create a plan for paying off your tax debts if it turns out that you owe the IRS money. You may also need to plan on how to protect yourself from an IRS investigation, assessment, levy or lien, and this is where a tax professional can be helpful.

You'll typically need the help of a professional for this. You must establish that you cannot pay your balance through an installment agreement or by any other means.

Either way, address the situation as promptly as possible. Ignoring the IRS can get you into big trouble very fast.

5. Plan Ahead

Your next plan of action should be to focus on the future, to avoid any unpleasant situation. This is a good opportunity to review your overall tax situation and to come up with strategies for reducing your taxes and achieving your financial goals. And again, a tax professional can help. If you think you might owe the IRS next year as well, consider making estimated tax payments in advance, if possible, to avoid having to deal with a lump sum again.