What to do if the IRS rejects your tax return

Young man sitting at desk in front of laptop, holding his forehead and looking frustrated because his tax return was rejected.Image: Young man sitting at desk in front of laptop, holding his forehead and looking frustrated because his tax return was rejected.

In a Nutshell

Rejection is never fun, but don’t panic if your tax return is rejected. The IRS could reject your federal income tax return for many reasons. Here’s what you should know about why returns get rejected and what to do if it happens to you.
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This article was fact-checked by our editors and Jennifer Samuel, senior product specialist for Credit Karma. It has been updated for the 2019 tax year.

No one likes rejection, especially when it comes in the form of a rejected tax return.

Having your tax return rejected isn’t necessarily an immediate cause for concern. But you should figure out why the IRS rejected it, and submit a corrected return as quickly and accurately as possible.

Why the IRS might reject your return

Generally, if the IRS rejects your return it’s probably because it contains an error other than a simple math mistake. The IRS typically corrects math errors without rejecting a return.

Grafton Willey, managing director of CBIZ MHM’s Providence, Rhode Island, office says he sees tax returns get rejected because a name or number on the return doesn’t match information in the IRS or Social Security Administration databases.

Typos and misspellings can be quick and easy to fix. You might even be able to correct the issue online and e-file again. Other issues, such as someone fraudulently filing a return with your Social Security number, may require you to mail your corrected return.

Will the IRS email, text or call if my return is rejected?

Scammers frequently impersonate the IRS and try to get victims to send them money or share personal information. The IRS won’t email or text you, or contact you via social media. It will generally mail you a notice.

An IRS agent may call you or visit your home, but usually only after sending several letters first. Agents generally don’t show up on your doorstep for a rejected return.

Correct mistakes and file an amended return

When an e-filed return gets rejected, the IRS will often let you know within a few hours. It also sends a rejection code and explanation of why the e-filed return was rejected.

If you had a company e-file your return, it must either correct the mistake on your behalf or inform you that your return was rejected within 24 hours.

You may be able to e-file a corrected return if your return was rejected for any of these reasons:

  • A Social Security number (SSN) or Taxpayer Identification Number doesn’t match the taxpayer’s name.
  • You misspelled a name.
  • A payer’s identification number, such as your employer’s Employer Identification Number, isn’t correct.
  • Your return is missing a form.

“The important thing to do is to make sure that the names and numbers reported on your tax returns match the paper information that they are taken from,” says Willey.

Remember, whether you hand-key information into e-filing software, write it on a paper form, or rely on software to import information, be sure to thoroughly check the accuracy of all information before filing your return.

Learn more about how to file an amended tax return

E-file or snail mail?

Sometimes you can’t e-file a corrected return after an IRS rejection. For example, if your return is rejected because someone else uses your SSN, your spouse’s SSN or your dependent’s SSN without authorization, you may need to print your return and mail it. The IRS will then contact you by mail if it needs additional supporting documents.

Don’t worry if you filed your return by the due date and it gets rejected. The IRS will consider it filed on time if you make the necessary corrections and e-file it again within 10 days.  If you are mailing a paper return, you have until the actual due date of the return (generally April 15) or 10 calendar days after the IRS gives notification that the return was rejected or that the return cannot be accepted for processing, whichever is later, to get it back to the IRS. You should include an explanation with the paper return.

If a fraudulent return was filed with your SSN

Identity theft and tax fraud are two of the most concerning reasons for a rejected tax return.

If someone uses your SSN to fraudulently file a tax return and claim a refund, your tax return could get rejected because your SSN was already used to file a return. When this happens, you’ll need to print your tax return and file it with Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit.

You may want to review the IRS’s guide to identity theft, which includes recommended procedures and warning signs of identity theft.

“It is also wise to monitor your credit because there may be other attempts at identity theft,” says Willey.

Prepare ahead of time to avoid rejection

Proper preparation could help you avoid some common reasons for rejection.

For example, if you changed your name due to a marriage or divorce, report the name change to the Social Security Administration. If you don’t, your tax return could get rejected because your new name doesn’t match the SSA’s database. It’s a good idea to update your information as quickly as possible to give the SSA and IRS databases time to sync.

Your return could also get rejected if you received an Identity Protection PIN in the past, but forgot to put it on your tax return. If you lost your PIN, you’ll need to request a new one before you can file.

If you have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, be sure it hasn’t expired before you file. An expired ITIN could cause the IRS to reject your return. Your ITIN may expire if you haven’t used it on a federal tax return at least once in the past three years. Or if you or one of your dependents has an ITIN that was issued before January 1, 2013, you may need to renew it before filing your amended return on Form 1040X.

Additionally, if you prepare and e-file your taxes, you may need the prior year’s adjusted gross income when you sign to validate this year’s return. If this isn’t correct, it may take the IRS longer to process your return, and they may potentially reject it.

Bottom line

If your tax return is rejected, don’t panic. While it could delay your refund, or lead to penalties if you don’t promptly correct the error and refile, the common reasons for rejection are often easy to fix.

However, if your return was rejected because a return was already filed with your Social Security number, that could indicate you were a victim of identity theft. You should take steps to protect your finances and credit, and clear up the status of your rejected tax return with the IRS.

Relevant sources: About Form 1040-X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return | Form 14039 | When to File a Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit | IRS: Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft | Social Security Administration: How Do I Change or Correct My Name on My Social Security Number Card? | IRS: Get an Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN)

Jennifer Samuel, senior tax product specialist for Credit Karma, has more than a decade of experience in the tax preparation industry, including work as a tax analyst and tax preparation professional. She holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Saint Leo University. You can find her on LinkedIn.

About the author: Louis DeNicola is a personal finance writer and has written for American Express, Discover and Nova Credit. In addition to being a contributing writer at Credit Karma, you can find his work on Business Insider, Cheapi… Read more.