It’s the curse of the procrastinator. Sometimes it’s putting off filing taxes until it’s too late. Other times it’s neglecting to pay a bill until it’s past due—a mistake that can seriously affect your credit score.

Well, we can’t change the past. But if you’ve missed the tax-filing deadline, there are ways to reduce the damage.

We have two items on our to do list:

1. Get the tax return filed ASAP.
2. Provide a good, credible, heart-rending excuse for filing late in order to reduce the 25 percent penalty (and the related interest) for filing taxes late.

Task 1: File your tax return as soon as you can.

Make a list of all the things keeping you from filing the tax return. Once you complete the list, write some solutions next to each obstacle. For example:

1. You’re missing information from third parties (clients, banks, investments, partnerships, etc.).

  • If they were the ones holding up the reports, write letters demanding the information be furnished immediately or you will file complaints with whatever watchdog agency oversees their industry (the SEC, the FTC, and so on).
  • Prepare a reasonable estimate of the income or loss. Attach a worksheet and/or explanation to the tax return.

2. Something different or unusual happened this year and you don’t know how to report it.

  • If you started a business that failed before the year was out, read this.
  • If you started divorce proceedings and don’t know how to handle the tax return, read this.
  • In all instances, have a tax professional help you prepare the tax return.

3. You don’t have the money to pay the taxes, even if you file.

Task 2: Establish your reasons for filing late.

There are many reasons why you may have needed to file your taxes late. For example:

1. You were too ill to file, in whatever form that illness may have taken—physical, mental, or emotional.

  • Get a note from a physician or therapist on letterhead. Have the note explain your condition and how it prevented you from being able to focus on your tax return.
  • Complete your tax return immediately.

2. Your data was destroyed due to fire, flood, or other disaster, and you don’t know how to reconstruct it.

3. You experienced a sudden death or illness in the family close to the filing deadline and just couldn’t get the work completed in time.

  • Provide proof of the death or illness as well as proof that you were present to help out or to make final arrangements.

No matter what the situation, file the tax returns as soon as you can. When it comes to getting the penalties waived, it’s important to provide proof of the reason you were unable to file on time. Doctor’s reports, police reports, hospital reports, and death certificates are all helpful. When writing your letter to request penalty relief, be truthful, but be poignant—you want to make them sympathetic when they read your story.

Eva Rosenberg, EA is the publisher of , where your tax questions are answered. Eva is the author of several books and ebooks, including the new edition of Small Business Taxes Made Easy. Eva teaches a tax pro course at and tax courses you might enjoy at