Can You File State Taxes Without Filing Federal? Explained

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Tax season brings with it a myriad of questions and concerns, one of which is the possibility of filing state taxes without filing federal taxes. This article delves into the intricacies of this subject, providing insights, solutions, and a comprehensive understanding of the topic.

The Relationship Between State and Federal Taxes

Federal taxes, collected by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), form a significant portion of government revenue. Each state also levies its taxes to fund specific programs and services. The interplay between federal and state taxes is complex, and understanding this relationship is crucial for accurate tax filing.

Can You File State Taxes Without Filing Federal Taxes?

Filing by Mail

If you’re planning to file paper forms for both your federal and state returns, you can file your state return before your federal return. This approach could work if you have enough time to receive the refund, but you’ll still need information from the federal return to complete the state return.

Filing by E-file

If you’re planning to file electronically through e-file, you won’t be able to e-file your state taxes before you e-file your federal taxes. Generally, e-file programs require you to file your federal return first, then file any state returns.

State Only Filings

Some states will not allow you to file a state return without an accompanying federal return. These states include Arkansas, Mississippi, and Oklahoma. If you have already filed a federal return elsewhere, it is recommended that you file your state returns with that provider as well.

Filing by MailState return before federal, use of state refundRequires federal info, time-sensitive
Filing by E-fileStreamlined electronic processFederal return first
State Only FilingsPossible with prior federal filingSome states disallow, may incur federal fee

Risks of Not Filing Either Return

While there may be situations where it’s permissible or even mandatory to only file one type of tax return rather than both, in most cases failing to file either returns can result in serious consequences such as:

  • Late payment penalties
  • Interest charges
  • Legal action against non-filers

Additionally, keep in mind that failure-to-file penalties increase over time and interest at elevated rates before accruing too much money with these penalties could multiply rapidly.

Failing to comply with IRS’s rules ultimately means more work down the road if/when caught up. Legal actions like wage garnishment become imminent for violating US Tax Laws.

Free File Program

Taxpayers whose adjusted gross income was $72,000 or less in 2019 can file their 2020 federal taxes for free using IRS Free File. Many of them can also do their state taxes at no charge. They do so through Free File offered by the IRS. More than 20 states have a state Free File program patterned after the federal partnership.


While it may be possible to file your state taxes without filing federal taxes, doing so can carry risks and potentially lead to negative consequences. It’s important to consult with a qualified tax professional or accountant prior to deciding which returns you will file.

By following these guidelines, taxpayers can stay compliant with both federal and state laws while avoiding penalties, fines, or legal action.


Can I file state taxes without filing federal taxes?

Yes, depending on the state’s requirements. However, it’s generally recommended to file the federal tax return first.

What happens if I don’t file my federal taxes but do file my state taxes?

You may be subject to penalties and interest charges if required to file a federal tax return but miss the deadline.

Will filing just a state income tax affect eligibility for stimulus checks or other government benefits?

No, but individual circumstances should be verified with relevant programs.