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When writing a reasonable cause letter to get a tax penalty refund from the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB), you must explain why you could not meet your tax obligation on time and back it up with verifiable documentation. However, you must pay the full amount of taxes you owe, plus the penalty, before you can request a penalty refund.

Convincing the California FTB that you have a reasonable cause for them to waive your tax penalties can take time and effort. So, here is some information you need to know to get a waiver successfully.

Table of Contents

A Reasonable Cause Letter Has a Purpose

Penalties and interest occur when you are late filing or paying your taxes. Sending a reasonable cause letter to the California FTB can help you avoid paying penalties and interest on your tax bill. You can get the California FTB to waive the tax penalties and interest from your tax bill if you have a compelling reason for filing or paying your taxes late.

The California FTB: Overview

The California FTB collects personal and corporate income taxes and helps taxpayers file and pay the correct taxes on time. In addition to the FTB office, the agency comprises the California State Controller, the California Director of Finance, and the California State Board of Equalization offices.

Gathering Information for a Reasonable Cause Letter

A reasonable cause letter can help you get a refund after you pay the penalty for filing and paying your tax after the deadline. However, you must prove a reasonable cause. Presenting the California FTB with the right documents can help prove your case. These documents can be insurance claims from a natural disaster, medical insurance claims for hospitalization, or documents you received from a tax professional who provided you with the wrong information. Here is a closer look at what is on the reasonable cause letter (California FTB Form 2917).

FTB Form 2917: Taxpayer Information

The first section of FTB form 2917 is Taxpayer Information. You fill out this section with your name and your spouse’s name, address, social security number, phone number, and foreign country information (if applicable).

FTB Form 2917: Tax Period for the Abatement

The second section is for the tax period for the abatement request. This section is important because there is a statute of limitations to request an abatement, which is four years after the original tax return due date or four years after the date of a timely return. You also have one year to request a refund of an overpayment. You must fill out the tax year for your abatement request and check the box on your filed tax form.

FTB Form 2917: Refund Amount

The final section is where you put in the refund amount. This amount will be a penalty or overpayment.

Writing the Reasonable Cause Letter

In the third section, you also write your reasonable cause for filing or paying your tax obligation late. Getting a waiver can be difficult, but it is not impossible. Here is what you need to write a convincing reasonable cause letter.

Reasons for Late Filing or Payment

You must provide the California FTB with a compelling reason why they should give you a refund on your tax penalty for a late filing or payment. Telling the agency you forgot or did not know the due date will not be sufficient. A natural disaster, hospitalization, death in the family, or the lack of due diligence on the part of a tax professional are all reasonable causes if you have the appropriate documentation.

Seek the Advice of a Tax Professional

Seeking the advice of a tax professional is a good way to ensure that you are going through the abatement request process the right way. They can help you gather the documents you need and formulate your letter.

Natural Disasters Can Impact Filing and Payment Obligations

Natural disasters, like floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and wildfires, can impact your ability to file and pay your tax obligations on time. Describing how a natural disaster affected your ability to be on time with your tax obligation is important. Also, if you experience a natural disaster before the tax deadline, check the California FTB website to see if they list a filing extension due to the natural disaster.

Ensure the Reason for an Abatement is Legitimate and Documented in Writing

It is essential to provide relevant documentation to support your claim. A tax professional can help you provide the California FTB with the appropriate documentation to justify a penalty abatement. A tax bill, hospital record, a note from your doctor, or an insurance claim with specific dates are appropriate documents for requesting a tax penalty waiver.

The Maximum Tax Penalty Amount Allowed by California Law

Under California law, 25% of what you owe is the maximum tax penalty. You will also receive a 0.5% tax penalty every month you do not pay your delinquent taxes.

How to Write a Reasonable Cause Letter to the California FTB

Being honest and providing verifiable information is the best way to write a reasonable cause letter to the California FTB successfully. Your letter should have these elements:

• Describe what happened and provide key details about why you could not meet your tax obligation.
• Describe when it happened and provide a timeline of events that prevented you from filing and paying your taxes on time.
• Describe how these circumstances affected your ability to fulfill your tax obligation.
• Describe what you did to comply with your tax obligation after the events occurred.

Be Clear About the Reasons for Late Filing and Payment

When writing the Reasonable Cause letter, it is essential to be clear and provide as many details as possible. Having documentation of the events to support your case is very helpful.

Follow-up with the California FTB After Submitting the Reasonable Cause Letter

It typically takes about six weeks for the California FTB to decide on your case. You can visit the California FTB website at or call customer service at 1-800-852-5711 on weekdays from 8 am to 5 pm, except holidays. You can also call 1-916-845-6500 if you are outside the US.

Frequently Asked Questions


What is reasonable cause for penalty abatement in California?

You can do everything right when it comes to paying taxes. However, there may come a time when something goes wrong. Several causes will enable you to get a penalty abatement in California, including a serious illness, death in the family, natural disasters, erroneous tax advice, or inability to obtain records.

What is a reasonable cause letter?

A reasonable cause letter is a letter you can write to the California FTB to have them waive a penalty for not filing or paying taxes on time. You must show there was an unusual circumstance despite trying to fulfill your tax obligations.

How do you write a first-time abatement letter?

You should collect all the necessary documents to prove you have a reasonable cause before writing a first-time abatement letter. Then, you can file a Reasonable Cause – Individual and Fiduciary Claim for Refund (FTB 2917) for personal taxes or a Reasonable Cause – Business Entity Claim for Refund (FTB 2924) for corporate taxes. Both documents have three sections for you to fill out:

• Taxpayer or business entity information
• Tax year information
• A reasonable cause statement explaining the reason for being late with filing or paying taxes, along with the refund amount

How do I fight the California Franchise Tax Board?

There is no escaping your tax obligation. However, you can send the California FTB a reasonable cause letter to get the agency to waive the penalty on your delinquent taxes. You can also submit a protest with California FTB about any additional taxes the agency imposes on you.

How can I reduce my tax burden in California?

California has one of the highest tax rates in the US. Yet, there are ways to reduce your tax burden in the state legally. Some of the ways you can reduce your tax burden in California include the following:

• Opening and contributing to an IRA
• Opening and contributing to a 529 college saving plan
• Qualifying for self-employment taxes
• Getting a work-from-home office tax deduction
• Getting a tax deduction from your medical plan

How do I request an abatement of penalties in California?

There are two ways you can request a waiver of penalties in California. You can call the California FTB or file an FTB 2918 letter. You must meet requirements, including submitting your tax filing on time and having no other penalty abatement requests.

What is a reasonable cause for late filing?

A reasonable cause is a legitimate reason that you must prove to explain why you were late in filing taxes. The reason must be a circumstance that was out of your control. Some reasons include a natural disaster, a family emergency, insufficient third-party tax assistance, or a misunderstanding of the law. However, you must pay the tax in full before requesting a waiver.

How do you avoid an underpayment penalty in California?

There are three ways you can avoid an underpayment penalty in California:

• You can pay your taxes in full by the due date.
• You can pay 90% of the tax due in the current year.
• You can pay 100% of the tax of the preceding year.

Do you have to pay the $800 California LLC fee for the first year?

You must pay the $800 California LLC fee each year, including your first year. This $800 fee is due every year by April 15. You can pay this fee online, by mail, or over the phone.

What happens if you do not pay the California franchise tax?

You will receive a minimum 5% penalty on the unpaid tax if you do not pay the California franchise tax on time. You will also get an additional 1% penalty each month you do not pay the tax for up to 12 months. You can avoid these penalties by paying the taxes on time, creating a payment plan, or making an offer in a compromise with the California FTB.

What is a reasonable basis?

A reasonable basis involves having at least one authority to support your position as a taxpayer. It is the highest form of tax reporting.

How do you ask for penalty abatement?

You must complete and submit FTB form 2917 to the California FTB. You can also go to or call 1-800-689-4776 to request an abatement of penalties.

How do you ask for a first-time abatement?

The California FTB allows a one-time abatement. You can complete and submit FTB form 2918 to the California FTB. You can get this form on their website. You can also go to or call 1-800-689-4776.

What are abatement short notes?

Abatement refers to a decrease in the taxes you must pay, a reduction or elimination of tax penalties, or a tax rebate.

How do I get out of a late filing penalty for a partnership?

A partnership can get out of paying a late filing penalty by completing and submitting the one-time FTB form 2918 to the California FTB.

FTB Reasonable Cause Examples

There are many examples of reasonable causes that can justify failing to file or pay taxes on time. These examples include the following:

• Business records are destroyed in a natural disaster, such as a wildfire or flood.
• The taxpayer dies, has a serious illness, or is mentally disabled.
• There was an error in the banking or financial system.
• A tax professional provides the taxpayer with improper information about tax law.

FTB Form 2917

The California FTB form 2917 enables you, as an individual or fiduciary, to request a penalty abatement and claim a refund for a reasonable cause.

FTB Penalty Abatement Form

You can complete and submit a California penalty abatement form to get a refund on the penalties if you cannot file and pay your taxes on time.

FTB 2917 Instructions

The instructions on the California FTB form 2917 are straightforward. There are three sections. The first section is the Taxpayer Information, where you fill out your personal information. The second section has tax year information, where you provide the tax year for the reasonable cause and the form you filed for that tax year. The third section is where you explain your reasonable cause.

FTB Late Payment Penalty Calculator

You can have a late payment penalty if you do not file and pay your taxes by the due date. The penalty can range from 5% to 25% if you owe a minimum of $135. If you owe $134 or less, then you must pay 100% of the amount. You must pay a 5% penalty on the amount you owe if you make an underpayment. Plus, any amount you owe is subject to a 0.5% penalty for every month you do not make a payment for up to 40 months.