Tax Answers

Below are the Top Ten most frequently asked questions about United States Taxation:

Who must file a tax return?

Whether you have to file a tax return depends on your filing status, age, and gross income.
There are five different filing statuses: Single, Head of Household, Married Filing Separate, Married Filing Jointly, and Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child.

Gross income includes all income from worldwide sources you receive that is not tax exempt. Even though your gross income may be less than the required tax return filing limits, there are several other factors that could require you to file a tax return.

You must file a tax return if any of the following conditions apply:

  • you owe any special tax to the IRS such as Alternative Minimum Tax, IRA tax penalties, or FICA tax on tips;
  • you received any advance earned income tax credit payments from your employer;
  • you had net earnings from self employment of at least $400;
  • you are a non-resident alien with a U.S. business or tax liability not covered by tax withholding.

Even if you are not required to file a tax return, a tax return should be filed if you are entitled to a tax refund from the IRS of any tax that was withheld during the tax year, or if you are entitled to claim the earned income tax credit on your tax return.

Tax returns for Children under 18: Under certain circumstances, you may be able to report your child’s income on your tax return. If you qualify, and elect to do so, your child will not be required to file a tax return. See Children Tax Returns.

What is my filing status?

One of the first things you’ll need to do when preparing your tax return is to choose the proper filing status. Your filing status is based upon your marital and family situation. Your filing status will determine which tax rates apply to your taxable income. Under our graduated income tax system, as your income rises, not only does your total tax bill go up, but the percentage of tax that your additional income is taxed at also increases. The lowest percentage of tax the IRS claims is 10% – the highest percentage of tax the IRS claims is 35% (not including phase-outs, etc). Your filing status also determines the total standard tax deduction(s) you can claim on your tax return. The filing statuses are Single, Married Filing Jointly, Married Filing Separately, Head of Household, and Qualifying Widow or Widower.

If more than one filing status applies to you, you may choose the one that will give you the lowest tax on your tax return. You should review the Tax Rate Schedules below for the various filing statuses.

You must choose your IRS tax return filing status from one of the following options:

  • Single
  • Married Filing Jointly
  • Married Filing Separately
  • Head of Household
  • Qualifying Widow(er)

How should I file my tax return?

Although mailing tax returns to the IRS remains the most popular filing method, IRS e-file has, during the past few tax years, become increasingly more popular. In 2012, 106 million tax returns were filed using IRS e-file.

IRS e-file is faster, safer, and more accurate than mailing your tax return to the IRS because with IRS e-file your tax return is transmitted over telephone lines or the Internet directly to an IRS computer.

What is my tax bracket?

When should I file my tax return?

Generally, your tax return is due on April 15th of each year. A tax return delivered to the IRS by U.S. mail after the due date for the tax return is considered timely filed if the tax return was postmarked on or before the due date of the tax return. See IRC 7502(a).
A recent change in the IRS tax regulations means a receipt from a private delivery service, such as Federal Express or UPS, will be accepted by the IRS as proof that your tax return was filed on time. If you’re filing your tax return at the last minute you can use specified services from Airborne, DHL, Federal Express, and UPS in addition to the U.S. Postal Service. Make sure that you get a receipt. If your tax return is “postmarked” on or before the due date your tax return is considered timely filed.

To come within this IRS rule, however, the tax return must be postmarked within the prescribed filing period. For example, a tax return postmarked April 16th and received by the IRS on April 20th is considered filed on April 20th.

Where do I mail my tax return?

See the Federal Tax Return Mailing Addresses.

How can I get a copy of my prior years tax return?

Form 4506 can be used to request copies of previously filed tax returns or Form W-2 only. The IRS cannot provide copies of information returns such as Form 1099. Form 4506 can also be ordered by calling 1-800-829-3676.
There is a charge of $23.00 for a copy of the tax return for each tax period requested. The IRS also provides tax return transcripts and copies of Form W-2 at no charge. A tax return transcript shows most line items from the original tax return, including accompanying tax forms and schedules. It does not reflect any changes you or the IRS made to the original tax return. Tax return transcripts of Form 1040, Form 1040A, or Form 1040-EZ are available for tax years after 1991.You may request a tax return transcript by telephone, by personally visiting your local IRS office, or by using Form 4506.

Once you complete the Form 4506, mail it to the IRS service center where you originally filed the tax return. The same Form 4506 can be used to request tax returns for up to four tax periods from the same IRS Service Center. However, you must use a separate Form 4506 for each IRS Service Center from which you are requesting information.

After the tax return request is filed with the IRS, you should allow up to 60 days to receive copies of tax returns, or 10 work days for a tax return transcript.

If you need the prior year’s tax return for information to file this year’s tax return, and you find that April 15th is near and you have not yet received the tax return copy, you have two options:

Get an automatic 4-month extension of time to file your tax return by sending Form 4868 by April 15th to the IRS Service Center where you will file this year’s tax return; or
File your tax return by April 15th and change it later on Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.

How can I check the status of my tax refund?

Tax refund status information does not become available until it has been six weeks since you filed your tax return (three weeks if you filed your tax return electronically or through TeleFile). After waiting the appropriate number of weeks, the fastest, easiest way to find out about your current year tax refund is to call the Automated Tax Refund Service. For other Tele Tax numbers in your area click here. Be sure to have a copy of your tax return available since you will need to know the first social security number shown on your tax return, the filing status on your tax return, and the exact whole dollar amount of your tax refund. The IRS updates tax refund information every seven days.

Where can I get free tax help?

You can get free tax help from the IRS. Americans shell out $7.5 billion every tax year to have someone else prepare their tax returns. Three tax seasons ago, 1.5 million people paid someone else to fill out their Form 1040EZ, the basic one-page tax return with only twelve lines.
Many IRS offices offer walk-in tax help for technical or tax questions about tax forms and tax returns. Check the federal government listings in the telephone book for the IRS office nearest you.

The IRS sponsors volunteer tax help programs and offers help to taxpayers in many of its IRS offices and other community locations.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, (VITA), involves IRS trained volunteers who provide free tax help at community locations to individuals who need tax help with basic tax return preparation. VITA is aimed at those for whom paid tax help may be out of reach, those who are non-English speaking, persons with disabilities, those with a low income, the elderly, and other individuals with special needs.

The Tax Counseling for the Elderly Program, TCE, provides free tax help and tax return preparation to people age 60 and above, particularly those who are confined to their residences or retirement communities. It’s administered by the IRS in cooperation with non-profit groups. The IRS trained volunteers provide free tax help and basic tax return preparation to senior citizens. Volunteers travel to taxpayers’ homes if they are unable to come to a local TCE site. Visit the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) tax aid site to locate the nearest TCE facility.

You can get free telephone tax help by calling 1-800-829-1040. Getting through can be difficult during the peak tax season, the 1½ months leading up to the April 15th tax deadline. The best times to call are early in the morning and later in the week. When calling this tax help number, you may ask tax questions to help you prepare your tax return, or ask about a notice you may have received from the IRS. Also, in certain areas, the IRS has local offices you may visit to receive tax help.

The Community Outreach Tax Education Program offers free tax seminars to groups of people sharing common tax interests. IRS employees or trained volunteers conduct tax information seminars at convenient times and places in the community. The seminars can cover a variety of tax topics tailored to the needs of your organization’s members and may include films or videotapes and discussion of tax questions. This program also offers line-by-line self-help tax return preparation for taxpayers who want to prepare their own tax returns.

If you plan to take advantage of any of the volunteer tax help programs or the self-help tax return preparation, be sure to bring your current year blank tax forms, Form W-2’s, Form 1099’s, a list of taxable income and expenses, and a copy of last year’s tax return.

My spouse died. What should I do?

As a widow or widower, you may file a joint tax return with your deceased spouse for the tax year in which he or she died, provided that you do not remarry within that tax year. If there is a remarriage within that time, it may be possible to file your tax return jointly with your new spouse if all other requirements are met.

Generally, a surviving spouse with dependent children is entitled to file a tax return using the married filing jointly tax tables for the two tax years following the tax year in which the spouse died.

If you are a surviving spouse filing a joint tax return and no personal representative has been appointed, you should sign the tax return and write in the signature area, “filing as surviving spouse.” The final tax return should have the word “Deceased,” the decedent’s name, and the date of death written across the top of the tax return.

Other General Tax Questions

  • I moved. How do I notify the IRS?
  • How can I get a copy of a prior years tax return?
  • Employee or Independent Contractor?
  • Can I have tax withheld from unemployment compensation?
  • What does the term “basis” mean?
  • Tax Withholding for Household Employees
  • What is backup tax withholding?
  • What is Form W-9?
  • What is Form 1040X – Amended Tax Return?
  • What is the Alternative Minimum Tax?
  • How to become an IRS informant?