Tax Topics for 2021 - 2022
We have selected a few of the most relevant topics from the IRS Tax Tips free email service.
Low-income families still have time to sign up for advance Child Tax Credit payments
COVID Tax Tip 2021-127, August 30, 2021
It's not too late for low-income families to sign up for advance Child Tax Credit payments.
The IRS urges anyone who normally isn't required to file a tax return to explore the tools available on IRS.gov. The Eligibility Assistant can help determine eligibility for the advance child tax credit. The Non-filer Sign-up tool can help people file a simplified tax return to sign up for these payments. Some non-filers may also be eligible for the $1,400 per person Economic Impact Payments and the recovery rebate credit. People can get these benefits, even if they don't work, have no income or don't have a permanent address.
For these families, each advance CTC payment is up to $300 per month for each qualifying child under age 6 and up to $250 per month for each child ages 6 through 17.
Payments are generally issued on the 15th of each month through December 2021.
Here are more details and information about how to get the payments:
- The IRS sends advance child tax credit payments to eligible families who filed a 2019 or 2020 income tax return. This includes people who successfully use the Non-filer Sign-up tool for advance CTC, available only on IRS.gov. People can access the Non-filer Sign-up tool or the step-by-step guide for using it on IRS.gov.
- Aside from filing a simplified return from the Non-filer Sign-up tool, families don't have to do anything else if they are eligible to receive monthly payments.
- The Non-filer Sign-up tool is available until October 15, 2021. Using the tool by 11:59 p.m. ET on any month's deadline will apply to the next month's payment.
- Families who receive their first monthly payment in any month after July will still receive their total advance payment for the year. This means that the total payment will be spread over fewer months, rather than six months, making each monthly payment larger.
- The IRS encourages people to request payments by direct deposit, which is faster and more secure than other payment methods. People who don't have a bank account should visit the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation tool to locate an FDIC-insured bank.
- Finally, BankOn for financial services at participating banks.
Taxpayers can protect themselves from scammers by knowing how the IRS communicates
IRS Tax Tip 2021-124, August 24, 2021
If the IRS does call a taxpayer, it should not be a surprise because the agency will generally send a notice or letter first. Understanding how the IRS communicates can help taxpayers protect themselves from scammers who pretend to be from the IRS with the goal of stealing personal information.
Here are some facts about how the IRS communicates with taxpayers:
- The IRS doesn't normally initiate contact with taxpayers by email. Do not reply to an email from someone who claims to be from the IRS because the IRS email address could be spoofed or fake. Emails from IRS employees will end in IRS.gov.
- The agency does not send text messages or contact people through social media. Fraudsters will impersonate legitimate government agents and agencies on social media and try to initiate contact with taxpayers.
- When the IRS needs to contact a taxpayer, the first contact is normally by letter delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. Debt relief firms send unsolicited tax debt relief offers through the mail. Fraudsters will often claim they already notified the taxpayer by U.S. Mail.
- Depending on the situation, IRS employees may first call or visit with a taxpayer. In some instances, the IRS sends a letter or written notice to a taxpayer in advance, but not always. Taxpayers can search IRS notices by visiting Understanding Your IRS Notice or Letter. However, not all IRS notices are searchable on that site and just because someone references an IRS notice in email, phone call, text, or social media, does not mean the request is legitimate.
- IRS revenue agents or tax compliance officers may call a taxpayer or tax professional after mailing a notice to confirm an appointment or to discuss items for a scheduled audit. The IRS encourages taxpayers to review, How to Know it's Really the IRS Calling or Knocking on Your Door: Collection.
- Private debt collectors can call taxpayers for the collection of certain outstanding inactive tax liabilities, but only after the taxpayer and their representative have received written notice. Private debt collection should not be confused with debt relief firms who will call, send lien notices via U.S. Mail, or email taxpayers with debt relief offers. Taxpayers should contact the IRS regarding filing back taxes properly.
- IRS revenue officers and agents routinely make unannounced visits to a taxpayer's home or place of business to discuss taxes owed, delinquent tax returns or a business falling behind on payroll tax deposits. IRS revenue officers will request payment of taxes owed by the taxpayer. However, taxpayers should remember that payment will never be requested to a source other than the U.S. Treasury.
- When visited by someone from the IRS, the taxpayers should always ask for credentials. IRS representatives can always provide two forms of official credentials: a pocket commission and a Personal Identity Verification Credential.
- IRS Taxpayers Bill of Rights
- Secure tax payment options
- Consumer alerts
- Report phishing and online scams
- Phone scams
Free Tax Preparation
Top 10 Teps to Help You Choose a Tax Preparer
Earned Income Tax Credit
Report Name Change before You File
Tax Savers for Parents
Choosing the Right Filing Status
Child Tax Credit
Five Facts about Unemployment Benefits
Are Your Social Security Benefits Taxable?
Eight Common Mistakes to Avoid
Each year millions of people have their tax returns prepared for free by volunteers. These volunteers are part of the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs.
Here are the top 10 tips the IRS wants you to know about VITA and TCE:
- The IRS sponsors both the VITA and TCE programs. They work with local community groups to both train and certify volunteers.
- The VITA program generally offers free tax return preparation and e-filing to people who earn $54,000 or less.
- The TCE program offers help mainly to people age 60 or older. Volunteers specialize in tax issues unique to seniors. AARP is part of the TCE program and helps taxpayers with low to moderate incomes.
- VITA and TCE provide free electronic filing. An e-filed tax return is the safest and most accurate way to file. Using e-file combined with direct deposit is the fastest way to get your refund.
- Using VITA and TCE may help ensure you get all the tax credits and deductions you’re able to claim. For example, credits that you may qualify for include the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit and the Credit for the Elderly.
- Some sites provide bilingual help for people who speak limited English.
- VITA provides free tax assistance to military members and their families. Volunteers help with tax issues related to the military. These include special rules and tax benefits for those serving in combat zones.
- At some VITA sites, you can also prepare your own federal and state tax returns using free web-based software. This is an option if you don’t need much help or don’t have a home computer. Volunteers are on site to guide you if you need help. The self-preparation options generally offer free tax return preparation software and e-filing to people who earn $62,000 or less.
- For more than 40 years, the IRS has partnered with nonprofit and community organizations to offer these vital services. Thousands of VITA and TCE sites around the nation will open in late Jan. and early Feb.
- Visit IRS.gov to find the nearest VITA site. Search the word ’VITA’ and then click on "Free Tax Return Preparation for You by Volunteers." Site information is also available by calling the IRS at 800-906-9887. To locate the nearest AARP Tax-Aide site, visit aarp.org, or call 888-227-7669.
Many people hire a professional when it’s time to file their tax return. If you pay someone to prepare your federal income tax return, the IRS urges you to choose that person wisely. Even if you don’t prepare your own return, you’re still legally responsible for what is on it.
Here are ten tips to keep in mind when choosing a tax preparer:
- Check the preparer’s qualifications: All paid tax preparers are required to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number or PTIN. In addition to making sure they have a PTIN, ask the preparer if they belong to a professional organization and attend continuing education classes.
- Check the preparer’s history: Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if the preparer has a questionable history. Check for disciplinary actions and for the status of their licenses. For certified public accountants, check with the state board of accountancy. For attorneys, check with the state bar association. For enrolled agents, check with the IRS Office of Enrollment.
- Ask about service fees: Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of your refund or those who say they can get larger refunds than others can. Always make sure any refund due is sent to you or deposited into your bank account. Taxpayers should not deposit their refund into a preparer’s bank account.
- Ask to e-file your return: Make sure your preparer offers IRS e-file. Any paid preparer who prepares and files more than 10 returns for clients generally must file the returns electronically. IRS has safely processed more than 1.2 billion e-filed tax returns.
- Make sure the preparer is available: Make sure you’ll be able to contact the tax preparer after you file your return - even after the April 15 due date. This may be helpful in the event questions come up about your tax return.
- Provide records and receipts: Good preparers will ask to see your records and receipts. They’ll ask you questions to determine your total income, deductions, tax credits and other items. Do not use a preparer who is willing to e-file your return using your last pay stub instead of your Form W-2. This is against IRS e-file rules.
- Never sign a blank return: Don’t use a tax preparer that asks you to sign a blank tax form.
- Review your return before signing: Before you sign your tax return, review it and ask questions if something is not clear. Make sure you’re comfortable with the accuracy of the return before you sign it.
- Ensure the preparer signs and includes their PTIN: Paid preparers must sign returns and include their PTIN as required by law. The preparer must also give you a copy of the return.
- Report abusive tax preparers to the IRS: You can report abusive tax preparers and suspected tax fraud to the IRS. Use Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. If you suspect a return preparer filed or changed the return without your consent, you should also file Form 14157-A, Return Preparer Fraud or Misconduct Affidavit. You can get these forms at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
For nearly 40 years, the Earned Income Tax Credit has been helping low- to moderate-income workers by giving them a boost to their income. Four out of five eligible workers claim EITC, but the IRS wants every eligible worker to claim and get this credit.
Here are some things the IRS wants you to know about this important credit:
Review your eligibility. If you worked and earned under $53,267, you may be eligible for EITC. If your financial or family situation has changed, you should review the EITC eligibility rules. You might qualify for EITC this year even if you didn’t in the past. Workers who qualify for EITC must file a federal income tax return and specifically claim the credit to get it, even if they do not have a requirement to file a return.
Know the rules. Before claiming EITC, you need to understand the rules to be sure you qualify. It’s important to get it and get it right. There are several factors to consider:
- Your filing status can’t be Married Filing Separately.
- You must have a valid Social Security number for yourself, your spouse if married, and any qualifying child listed on your tax return.
- You must have earned income. Earned income includes earnings such as wages, self-employment and farm income.
- You may be married or single, with or without children to qualify. If you don’t have children, you must also meet age, residency and dependency rules.
- If you are a member of the U.S. Armed Forces serving in a combat zone, special rules apply.
Lower your tax or get a refund. The EITC reduces your federal tax and could result in a refund. If you qualify, the credit could be worth up to $6,242. The average credit was over $2,400 last year.
Use free services. Don’t guess about your EITC eligibility. You can use IRS Free File. Free brand-name software will figure your taxes and EITC for you. Combining e-file with direct deposit is the fastest and safest way to get your refund. Free File is available exclusively on IRS.gov/freefile. Free help preparing and e-filing your return to claim your EITC is also available at thousands of Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites around the country.
Did you change your name last year? Did your dependent have a name change? If the answer to either question is yes, be sure to notify the Social Security Administration before you file your tax return with the IRS.
This is important because the name on your tax return must match SSA records. If they don’t, you’re likely to get a letter from the IRS about the mismatch. And if you expect a refund, this may delay when you’ll get it.
Be sure to contact SSA if:
- You got married or divorced and you changed your name.
- A dependent you claim had a name change. For example, this would apply if you adopted a child and that child’s last name changed.
File Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card, with the SSA to let them know about a name change. You can get the form on SSA.gov by calling 800-772-1213 or at an SSA office.
You can file Form SS-5 at an SSA office or by mail. Your new card will have the same SSN as before but will show your new name.
If you have an adopted child who does not have a SSN, use a temporary Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number on your tax form. You can apply for an ATIN by filing Form W-7A, Application for Taxpayer Identification Number for Pending U.S. Adoptions, with the IRS. Get the form on IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
Your children may help you qualify for valuable tax benefits. Here are eight tax benefits parents should look out for when filing their federal tax returns this year.
- Dependents. In most cases, you can claim your child as a dependent. This applies even if your child was born anytime in 2015. For more details, see Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction and Filing Information.
- Child Tax Credit. You may be able to claim the Child Tax Credit for each of your qualifying children under the age of 17 at the end of 2015. The maximum credit is $1,000 per child. If you get less than the full amount of the credit, you may be eligible for the Additional Child Tax Credit. For more about both credits, see the instructions for Schedule 8812, Child Tax Credit, and Publication 972, Child Tax Credit.
- Child and Dependent Care Credit. You may be able to claim this credit if you paid someone to care for one or more qualifying persons. Your dependent child or children under age 13 are among those who are qualified. You must have paid for care so you could work or look for work. For more, see Publication 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses.
- Earned Income Tax Credit. If you worked but earned less than $53,267 last year, you may qualify for EITC. If you have three qualifying children, you may get up to $6,242 as EITC when you file and claim it on your tax return. Use the EITC Assistant tool at IRS.gov to find out if you qualify or see Publication 596, Earned Income Tax Credit.
- Adoption Credit. You may be able to claim a tax credit for certain expenses you paid to adopt a child. For details, see the instructions for Form 8839, Qualified Adoption Expenses.
- Higher education credits. If you paid for higher education for yourself or an immediate family member, you may qualify for either of two education tax credits. Both the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit may reduce the amount of tax you owe. If the American Opportunity Credit is more than the tax you owe, you could be eligible for a refund of up to $1,000. See Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education.
- Student loan interest. You may be able to deduct interest you paid on a qualified student loan, even if you don’t itemize deductions on your tax return. For more information, see Publication 970.
Using the correct filing status is very important when you file your tax return. You need to use the right status because it affects how much you pay in taxes. It may even affect whether you must file a tax return.
When choosing a filing status, keep in mind that your marital status on Dec. 31 is your status for the whole year. If more than one filing status applies to you, choose the one that will result in the lowest tax.
- Note for same-sex married couples. New rules apply to you if you were legally married in a state or foreign country that recognizes same-sex marriage. You and your spouse generally must use a married filing status on your 2015 federal tax return. This is true even if you and your spouse now live in a state or foreign country that does not recognize same-sex marriage.. Answers to Frequently Asked Questions for Same-Sex Married Couples.
Here is a list of the five filing statuses to help you choose:
- Single. This status normally applies if you aren’t married or are divorced or legally separated under state law.
- Married Filing Jointly. A married couple can file one tax return together. If your spouse died in 2015, you usually can still file a joint return for that year.
- Married Filing Separately. A married couple can choose to file two separate tax returns instead of one joint return. This status may be to your benefit if it results in less tax. You can also use it if you want to be responsible only for your own tax.
- Head of Household. This status normally applies if you are not married. You also must have paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for yourself and a qualifying person. Some people choose this status by mistake. Be sure to check all the rules before you file.
- Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child. If your spouse died during 2013 or 2014 and you have a dependent child, this status may apply. Certain other conditions also apply.
You can also find the rules on this topic in Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information. It’s available on IRS.gov or by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676). See irs.gov and the instructions for your tax return for more information.
If you have a child under age 17, the Child Tax Credit may save you money at tax time. Here are some key facts the IRS wants you to know about the credit.
- Amount. The non-refundable Child Tax Credit may help cut your federal income tax by up to $1,000 for each qualifying child you claim on your tax return.
- Qualifications. A child must pass seven tests to qualify for this credit:
- Age test. The child was under age 17 at the end of 2015.
- Relationship test. The child is your son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, stepbrother, or stepsister. A child can also be a descendant of any of these persons. For example, your grandchild, niece or nephew will meet this test. Adopted children also qualify. An adopted child includes a child lawfully placed with you for legal adoption.
- Support test. The child did not provide more than half of his or her own support for 2015.
- Dependent test. You claim the child as a dependent on your 2015 federal income tax return.
- Joint return test. A married child can’t file a joint return with their spouse they are filing jointly only to claim a tax refund.
- Citizenship test. The child must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national or U.S. resident alien. For more see Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens.
- Residence test. In most cases, the child must have lived with you for more than half of 2015.
- Limitations. Your filing status and income may reduce or eliminate the credit.
- Additional Child Tax Credit. If you get less than the full Child Tax Credit, you may qualify for the refundable Additional Child Tax Credit. This means you could get a refund even if you owe no tax.
- Schedule 8812. If you qualify to claim the Child Tax Credit, make sure to check whether you must file Schedule 8812, Child Tax Credit, with your return. If you qualify to claim the Additional Child Tax Credit, you must complete and attach Schedule 8812.
- Interactive Tax Assistant Tool. You can use the ITA tool at IRS.gov to see if you can claim the credit. The tool can answer many of your tax questions.
For more on this topic see IRS Publication 972, Child Tax Credit, at IRS.gov. You can have it mailed by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
If you lose your job or your employer lays you off, you may be able to get unemployment benefits. The payments may be a welcomed relief. But you should know that they’re taxable.
Here are five important facts from the IRS about unemployment compensation:
- You must include all unemployment compensation in your income for the year. You should receive a Form 1099-G, Certain Government Payments. It will show the amount paid to you and the amount of any federal income taxes withheld.
- There are several types of unemployment compensation. They generally include any amount received under an unemployment compensation law of the U.S. or a state. For more about the various types, see Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income.
- You must include benefits paid to you from regular union dues in your income. Different rules may apply if you contribute to a special union fund and those contributions are not deductible. In that case, only include as income any amount you get that is more than the contributions you made.
- You can choose to have federal income tax withheld from your unemployment. You make this choice using Form W-4V, Voluntary Withholding Request. If you do not choose to have tax withheld, you may have to make estimated tax payments during the year.
- If you are facing financial difficulties, you should visit IRS.gov. "What Ifs" for Struggling Taxpayers explains the tax effect of events such as the loss of a job. For example, if your income decreased, you may be eligible for some tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit. If you owe federal taxes and can’t pay your bill, contact the IRS as soon as possible. In many cases, the IRS can take steps to help ease your financial burden.
For more details, see IRS Publications 17, Your Federal Income Tax, or IRS Publication 525. You can download these booklets and Form W-4V at IRS.gov. You may also order them by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
Some people must pay taxes on part of their Social Security benefits. Others find that their benefits aren’t taxable. If you get Social Security, the IRS can help you determine if some of your benefits are taxable.
Here are seven tips about how Social Security affects your taxes:
- If you received these benefits in 2015, you should have received a Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement, showing the amount.
- If Social Security was your only source of income in 2015, your benefits may not be taxable. You also may not need to file a federal income tax return.
- If you get income from other sources, then you may have to pay taxes on some of your benefits.
- Your income and filing status affect whether you must pay taxes on your Social Security.
- The best, and free, way to find out if your benefits are taxable is to use IRS Free File to prepare and e-file your tax return. If you made $62,000 or less, you can use Free File tax software. The software will figure the taxable benefits for you. If your income was more than $62,000 and you feel comfortable doing your own taxes, use Free File Fillable Forms. Free File is available only at IRS.gov/freefile.
- If you file a paper return, visit IRS.gov and use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool to see if any of your benefits are taxable.
- A quick way to find out if any of your benefits may be taxable is to add one-half of your Social Security benefits to all your other income, including any tax-exempt interest. Next, compare this total to the base amounts below. If your total is more than the base amount for your filing status, then some of your benefits may be taxable. The three base amounts are:
- $25,000 - for single, head of household, qualifying widow or widower with a dependent child or married individuals filing separately who did not live with their spouse at any time during the year
- $32,000 -for married couples filing jointly
- $0 - for married persons filing separately who lived together at any time during the year
Additional IRS Resources:
- Publication 915, Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits
We all make mistakes. But if you make a mistake on your tax return, the IRS may need to contact you to correct it. That will delay your refund.
You can avoid most tax return errors by using IRS e-file. People who do their taxes on paper are about 20 times more likely to make an error than e-filers. IRS e-file is the most accurate way to file your tax return.
Here are eight common tax-filing errors to avoid:
- Wrong or missing Social Security numbers. Be sure you enter all SSNs on your tax return exactly as they are on the Social Security cards.
- Wrong names. Be sure you spell the names of everyone on your tax return exactly as they are on their Social Security cards.
- Filing status errors. Some people use the wrong filing status, such as Head of Household instead of Single. The Interactive Tax Assistant on IRS.gov can help you choose the right one. Tax software helps e-filers choose.
- Math mistakes. Double-check your math. For example, be careful when you add or subtract or figure items on a form or worksheet. Tax preparation software does all the math for e-filers.
- Errors in figuring credits or deductions. Many filers make mistakes figuring their Earned Income Tax Credit, Child and Dependent Care Credit, and the standard deduction. If you’re not e-filing, follow the instructions carefully when figuring credits and deductions. For example, if you’re age 65 or older or blind, be sure you claim the correct, higher standard deduction.
- Wrong bank account numbers. You should choose to get your refund by direct deposit. But it’s important that you use the right bank and account numbers on your return. The fastest and safest way to get a tax refund is to combine e-file with direct deposit.
- Forms not signed or dated. An unsigned tax return is like an unsigned check – it’s not valid. Remember that both spouses must sign a joint return.
- Electronic filing PIN errors. When you e-file, you sign your return electronically with a Personal Identification Number. If you know last year’s e-file PIN, you can use that. If not, you’ll need to enter the Adjusted Gross Income from your originally-filed 2014 federal tax return. Don’t use the AGI amount from an amended 2014 return or a 2014 return that the IRS corrected.
Additional IRS Resources:
IRS YouTube Videos:
- Welcome to Free File – English
- Tax Return Errors – English | Spanish | ASL
- Free IRS Tax Help – English | Spanish | ASL
For information about how to save at tax time, see Tax Tips.
Updated March 2016