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William Byrnes (Texas A&M) tax & compliance articles

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for Low- and Moderate-Income Workers: a Significant Tax Benefit

Posted by William Byrnes on February 10, 2014

Last Friday (January 31, 2014) the IRS opened the tax filing season for 2013 taxes.  In Newswire (IR-2014-9 and -10), also released January 31, the IRS seeks to reach out to low and moderate income workers to alert them to take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit, known as the “EITC”.  The IRS stated that the EITC is often overlooked by the low and moderate workers, many whom do their own tax filing.

This year, taxpayers have until Tuesday, April 15, 2014 to file their 2013 tax returns and pay any tax due.  The IRS expects to receive more than 148 million individual tax returns this year, and more than 80% of tax returns are now filed electronically.

Approximately 75% of tax filers typically receive refunds, 90% of these refunds issued in less than 21 days.  Last year, taxpayers received an average refund of $2,744.  The IRS stated that “E-file” when combined with a direct deposit is the fastest way to receive a refund.  75% of refund recipients now choose direct deposit.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

The IRS estimates that 20% of eligible low and moderate income workers miss out on taking advantage of the the EITC, and thus lose any potential refund generated by it.  Either the taxpayer does not claim the EITC when filing or does not file a tax return at all because their income is below the filing threshold.   The IRS further stated that one-third of the taxpayers eligible for EITC changes each year as their personal circumstances, such as work status or family situation, changes, affecting eligibility. 

The EITC varies depending on income, family size and filing status.  Last year, over 27 million eligible workers and families received more than $63 billion total in EITC, with an average EITC amount of $2,300.

Workers, self-employed people and farmers who earned $51,567 or less last year could receive larger refunds if they qualify for the EITC.  That could mean up to $487 in EITC for people without children, and a maximum credit of up to $6,044 for those with three or more qualifying children. Unlike most deductions and credits, the EITC is refundable. In other words, those eligible may get a refund even if they owe no tax

Common EITC Mistakes

Taxpayers are responsible for the accuracy of their tax return regardless of who prepares it.  The rules for EITC are complicated.  The IRS urges taxpayers to seek help if they are unsure of their eligibility (read about Taxpayer Clinics below).

There are several requirements 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.

Some common EITC errors are:

  • Claiming a child who does not meet the relationship, age or residency tests
  • Filing as “single” or “head of household” when married
  • Over or under reporting of income and or expenses to qualify for or maximize EITC
  • Missing Social Security numbers or Social Security Number and last name mismatches for both taxpayers and the children

Online Tools at IRS.gov Available to Help

People can find out if they qualify for the EITC by answering a few questions about income, family size and filing status, among other things using the EITC Assistant, a special online tool.  The EITC Assistant will help determine eligibility and will figure an estimated EITC refund.  A taxpayer can even get a printout explaining why he or she qualifies or has been denied.

Free Taxpayer Clinics Help Taxpayers File – Located Around the USA

Eligible taxpayers can also use another helpful online resource, the VITA Site Locator tool to locate one of nearly 13,000 community-based volunteer tax sites consisting of over 90,000 volunteers that can help them file their return for free.  (In San Diego, Thomas Jefferson School of Law has an active VITA program).

Tele-Tax, for example, help taxpayers see if they qualify for various tax benefits, such as the Child Tax Credit and Additional Child Tax Credit for eligible families, the American Opportunity Tax Credit for parents and college students, the saver’s credit for low-and moderate-income workers saving for retirement and energy credits for homeowners making qualifying energy-saving home improvements. The automated IRS services can also help home-based businesses check out the new simplified option for claiming the home office deduction, a straightforward computation that allows eligible taxpayers to claim $5 per square foot, up to a maximum of $1,500, instead of filling out a 43-line form (Form 8829) with often complex calculations.

Free Online Tax Software for Filing

When taxpayers are ready to fill out and file their returns, another online option enables anyone to e-file their returns for free. Free File offers two free electronic filing options: brand-name tax software or online Fillable Forms. Taxpayers who make $58,000 or less can choose free options from 14 commercial software providers. There’s no income limit for the second option, Free File Fillable Forms, the electronic version of IRS paper forms, which is best suited to people who are comfortable preparing their own tax return.

Online Refund Tool

Even after taxpayers file, there are more online tools that can provide them with valuable assistance long after tax season ends. One of the most popular is Where’s My Refund? a tool available on IRS.gov that enables taxpayers to track the status of their refund. Initial information will normally be available within 24 hours after the IRS receives the taxpayer’s e-filed return or four weeks after the taxpayer mails a paper return to the IRS. The system updates every 24 hours, usually overnight, so there’s no need to check more often.

Can’t Afford to Pay the Tax Bill by April 15th?  Use the Online Payment Agreement Tool 

For taxpayers whose concern isn’t a refund, but rather, a tax bill they can’t pay, the Online Payment Agreement tool can help them determine whether they qualify for an installment agreement with the IRS. And those whose tax obligation is even more serious, the Offer in Compromise Pre-Qualifier can help them determine if they qualify for an offer in compromise, an agreement with the IRS that settles their tax liability for less than the full amount owed.

Are You Withholding Enough or Too Much Tax During the Year?

Another useful year-round tool, the IRS Withholding Calculator, helps employees make sure the amount of income tax taken out of their pay is neither too high nor too low. This tool can be particularly useful to taxpayers who, after filling out their tax returns, find that the refund or balance due was higher than expected.

Beware of EITC Scams and Frauds

Scams that create fictitious qualifying children or inflate income levels to get the maximum EITC could leave taxpayers with a penalty.  If an EITC claim was reduced or denied after tax year 1996 for any reason other than a mathematical or clerical error, taxpayers must file Form 8862, Information To Claim Earned Income Credit After Disallowance, with the next tax return to claim the EITC.

Tax Help Through YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr

The IRS also offers more than 100 short instructional videos, tax tips and other useful resources year-round through a variety of social media platforms. They include:

2014_tf_on_individuals_small_businesses-m_1The newest addition to the Tax Facts Library, Tax Facts on Individuals & Small Business focuses exclusively on what individuals and small businesses need to know to maximize opportunities under today’s often complex tax rules.  It is the essential tax reference for financial advisors, & planners; insurance professionals; CPAs; attorneys; and other practitioners advising small businesses and individuals.  See http://www.nationalunderwriter.com/tax-facts-on-individuals-small-business.html

Organized in a convenient Q&A format to speed you to the information you need, Tax Facts on Individuals & Small Business delivers the latest guidance on:
» Healthcare
» Home Office
» Contractor vs. Employee — clarified!
» Business Deductions and Losses
» Business Life Insurance
» Small Business Valuation
» Small Business Entity Choices
» Accounting — including guidance on how standards change as the business grows
» Capital Gains
» Investor Losses
» New Medicare Tax and Net Investment Income tax
» Individual Income Taxation

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