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tax forms

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It’s true: Simple is hard.

In an effort to make things easier for taxpayers and tax forms issuers, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is bringing back form 1099-NEC, Nonemployee Compensation. If that rings a bell, you’re showing your age: we haven’t seen this form since 1982.

The IRS initially announced the return of form 1099-NEC in August of this year. Now, we have an updated draft. Here’s what it looks like:

1099-NEC draft to replace 1099-MISC

The form will replace parts of the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink form 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income, for some taxpayers. Ironically, form 1099-MISC was the form that replaced form 1099-NEC in the first place (is your head spinning yet?).

Why the need for the change again? The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act) that was enacted on December 18, 2015, made several changes to the way we file taxes. Specifically, under the PATH Act, employers were required to furnish some forms 1099-MISC to taxpayers by January 31. However, the PATH Act didn’t change the due dates for all forms 1099-MISC. Remember – it’s a catch-all form. The due date for certain forms 1099-MISC was January 31, while the due date for other forms 1099-MISC was February 15.

That was confusing for employers and taxpayers, and it was no less confusing for IRS systems and employees. The solution? Bring back form 1099-NEC to report non-employee compensation for independent contractors and freelancers. 

Under the draft form, forms would be due to the taxpayer and the IRS by February 1 (I expect that might change to January 31 for the sake of consistency).

The form is expected to make its debut for the 2020 tax year, which means that you will still receive a form 1099-MISC for non-employee compensation (among other things) for the 2019 tax year.

You can view the draft form, which downloads as a PDF, on the IRS website.

With the new tax filing season just months away, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has released the second draft of federal form 1040-SR, U.S. Tax Return for Seniors. The form, with larger print and less fussy boxes, is intended to make life easier for some of the approximately 15 million senior households expected to file tax returns in 2020.

Taxpayers got wind of the new 1040-SR in December of 2017 as part of the Chairman’s Mark of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). In that initial markup, Congress proposed a new federal form 1040-SR for use by persons who are age 65 or older. At the time, the form was described “as similar as possible to the Form 1040EZ.” The difference was supposed to be that the use of form 1040-SR would not be limited by taxable income or by certain income types.

The following year, the IRS pulled the plug on form 1040EZ (used by approximately 25 million taxpayers). That’s why you didn’t see a form 1040EZ during the 2019 tax filing season. The newly redesigned form 1040 (which was redesigned again in July of 2019) replaced the old form 1040 and forms 1040A and 1040EZ. 

(You can learn more about the 1040EZ, including its history, here.)

Despite the redesigned form 1040 and the elimination of the form 1040EZ, there was no form 1040-SR to be found in 2019. That’s because form 1040-SR didn’t become part of the TCJA. Instead, it was pushed through as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. Under the Act, Congress directed the IRS to design form 1040-SR to be “as similar as practicable to Form 1040EZ” with a few exceptions, notably “only for individuals who have attained age 65 as of the close of the taxable year.”

Unlike the old form 1040EZ, there are no income limits or restrictions on the kinds of income that can be reported on form 1040-SR. But unlike the old form 1040EZ, the draft form 1040-SR allows taxpayers to claim the standard deduction or itemize deductions. The standard deduction amounts for the 2019 tax year are $12,200 for individuals, $18,350 for heads of household, and $24,400 for married couples filing jointly and surviving spouses. For 2019, the additional standard deduction amount for seniors or the blind is $1,300. The additional standard deduction amount increases to $1,650 for unmarried taxpayers.

Like the first draft of the form 1040-SR, the most recent draft is two pages long, though you may need to attach additional schedules.

You can view the complete 2019 draft version here (downloads as a PDF).

Remember that this is just a draft. The IRS warns on the front page: Do not file draft forms and do not rely on draft forms, instructions, and publications for filing. 

That means that the IRS could still make changes: this version is, after all, just a few months older than the last draft available for public inspection. The IRS does consider comments about draft forms. You can email yours to WI.1040.Comments@IRS.gov. 

While 15 million taxpayers could benefit from the new form – approximately 10% of taxpayers – that number is likely on the high end. Many seniors don’t file their tax returns by hand: even the most tech-averse use tax software or hire a tax professional; overall, nearly 90% of taxpayers are expected to use a tax preparer or file electronically.

My daughter asked for a pair of throwback Nike sneakers this week to match her ringer tees and scrunchies. Not to be outdone, my son wants a DeLorean. It feels like we’re heading back to the 1980s – and apparently, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) thinks so, too. This week, the IRS introduced a draft version of a form that we haven’t seen since 1982: form 1099-NEC, Nonemployee Compensation.

That year (1982), fashions were totally rad, E.T. made its debut on the big screen, and President Ronald Reagan introduced the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (TEFRA), intended to modify some aspects of the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 (ERTA).

(You can find more Reagan tax history here.)

The year 1982 also marked the end of form 1099-NEC, Nonemployee Compensation. The form was replaced by everything-but-the-kitchen-sink form 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income.

But since everything old is new again, IRS has been dragging some forms out of retirement and putting a retro-touch on others.

(You can read about the form 1040-SR, which feels a lot like the newly-retired form 1040-EZ form here. You can catch a glimpse of the draft form 1040 for the 2019 tax year, which feels a lot more like 2017 than 2018, here.)

Form 1099-NEC is no exception. As noted earlier, form 1099-NEC was ditched in favor of the consolidated form 1099-MISC. That was in the 1980s. But the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act) that was enacted December 18, 2015, made several changes to the way we file taxes. The genesis of the throwback (insert Phil Collins jokes here) can be found at Title II: Program Integrity. Specifically, section 201 of the PATH Act of required that no credit or refund for an overpayment for a taxable year could be paid out before February 15 if a taxpayer claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC). That part of the law kicked in on February 15, 2017, causing a great deal of confusion and unhappiness for taxpayers.

(You can read more about those delayed refunds here.)

Here’s why the change happened. For taxpayers to claim the EITC and/or the ACTC, they must have earned wages, typically reported on form W-2 or form 1099-MISC. Employers were required to furnish those forms to taxpayers by January 31. However, employers could wait until the end of February, if filing on paper, or the end of March, if filing electronically, to submit these forms to the government. Taxpayers who filed their taxes early would have filed before the IRS had even received the related forms from the employers. The result? Room for fraud. Scammers and thieves could, in some instances, file bogus returns weeks before the IRS had any chance to confirm wage information. The solution was to hold refund checks.

The PATH Act also required employers to submit forms W-2 and forms 1099-MISC to the Social Security Administration (SSA) on January 31, the same date that taxpayers receive their forms. By pushing out the refund issue date to February 15, the IRS has time to match up the employer forms with the taxpayer forms. Problem solved, right? Not exactly.

The PATH Act didn’t change the due dates for all forms 1099-MISC. Remember – it’s a catch-all form. The due date for certain forms 1099-MISC was January 31, while the due date for other forms 1099-MISC was February 15.

That was confusing for employers and taxpayers, and it was no less confusing for IRS systems and employees. The proposed solution is to bring back form 1099-NEC to report nonemployee compensation.

(You can view the entire draft form as a PDF here.)

I’m typically not in favor of more paperwork, but this one isn’t a terrible idea. Nonemployee compensation is not simple: I would argue that, in many cases, it’s more complicated than employee compensation. A dedicated form allows for, among other things, clear reporting of state nonemployee compensation and withholding (yes, it happens).

But don’t start printing out those forms just yet. The IRS warns:

This is an early release draft of an IRS tax form, instructions, or publication, which the IRS is providing for your information. Do not file draft forms and do not rely on draft forms, instructions, and publications for filing. (emphasis added)

But the final form may actually look a lot like this one. The IRS goes on to say:

We generally do not release draft forms until we believe we have incorporated all changes, but sometimes unexpected issues arise, or legislation is passed. 

Keep in mind that even though the IRS has released the draft form now – in 2019 – it’s marked as a 2020 draft. That means that it’s likely we won’t see them issued until the 2020 tax year (for the returns you’ll file in 2021).

Changes to tax forms and tax rules are continuing to come our way from the IRS – and it feels like we might see more with retro flair. I pity the fool who isn’t up to date on their tax news, so totally keep checking out this column for the most righteous coverage.

What’s the old saying? If you love something, throw it away and then reintroduce it in another tax year? Or something like that? Just as the form 1040 appears to be making a return to a more pre-TCJA-like format, we have another repackaged (sort of) tax form: form 1040-SR, U.S. Tax Return for Seniors.

You may recall rumblings about the form 1040-SR back in December of 2017. The Chairman’s Mark of what we now know as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) touted a new federal form 1040-SR for use by persons who are age 65 or older. At the time, the form was described “as similar as possible to the Form 1040EZ.” The difference was supposed to be that the use of form 1040-SR would not be limited by taxable income or by certain income types.

And then a funny thing happened: the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) pulled the plug on the familiar form 1040EZ for the 2018 tax year. The newly redesigned form 1040 was intended to replace not only the old form 1040 but also forms 1040A and 1040EZ. More simple, right?

(You can learn more about the 1040EZ here.)

So, for the 2019 tax year, there’s no more form 1040EZ. But there’s no need to keep things simple when you can complicate things further, so a similar form has been resurrected as a new form 1040-SR.

Form 1040-SR didn’t become part of the TCJA. Instead, it was pushed through as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, signed the following year (downloads as a PDF). By statute, the law is to be “as similar as practicable to Form 1040EZ” with a few exceptions, notably “only for individuals who have attained age 65 as of the close of the taxable year.”

Unlike the old form 1040EZ, there are no income limits or restrictions on the kinds of income that can be reported on the form. And like the old form 1040EZ, taxpayers who file form 1040-SR must take the standard deduction. The standard deduction amounts for the 2019 tax year are $12,200 for individuals, $18,350 for heads of household, and $24,400 for married couples filing jointly and surviving spouses. For 2019, the additional standard deduction amount for seniors or the blind is $1,300. The additional standard deduction amount increases to $1,650 for unmarried taxpayers. 

(You can find tax rates, standard deduction amounts and more for the 2019 tax year here.)

The proposed version of the 2019 form 1040-SR is two pages long (yes, there are additional schedules). The design is intended to be more senior-friendly with larger font sizes and better color contrast (the funky-colored shading has been removed) to make it easier to read.

Here’s what the front page looks like:

You can view the complete 2019 draft version here (downloads as a PDF).

So, will seniors rush right out to snatch up the new final versions of form 1040-SR in the spring? I doubt it.

I have a lot of senior clients. And I’ve heard the complaints that the old forms were hard to read (let’s face it, even those of us under age 65 had problems reading the “postcard-sized” 2018 tax forms). But realistically, many seniors don’t file their tax returns by hand: even the most tech-averse use tax software or hire a tax professional; overall, nearly 90% of taxpayers are expected to use a tax preparer or file electronically.

And while I don’t have exact data on the numbers of seniors filing a return, you can do some extrapolation. In 2016, the last year for which complete data is available, the IRS processed just under 150 million individual tax returns (report downloads as a PDF here). Of those, around 15 million claimed the additional standard deduction, available only to seniors or the blind. That means that approximately 10% of taxpayers might qualify to file form 1040SR. In contrast, more than 25 million taxpayers filed the form 1040EZ before its recent elimination. 

Just six (or so) months after the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released the much talked about – and maligned – form 1040 for the 2018 tax year, there’s a new draft in town. Here’s a quick peek at the latest version, intended for the 2019 tax year:

Still determined to inspire tax professionals to kick their copy machines, the first page of the form 1040 doesn’t fill the page. Instead, as last time, it takes up just 2/3 of the page. It just feels like a Congressional compromise: still bigger than the promised postcard, but smaller than a standard size piece of paper.

Why did the form grow? There’s a good reason. The income reconciliation schedule – the bit where you summarize your income from the various forms and schedules – has been returned to the front page. (That sound you hear is tax pros cheering.)

So what else has changed? Here’s how the current and draft forms are alike and how they differ:

  • Names and Social Security Numbers. The spaces for names and Social Security numbers remain largely the same.
  • Signatures. The spaces for signatures have moved to page two. This was an issue with the revised form 1040 in 2018 since many tax preparers didn’t love having a full page of figures without a signature fearing it could lead to fraud or other problems.
  • Filing Status. You can still choose one of five filing statuses: Single, Married filing jointly, Married filing separately, Head of household, or Qualifying widow(er). However, there’s now space for you to enter the name of your spouse if you checked the MFS box and your child’s name if you checked the HOH or QW box when the qualifying person is a child but not your dependent. My guess is that the lack of this information on the 2018 form made processing and form matching more difficult. 
  • Presidential election campaign. The option to contribute to the Presidential election campaign remains the same (you can read more about that here). The explanation which accompanies the checkbox has been restored.
  • Health care coverage. Since health care coverage is no longer mandatory for the 2019 tax year, that checkbox has been removed.
  • Dependents. The spaces for dependents appear the same. 
  • Income reporting. As noted earlier, the income reconciliation (that block on the front page where you used to transfer your items of income from separate schedules) has been moved back to the first page of the return. You’ll likely also notice that Schedule D (Capital Gains) is once again on the reconciliation schedule (it disappeared in 2018).
  • Adjusted income reporting. Printing presses still have work to do. What was previously line 37 (adjusted gross income, or AGI) became line 7 in 2018. It’s now line 8b; pay attention to this moving ahead since many other federal (and financial) forms ask for AGI by line number.
  • Standard deduction. Your standard deduction amounts have moved back to page one.
  • Qualified business deduction. The qualified business deduction still has a spot on page one with a note to attach form 8995 or form 8995-A.
  • Tax credits. The previous version of form 1040 consolidated the spaces for several tax credits into a line or two. Apparently, that proved confusing for taxpayers because separate lines for certain credits, like the Earned Income Credit (EIC) and the additional child tax credit have been returned to the form.
  • Third-Party Designee. The space that previously allowed you to designate another person to discuss this return with the IRS had been moved to a new Schedule 6 with a checkbox. That was confusing for taxpayers, and the Third Party Designee box is back on page two.

The result? Not counting new schedules, signature spaces and tick boxes, the new 1040 has just 24 lines – up just one from last year.

And remember those new, numbered schedules that were introduced last year? They’re still around, too, with some changes:

  • The draft version of Schedule 1 looks largely the same – just a bit tidier without all of those “reserved” lines. However, you will see another line item under alimony: you’re now required to provide the date of the original divorce or separation agreement. That’s because, under the TCJA, alimony is not deductible under agreements signed on or after January 1, 2019. (For more on alimony, click here.)
  • The draft version of Schedule 2 is a little bit longer. It appears that self-employment taxes, among others, have been moved from form 1040 main pages to this separate schedule.
  • The draft version of Schedule 3 has likewise expanded. In 2018, schedule 3 was reserved for nonrefundable credits, like the foreign tax credits, but the draft version includes refundable and nonrefundable credits. (For more on nonrefundable credits, click here.)
  • The draft version of Schedule 4 looks largely the same. Ditto for the draft version of Schedule 5 and Schedule 6. In fact, they all still say 2018 – maybe more changes are on the way?

But, like last year, don’t hit print just yet. The IRS warns:

This is an early release draft of the 2019 IRS Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, which the IRS is providing for your information, review, and comment… Do not file draft forms. Also, do not rely on draft forms, instructions, and publications for filing. (emphasis added)

The IRS goes on to say:

We generally do not release drafts of forms until we believe we have incorporated all changes. However, in this case, we anticipate it is likely that this draft will change at least slightly before being released as final. Whether we make changes to this draft or not, we will post a new draft later this summer with our standard cover sheet (this page) indicating we do not expect that draft of the form to change. (emphasis added)

You can check out the draft form 1040 on the IRS website (downloads as a PDF). If you have comments about the draft, you can submit those to WI.1040.Comments@IRS.gov no later than August 15.

Nearly 90% of taxpayers are expected to use a tax preparer or file electronically, making the length of the tax form – and the placement of these changes – less impactful. However, it doesn’t escape notice that we appear to be creeping back towards a version that looks more like 2017 than 2018. 

Last year, after pushback from taxpayers and tax professionals, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) promised to revisit form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. The IRS issued a statement confirming that “the Treasury Department and the IRS will incorporate important changes into a new version of the Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, for 2020.” Today, the IRS issued a draft of the 2020 Form W-4.

Here’s what the draft form W-4 for 2020 looks like:

You can see a full-sized version on the IRS website here (downloads as a PDF).

The new draft reflects changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). In addition to the new tax rates, the TJCA made significant changes to itemized deductions normally claimed on Schedule A and eliminated personal exemptions. As a result, current withholding schemes were not adequate for all taxpayers, causing the General Accounting Office (GAO) to warn taxpayers that unless they adjusted their withholding, they would owe taxes.

The concern eventually resulted in an announcement from the IRS that penalty relief might be available. In March of 2019, the IRS expanded the relief for those taxpayers making payments of at least 80% of the tax shown on the return for the 2018 taxable year. Despite the penalty relief, concerns about withholding remained. That’s why the form W-4 revisions remained a priority.

The draft form is a little bigger than the old form W-4: it’s a whole page (and yes, there are still additional worksheets). The form includes calculations for taxpayers with more than one job and how to deal with additional income that might not be subject to withholding – items that tax professionals had expressed concern had not been adequately addressed after tax reform.

“The new draft Form W-4 reflects important feedback from the payroll community and others in the tax community,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “The primary goals of the new design are to provide simplicity, accuracy and privacy for employees while minimizing burden for employers and payroll processors.”

The revised form W-4 will not be effective until 2020. And changes are still on the way: The IRS expects to release a near-final draft of the 2020 Form W-4 in mid-to-late July before the final version of the form is released in November. That means that taxpayers should continue to use the current form W-4 (downloads as a PDF) throughout 2019.  

In the meantime, the IRS advises taxpayers to take advantage of the withholding calculator on the IRS website to do a payroll checkup. (You can find the new withholding calculator on the IRS website here.)

With a week to go until Tax Day, if you haven’t yet filed your tax return, all is not lost. You can:

  • Call and hope to get a last-minute tax appointment with a tax preparer;
  • Download tax prep software and figure you’ll squeeze in the time to file while binge-watching The Good Place;
  • Rock back and forth quietly under your desk while promising to be more prepared next year; or
  • You can join the millions of taxpayers (like me) who are expected to file for an extension.

Of those choices, you’re probably best off filing for an extension (and even if you do get that appointment, your tax preparer will likely also advise that you file for an extension). 

It just takes a few minutes, there are no special hoops to jump through, and there’s no fee payable to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). And contrary to popular belief – and what some are suggesting this time of year – filing for an extension isn’t an audit trigger. In fact, according to the IRS website:

The IRS recommends that taxpayers file for an extension if they need one. 

Mistakes can happen at any time, but especially when taxpayers feel rushed or are trying to sort through new tax forms (more on the new form 1040 here) or new rules that may be unfamiliar (like Section 199A). 

The IRS understands that there are legitimate reasons why taxpayers may need more time to file. The great thing about filing for an extension early on is that you don’t need to tell anyone – not your mother, not your best friend and not even the IRS – why you’re making the request since the extension is granted automatically if you follow the rules.

To file for an extension, you can:

How easy is it? Here’s the entire form:

The regular “timely filing” rules apply – so be sure and get your extension postmarked or e-file accepted by the end of the day on April 15. Assuming you’re on time, you will have six more months to get your return to the IRS and not be subject to the late-filing penalty. For 2019, this means that, with an extension, you’ll have until October 15, 2019, to file a return.

To file an extension, you’ll need:

  • Your name (and spouse’s name if you’re filing jointly) and address;
  • Your Social Security number (and spouse’s Social Security number if you’re filing jointly);
  • An estimate of your total tax liability for 2018;
  • Total of what you have already paid for the 2018 tax year (including withholding and estimated payments); and
  • The amount you’re paying with the extension, if any.

Remember that an extension is an extension of the time to file and not an extension of time to pay. If you expect to owe at tax time and you’re filing for an extension, you should make a payment with your extension request to avoid additional interest and penalty. (More on those penalties here.)

If you need to make a payment with your extension, you can send in a check or money order with your form 4868, pay online, or pay by phone. You can also pay by making a direct transfer from your bank account using Direct Pay, using the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS, registration required), or by debit or credit card (third-party charges may apply). Some services need an extra day or so for processing so check those details out well before April 15.

Some taxpayers get an automatic extension of time to file without having to file. Those include:

  • If you’re a U.S. citizen or resident and you live outside of the U.S. or Puerto Rico, and your primary place of business or post of duty is outside of the U.S. or Puerto Rico or if you are active-duty military and live outside of the U.S., you qualify for a two-month extension without having to file form 4868. That moves your due date to June 15 to file and pay. However, interest is still due on any tax payment made after April 15.
  • Members of the military and others serving in combat zones or hazardous zone areas generally have until at least 180 days after they leave the zone to file returns and pay any taxes due.
  • Taxpayers affected by natural disasters may have extra time. In particular, the IRS extended tax deadlines for affected individuals and businesses in parts of Alabama following the March storms. For more details, check the disaster relief page on the IRS website.

While it’s always a relief to have your tax return over and done with by April 15, it’s not the end of the world if that doesn’t happen. It’s always better to file a complete, correct return on an extension than a rushed, flawed return by Tax Day. So go ahead, file for an extension. And then go back to whatever it was that you really wanted to do, like finishing up The Good Place.

If you’re looking for form 1040EZ for the 2018 tax year, you won’t find it: After a few decades, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has pulled the plug on the form. The recently redesigned form 1040 is intended to replace not only the old form 1040 but also forms 1040A and 1040EZ. 

The old form 1040EZ used to be a simple return. You could opt to file a federal form 1040EZ if you filed as single or married filing jointly with no dependents. You typically could file 1040EZ so long as you did not itemize or claim the additional standard deductions (available to those taxpayers who are blind or over age 65) and if your taxable income, consisting only of wages, salaries and tips, was less than $100,000.

Form 1040EZ had been around since the 1980s. It was part of an initiative to make filing your taxes easier (feel free to mull about how the form was eliminated for the same reason). The so-called “mother of the form 1040EZ” was Carolyn Tavenner, who recently retired after nearly five decades at the IRS. (You can read more about Tavenner here.)

The old form 1040-A was a compromise between the form 1040 and the form 1040EZ. You used to be able to file a form 1040-A if your taxable income from the same kinds of income as you’d claim on form 1040EZ plus interest and dividends, capital gain distributions, IRA distributions, distributions from pensions and annuities, and taxable Social Security and Railroad Retirement Benefits was less than $100,000. Unlike on form 1040EZ, you could use form 1040-A to claim certain “above the line” adjustments, including educators’ expenses, IRA deductions, student loan interest deductions, and tuition and fees deductions (above-the-line deductions are those you can claim even if you don’t itemize your deductions). You couldn’t itemize your deductions on form 1040-A, but you could only claim a limited number of tax credits, including the child tax credit, education credits, earned income credit, credit for child and dependent care expenses, credit for the elderly or the disabled and the American Opportunity Credit.

Now that forms 1040EZ and 1040-A have been eliminated, the plan is for taxpayers to only file the new form 1040 plus any schedules that apply. The new form 1040 has six new numbered schedules in addition to the existing lettered schedules like Schedules A, B, C, D, E, and F. You can find out more about the new form 1040 here.

If you need a paper copy of the new form 1040, you can find it here (downloads as a PDF). You can find links to the new numbered schedules on the IRS website here.

If this feels confusing, don’t panic. If you are filing your federal income tax return electronically, you may not notice any changes at all, since your software should automatically add any needed schedules. If you use a tax preparer, you also may not notice any changes; if you have questions about why your final return looks different, just ask.

Tax season kicked off on Monday, January 28, 2019, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) expects to process more than 150 million individual tax returns for the 2018 tax year. According to the agency, “through mid-day Monday, the IRS had already received several million tax returns during the busy opening hours.” But not everyone is rushing to file, and you may not need to file. Here’s what you need to know about whether you need to file a tax return in 2019.

For the 2019 tax filing season, you’ll report the income and corresponding deductions for the tax year 2018. That includes pay received in 2018 but not pay that you receive in 2019 for services performed in 2018 (you’ll report that income next year).

Just because you received income in 2018, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to file a federal income tax return. For most taxpayers, you can figure whether you have to file by checking the chart below. Choose your filing status, your age and your gross income for the year; if your gross income is above the threshold for your age and filing status, you should file a federal income tax return.

And no, that’s not a typo: The threshold for married filing separately really is $5. And if you file as married filing jointly but you didn’t live with your spouse at the end of 2018 (or on the date your spouse died) and your gross income was at least $5, you also must file a tax return (it doesn’t matter how old you are).

And yes, you have seen those numbers before: They are equal to the standard deduction amounts under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). That means that the old “cheat sheet” formula—the one where you add your personal exemption to your standard deduction to determine the threshold—still works. The trick? The personal exemption is suspended under the TCJA, making it zero. The result is that the standard deduction is effectively the filing threshold for most taxpayers; just remember to consider the increased standard deduction for those who are over age 65 and/or blind. You can check the standard deduction numbers for 2018 here (the 2019 numbers are here).

When figuring gross income, consider all income you received that isn’t exempt from tax, including:

  • Any income from sources outside the United States;
  • Income from the sale of your main home even if you can exclude part or all of it from tax;
  • Gains, but not losses, reported on form 8949 or Schedule D; and
  • Business income reported on Schedule C, line 7, or Schedule F, line 9 (not including losses).

However, don’t include any Social Security benefits unless you are married filing a separate return and you lived with your spouse at any time in 2018 or if one-half of your Social Security benefits plus your other gross income (and any tax-exempt interest) is more than $25,000 ($32,000 if married filing jointly).

You can use the chart if no other person claims you on their federal income tax return. If you can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return, the rules are a little bit different. Here are some basic guidelines:

  • For single dependents who are under the age of 65 and not blind, you generally must file a federal income tax return if your unearned income (such as from ordinary dividends or taxable interest) was more than $1,050 or if your earned income (such as from wages or salary) was more than $12,000.
  • For single dependents who are over 65 or blind, you generally must file a federal income tax return if your unearned income was more than $2,650 or if your earned income was over $13,600.
  • For single dependents who are over 65 and blind, you generally must file a federal income tax return if your unearned income was more than $4,250 or if your earned income was over $15,200.
  • For married dependents when either of you are under the age of 65 and not blind, you generally must file a federal income tax return if your unearned income was more than $1,050; if your earned income was over $12,000; or if your gross income was at least $5 and your spouse files a separate return and itemizes deductions.
  • For married dependents when either of you is over 65 or blind, you generally must file a federal income tax return if your unearned income was more than $2,350; your earned income was over $13,300; and your gross income was at least $5 and your spouse files a separate return and itemizes deductions.
  • For married dependents when either of you is over 65 and blind, you generally must file a federal income tax return if your unearned income was more than $3,650; your earned income was over $14,600; and your gross income was at least $5 and your spouse files a separate return and itemizes deductions.
  • These rules apply to dependents who are also married, not merely married taxpayers. For tax purposes, your spouse is never considered your dependent.

Even if you don’t have to file according to the chart, there may be other reasons that you may have to file a tax return, including:

  • Self-employed taxpayers must file a federal income tax return if net earnings are at least $400, including non-employee income reported on form 1099-MISC.
  • Taxpayers who owe special taxes like a recapture tax (such as the homebuyer’s credit), alternative minimum tax (AMT), write-in taxes (like uncollected social security, Medicare, or railroad retirement tax on tips you reported to your employer or on group-term life insurance and additional tax on health savings accounts), household employment taxes, taxes on tips you did not report to your employer or on wages from an employer who did not withhold those taxes.
  • Taxpayers who received wages of $108.28 or more from a church or qualified church-controlled organization exempt from payroll taxes.
  • Taxpayers who took HSA, Archer MSA, or Medicare Advantage MSA distributions.
  • Taxpayers who took an early distribution from a qualified plan or retirement plan, like an IRA.
  • Taxpayers who made excess contributions to an IRA or MSA.
  • Taxpayers who didn’t take required minimum distributions (RMD) but were supposed to do so.

Finally, remember that the health care law is still applicable for 2018: The new tax law does repeal the mandate, but not until the 2019 tax year. If you are not required to file a tax return in 2019, you are considered exempt from the mandate (shared responsibility payment), and you do not need to file a tax return to claim the coverage exemption. However, you may have to file if advance payments of the premium tax credit were made for you, your spouse, or a dependent who enrolled in coverage through the Marketplace.

Even if you don’t need to file a federal income tax return this year, you may still want to take advantage of tax breaks and credits. For example, you might be entitled to a refund for excess withholdings or a refundable credit such as the earned income tax credit (EITC).

One more thing: These rules apply to federal income tax returns, but the rules for your state or township might be different. In my state of Pennsylvania, for example, there is no personal exemption for individuals, which means that taxpayers may be subject to tax on the first dollar. It’s possible that you might have to file a state or local tax return even if you do not have to file a federal tax return.

If you’re still not sure whether you need to file a tax return, ask your tax professional, give the IRS a call (1.800.829.1040) or make an appointment to visit an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC). Yes, they’re open.

Despite the government shutdown, taxpayers are gearing up for tax season. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will begin accepting paper and electronic tax returns on January 28, 2019. That means that many tax forms used to prepare returns are already either in the hands of taxpayers or in the mail. Here’s what you need to know about tax form due dates and what to do if yours is late.

The form that most folks care about is the form W-2, which has a due date of January 31. Your tax form is considered on time if the form is properly addressed and mailed on or before that date. If the regular due date falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday – which is not the case in 2019 – issuers have until the next business day.

Here’s a look at the general due dates for some other popular tax forms:

forms due dates

(You can click here for a full-sized version.)

Keep in mind that these are the due dates for furnishing tax forms to taxpayers. Due dates for supplying tax forms to the IRS may be different.

Also keep in mind:

  • Some forms might have been issued earlier so go back through your records if you’re missing a 1099 or a 1098-C. If you redeemed savings bonds, for example, the form 1099-INT might have been issued at the time of redemption. Similarly, if you donated a car to charity, form 1098-C would have been acknowledged within 30 days of the sale or within 30 days of the contribution.
  • You may also want to hold off filing if you’re a beneficiary of a trust or estate, or a shareholder, partner or member of a pass-through company. Even though those entities now file a little earlier with the IRS than they used to, they rarely report early. Pass-through entities must prepare their tax returns before they can furnish Schedules K-1. Those Schedules K-1 might take until March or April to show up on your doorstep. In some cases, it could take longer.

If you haven’t received a tax form by the due date, here’s what to do:

  • Look around. Your form could be stuck in a catalog or lost in that pile of mail on the counter that you’ve been swearing to sort through for weeks (admit it: you’ve wanted to KonMari your kitchen but haven’t). Your form could be at work. Before you assume that it wasn’t delivered, double-check.
  • Check your email. Tax forms cannot be generated electronically without your consent unless a paper copy is also issued. However, in these days of e-statements and online transfers, it’s not out of the question that you might have checked a box to receive your information electronically. Check your inbox and your spam filter. In my case, a college loan provider sent out tax forms using last year’s headers (yes, it went to spam).
  • If you’re sure that you didn’t receive your forms, try contacting the issuer. It might be easy to fix. You might not have received the form because of an incomplete or bad address. Or perhaps the address is correct but your form got lost in the mail. If that’s the case, the issuer can simply furnish another form. Problem solved.
  • If your employer is no longer in business or has moved, try to make contact. It’s the fastest, easiest solution. If you don’t receive your forms and you don’t know where your employer has moved, send a note to the last known address; there may be a forwarding order at the post office. Or try Google. I know that it’s not your job to find your employer, but if you have time to watch Katelyn Ohashi’s floor routine over and over, or vote for the Instagram egg (granted, the floor routine is worth your time), you can search online for a change of address.
  • If you still don’t have your forms, or if your forms aren’t correct, contact IRS. In a typical year, the IRS doesn’t want to hear from you about missing forms until the end of February. But this isn’t a typical year (more on the shutdown here) and there’s a chance that you won’t be able to reach IRS by phone. However, if the IRS opens up its phone lines, have your address, phone number, Social Security Number, and dates of employment available. It’s also helpful to have an estimate of your earnings, together with your withholding amounts; you can find most of this information on your last pay stub. You’ll also need the name, address and phone number of your employer. Make your life easier by having everything together before you pick up the phone.
  • Be patient. After your call, the IRS will contact your employer on your behalf. The IRS will also send you a form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, or Form 1099-R, Distributions From Pensions, Annuities, Retirement or Profit-Sharing Plans, IRAs, Insurance Contracts, etc., along with instructions. If you don’t receive your missing forms from your employer by Tax Day, April 15, you can file form 4852. But be smart: don’t file a form 4852 to get your tax return in early or to teach an employer a lesson. If you file a bogus or improper form, you could be hit with substantial penalties.
  • You may need to amend. If you receive your tax form after your return is filed using a form 4852, and the information is different from what you reported, you will have to amend your return by filing form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return (downloads as a pdf).
  • If you need to replace a form SSA-1099 or SSA-1042, you can request a new one on or after February 1, 2019. It’s important to note that since the Social Security Administration issues those forms, you’ll need to contact SSA directly, not IRS. To contact SSA (assuming that the shutdown has ended by then), you can call 1.800.772.1213 (TTY 1.800.325.0778); visit your local Social Security Office (find yours here); or log into the SSA website and click the “Replacement Documents” tab (if you don’t already have an account, you can create one online).

One final piece of advice: do not file your tax returns until you’ve received your tax forms. I know it’s tempting. I know you think you know what’s on those forms but what if you’re wrong? Not only are you making it hard on your preparer to figure it out, but you’re also asking them to break the rules: the IRS bars tax preparers from e-filing your tax returns without receipt of forms W-2, W-2G and 1099-R.

Filing before you have your forms in hand also sets you up for a potential audit. At the most basic, the IRS matches forms W-2 and forms 1099 to the information on your tax return. If the information doesn’t match, the IRS will flag your return for additional examination. My mom – who is right almost all of the time about everything – used to tell me that it was okay to be different. That might be true in junior high, but it’s not true at the IRS. Trust me. You want your tax return to look like everybody else’s tax return. Don’t give the IRS a reason to give yours a second look.

If you’re looking for 2018 tax rates, you’ll find them here; these are the numbers you’ll use to prepare your 2018 tax return in 2019. If you’re looking for the 2019 tax rates (the numbers you’ll use to prepare your 2019 tax return in 2020), you’ll find them here.