8 Things You Need to Know When Filing Your Tax Return This Year

Did you know that you can get free tax help?

While most people make New Year’s resolutions ranging from losing weight to saving more money, few people put “better tax preparation” on their list of goals for the upcoming year but maybe you should.

Although you don’t have to become a tax expert overnight in order to do your own taxes — whether you’re self-employed and married or single and working full time — you need to know the major changes and the important dates each year. Doing so will help you avoid overpaying or making a mistake when filing taxes. And, you’ll set yourself up to get your refund as soon as possible. Here’s a guide on everything you need to know about filing 2018 taxes.

1. The Tax Year 2018 Filing Deadline

If you’re motivated to file early, the federal tax filing season begins Jan. 28, 2019. The deadline to file taxes is April 15, 2019.

If you need more time to file your taxes this year, you can apply for a tax extension that will give you an extra six months to file your return, but you would still have to pay your taxes on time.

Another important date to remember: The deadline for traditional or Roth IRA contributions. If you’ve put off contributing to your individual retirement account all of last year, you haven’t missed the boat. A special provision allows you to make your contribution for the previous year as late as the tax-filing deadline for the current calendar year. Usually, you have until April 15 of the following year to deposit your contribution.

Read More: Here’s How to Use Your IRA as a Last-Minute Tax Deduction

2. It’s Unclear How the Shutdown Might Affect Refunds

It’s worth noting that there might be less incentive to file early this year as the government shutdown could delay your refund regardless of when you file, but the IRS has said it’s committed getting taxpayers their federal income tax refunds regardless of the shutdown. Unfortunately, no matter how long the government shutdown goes on for, you will still need to file and pay your taxes for 2018. The IRS intends to begin processing returns on January 28 when tax filing season begins, but it’s anyone’s guess how it’ll actually play out.

While administration officials insist that they will ensure that refunds go out in a timely fashion, that’s a reversal of the previous policy of processing returns but not sending out refunds during a shutdown and some have expressed skepticism as to whether or not a sufficient plan will be crafted to make this a reality. That said, filing early is still a good tactic for preventing a scammer from stealing your tax return.

3. Income Limit Increases for Free Tax Help

More than 70 percent of taxpayers qualify for assistance filing their taxes, according to the IRS. And, the IRS has made it a bit easier for taxpayers with slightly higher incomes to qualify for tax-filing help this year.

The limit to qualify for Free File Software, a free tax preparation software, is now $66,000. If your income is above $66,000, you can still qualify for Free File Fillable Forms, which are similar to paper forms except that you can file your tax return online and send it electronically. Both options will not only save you money, but you’re more likely to receive your refund sooner as well.

If you don’t qualify for the IRS Free File Software, you’re not out of luck. You can take advantage of many other cheap and free tax filing software and services.

4. Your Tax Rate Might Be Different

Part of the changes to the tax code included in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act are changes to the structure of the federal tax brackets. As of 2013, the tax code returned to seven brackets with the highest rate being 39.6 percent on incomes over $450,000. And while there are still seven different brackets, they have been reduced with a new top rate of 37 percent that only kicks in at $500,000 and provides a tax break for many Americans. Here are the tax brackets being used for the 2018 tax year for each filing status:

Single Filers
IncomeTax Rate
Not over $9,52510% of the taxable income
Over $9,526 but not over $38,700$952.50 plus 12% of the excess over $9,525
Over $38,701 but not over $82,500$4,453.50 plus 22% of the excess over $38,700
Over $82,501 but not over $157,500$14,089.50 plus 24% of the excess over $82,500
Over $157,501 but not over $200,000$32,089.50 plus 32% of the excess over $157,500
Over $200,001 but not over $500,000$45,689.50 plus 35% of the excess over $200,000
Over $500,001$150,689.50 plus 37% of the excess over $500,000

 

Married Filing Jointly
IncomeTax Rate
Not over $19,05010% of the taxable income
Over $19,051 but not over $77,400$1,905 plus 12% of the excess over $19,050
Over $77,401 but not over $165,000$8,907 plus 22% of the excess over $77,400
Over $165,001 but not over $315,000$28,179 plus 24% of the excess over $165,000
Over $315,001 but not over $400,000$64,179 plus 32% of the excess over $315,000
Over $400,001 but not over $600,000$91,379 plus 35% of the excess over $400,000
Over $600,001$161,379 plus 37% of the excess over $600,000

 

Married Filing Separately
IncomeTax Rate
Not over $9,52510% of the taxable income
Over $9,526 but not over $38,700$952.50 plus 12% of the excess over $9,525
Over $38,701 but not over $82,500$4,453.50 plus 22% of the excess over $38,700
Over $82,501 but not over $157,500$14,089.50 plus 24% of the excess over $82,500
Over $157,501 but not over $200,000$32,089.50 plus 32% of the excess over $157,500
Over $200,001 but not over $300,000$45,689.50 plus 35% of the excess over $200,000
Over $300,001$80,689.50 plus 37% of the excess over $300,000

5. Tax Credits Could Mean Delayed Refunds

Are you an early tax filer who files ahead of the deadline because you want to get your tax refund sooner? If so, you might not like this news: You might have to wait a bit longer than usual to receive your refund if you use certain credits.

Thanks to a new law that took effect in 2017, the IRS is required to hold onto refunds until at least Feb. 15 if you’re claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit. So if you’re claiming those credits, your entire refund is delayed — not just the portion attributable to the tax credits.

However, if you want to avoid being a victim of tax refund fraud and identity theft, you might be grateful for this delay. By holding onto tax refunds a little while longer, the IRS will have more time to combat fraudulent refunds.

“These increased security screenings are invisible to most taxpayers,” said former IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in a statement at the time. “But we want people to be aware we are taking additional steps to protect taxpayers from identity theft, and that sometimes means the real taxpayers face a slight delay in their refunds.”

And, the IRS states most refunds should still be issued less than 21 days of filing your tax return. Remember: You can check the status of your refund on the IRS website, “Where’s My Refund?”

6. Some Popular Deductions Are Reduced, But You’re Less Likely to Need Them

There are a number of major changes to deductions that you probably relied on when itemizing in the past.

The amount of sales tax or other state and local taxes that you can deduct is now capped at $10,000, you can only claim the mortgage interest deduction for up to $750,000 of your primary or secondary residence instead of $1 million as in years past, and deductions for miscellaneous job-related expenses that exceed two percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI) have been suspended.

There is some good news, though. If you are going to itemize, you can now deduct charitable contributions up to 60 percent of your income, up from 50 percent. And perhaps more useful is that the standard deduction has been nearly doubled to $12,000 for single filers and married filers filing separately and $24,000 for married filers filing jointly.

So, even if you’re expecting to miss out on some tax-deductible items you usually rely on, you might also discover that taking the standard deduction will be a better option for you this year, saving time and possibly even money.

7. Final Year of Paying the Penalty for Not Having Health Insurance

Under the Affordable Care Act, you’re required to have qualifying health insurance if you can afford it. If you didn’t have health insurance in 2018, you’ll owe a penalty of at least $695.

In 2016 and 2017, the penalty is the larger of $695 per adult and $347.50 for each child under 18 capped at $2,085. Or, it could be 2.5 percent of your household income up to the national average price of a Bronze plan sold through the Marketplace. These penalties represent a significant increase from 2015 when it was the larger of 2 percent of your income or $325 per adult and $162.50 per child under 18, capped at $975.

However, this will be the last year that the penalty is charged to Americas — barring any major changes to the law — as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 eliminated that portion of the law beginning with the 2019 tax year.

8. Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers Expiring

Perhaps you don’t have a Social Security number. Instead, you might have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number instead. If so, you need to know about this important tax update.

On Jan. 1, 2019, any ITINs that have not been used in the previous three years — or with middle digits of 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 81 or 82 — will expire. If you have an ITIN and you plan on filing a tax return this year, the IRS stresses that you renew it as soon as possible — especially if you want to avoid refund delays.

According to the IRS, the renewal application can take as little as seven weeks but as many as 11 weeks during tax season. To get started on the renewal process, use the latest version of Form W-7, check “Renew an existing ITIN” at the top of the form and fill out it out accordingly.

More on Taxes

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Joel Anderson and Sydney Champion contributed to the reporting for this article.