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    We Had An Expert Answer The 17 Most Commonly Googled Tax Questions So You Don't Have To

    First of all, this year's tax deadline is May 17th.

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    Figuring out your taxes isn't easy. The tax law is always changing and if you're like me, you have to read everything three times — and then google it — before you understand what it means.

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    I mean, shouldn't there have been a Filing Your Taxes 101 course in high school?

    To save you some time, we took the most googled tax questions and ran them by a tax expert.

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    All hail, tax lifesaver Kemberley Washington, CPA and tax analyst of Forbes Advisor. We thank you.

    1. When are taxes due?

    Calendar page showing May 17
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    Normally the federal income tax deadline is April 15th. But this is not a normal year, so the IRS has just extended the deadline to May 17th. However, it's not yet clear if states will extend their deadlines too, so it might be a good idea to try to file sooner rather than later. And if you were affected by this year's winter storms in Texas, the IRS has extended your deadline to June 15.

    Mark your calendars tax filers.

    2. What happens if you don't file taxes?

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    Forgetting (whether accidentally or intentionally) to file your taxes is not something you want to do.

    Washington explains, "If you do not file taxes, the IRS may file a substitute tax return on your behalf. In this case, the IRS uses third-party information to create a return and assess a tax to your account." When this happens, chances are you’ll have to pay the maximum possible taxes and Washington adds that "if you fail to file after the due date, you may owe additional penalties and interest."

    No thanks.

    3. How much do you have to make to file taxes?

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    Washington said this depends on your filing status, age, and other factors.

    "Generally, for the 2020 tax year, if you are single and earn more than $12,400, you are required to file." She said that number jumps to $24,800 if you are married and filing jointly.

    4. Should I do my own taxes?

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    This is a tricky question that depends on how complex your tax return will be and how much tax knowledge you have. These days, you can file online by yourself, file online with support, or have a certified public accountant (CPA) file on your behalf using a service like H&R Block.

    This one is your call, but Washington — who is a CPA and a former IRS agent — warns, "I have seen many 'do it yourself' tax returns that landed in the hands of an IRS auditor" and called out some situations where hiring a tax pro is worth it:

    - You just started a business in the 2020 tax year or have a complex business structure, such as an S corporation, partnership, or corporation.

    - You have employees or you’re self-employed.

    - You experienced a recent change in your tax situation (such as your marital status, dependents, a job change, or moving to a different state).

    - You sold a property in the 2020 tax year.

    - You worked in multiple states.

    5. What is a W-2?

    Screenshot of a W-2 tax form
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    If you look at your paycheck or pay stub and see that your employer withheld income, social security, or medicare tax from your take-home earnings, that usually means you're a W-2 employee and will be sent a W-2 form from your employer.

    "A W-2 is a wage and income statement that provides the total amount of income earned with an employer," explained Washington.

    6. When should I get my W-2?

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    "The IRS requires that employers provide W-2s to employees by January 31," said Washington. So, if you haven't seen your form yet, reach out to your employer.

    7. What is a 1099?

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    If you were self-employed or had a side hustle in 2020, you probably didn't pay taxes on your income. So instead of a W-2, you'll be sent a 1099. This tax form is used to report non-salary income to the IRS.

    "Beginning for the taxable year 2020 (which is filed in 2021), any income that self-employed individuals, independent contractors, and small businesses received should be reported on Form 1099-NEC if they received more than $600 in a calendar year," said Washington.

    If you've gotten a 1099 before and don't recognize the "NEC" tag, that's because before this year, self employed filers used Form 1099-MISC. But starting this year, Form 1099-MISC is now being used "for payments made for rents, prizes and awards, medical and healthcare payments, attorney payments, and other income payments."

    8. How do you file a 1099?

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    While W-2 employees should get their W-2 form by Jan. 31, Washington says 1099 employees and earners "should receive the form by Feb. 1." Filing a 1099-NEC is no different than filing a W-2: Just plug the information into the tax service you're using or give the form to your tax preparer.

    Just make sure to file by Tax Day, April 15!

    9. Who can claim head of household?

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    If you are able to claim head of household, the IRS says that "your tax rate will usually be lower than the rates for single or married filing separately. You will also receive a higher standard deduction than if you file as single or married filing separately."

    But, before you jump on the HOH bandwagon, make sure you actually qualify. Washington says, "You can claim head of household if you are unmarried (or considered unmarried) on the last day of the year [Dec. 31, 2020]. Also, you must have paid more than ½ the cost of keeping up your home and have a qualifying person who lives with you for half of the year."

    So, in review, to claim head of household, you have to be unmarried, pay over half the cost of maintaining your home, and have to have a qualified person living with you for more than half of the year (although, if the qualifying person is your dependent parent, he or she doesn't have to live with you for you to claim head of household).

    10. What is the difference between married filing separately and filing single?

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    The answer to this question depends completely on your marital status.

    "A person who can file 'single' is a taxpayer who is unmarried, whereas a person who does not elect to file with their spouse can choose the married filing separate status," said Washington.

    In short, if you're married, you can choose between "married filing jointly" or "married filing separately." And if you're unmarried, you will likely file as "single." Although keep in mind, "head of household" (see No. 9) or "qualifying widow(er)" are options as well.

    11. Who can I claim as a dependent?

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    If you have a dependent, you can qualify for additional tax credits and deductions. But knowing who is and isn't a qualified dependent can be tricky.

    "Generally, the IRS would allow you to claim a dependent if [they] meet either the qualifying child test or qualifying relative test. For the qualifying child test, your child must be younger than 19 years old (24 years old if they are a student). For the qualifying relative test, there is no age limit," said Washington.

    In either case, they must be a US citizen, US national, US resident, or a resident of Canada or Mexico; they cannot be claimed as a dependent by anyone else; and they cannot be filing a joint tax return (like a married filing jointly return) for themselves.

    12. What is the difference between a tax credit and a deduction?

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    Ah, the wonderful lingo of the tax world. Thankfully, Washington makes the distinction between these two terms clear and easy: "A tax deduction reduces the amount of taxes you owe by a certain percentage. Whereas a tax credit reduces the amount you owe dollar for dollar. For this reason, a tax credit is more beneficial than a tax deduction."

    13. What are some tax credits I can claim?

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    There are plenty of tax credits out there (which is where hiring a CPA often comes in handy), but they are all dependent on your personal situation. Washington says common 2020 tax credits include "educational credits, retirement savings credits, child tax credit, earned income tax credit, and the childcare dependent care credit."

    14. What is the standard deduction?

    Screenshot of the 2020 standard deduction amounts
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    The standard deduction is a set amount that reduces the amount of income you have to pay taxes on. When you file your taxes, you can either itemize your deductions (writing off those work clothes you bought or that new work computer) or take the standard deduction. For most people, the standard deduction is the better option.

    Washington explains that the standard deduction amount is "based on your filing status. For the 2020 tax year, the standard deduction is $12,400 for single and those filing married separately, $24,800 for married filing joint and qualifying widow(er), and $18,650 for those filing head of household."

    15. What qualifies as a home office for tax purposes?

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    With more and more people working from home, you might be wondering if you can write off that little work nook you made for yourself. But Washington notes, "If you’re employed by a company, you’re no longer able to take the home office deduction." But, "if you are self-employed and use part of your home for business, you may still qualify — even if you’re a renter. There are two options available to claim at tax time: the simplified option and the regular method."

    16. What if I owe taxes and can't pay?

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    If you're broke and have a tax bill, don't freak out: Contact the IRS.

    "The IRS would allow you to make a payment arrangement or request for a hardship if you lack the financial means. But more importantly, you should always reach out to them and make arrangements to stop collection activities," Washington said.

    17. How long does it take to get your tax refund?

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    So you filed your taxes and you're getting a refund. Yay! But chances are you have plans for that money and want to know when to expect it.

    "Typically, you’ll receive your tax refund within 21 days of electronically filing your tax return," said Washington. However, she notes that there are certain cases where your refund will be delayed: "If you claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC), your tax refund may be delayed despite electronically filing earlier in the tax season. The IRS expects to issue these tax refunds the first week of March if you claimed these credits."

    And if we didn't touch on your question here, you might find an answer in these FAQs from the IRS or by talking to a pro.

    For more money tips and tricks, check out our other personal finance posts.

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