Tax forms, changes, deadlines and refunds. Whether you’re starting or finishing your 2023 1040, we’ve got tips to see you through the 2024 tax filing season.

By Kelly Phillips Erb, Forbes Staff

Compared to the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic, when Congress was shoveling out stimulus checks while the Internal Revenue Service was buried in unopened letters and paper tax returns, this year’s filing season is running smoothly. But as always, there are new and last minute twists, on top of the already complicated tax code, to confound taxpayers. One biggie this year: A bill that would retroactively boost the 2023 child tax credit has passed the House, but has stalled in the Senate–and is likely the reason more families than usual are waiting to file their 1040s. Other current sources of confusion include crypto reporting rules; a bumper crop of new tax credits for electric vehicles and other green purchases; expanded 1099-K reports (those have been mercifully delayed); and changing start dates for required distributions from retirement accounts.

Forbes has advice on all of these matters, as well as some timely tips on who should file, how to do so for free, how to correct mistaken tax forms and much more, including whether to apply for an extension that gives you an extra six months to file. (The IRS expects to receive 146 million 1040s this year, with more than 17 million of them coming in after the official April 15 deadline.)

What if, by contrast, you’re an early bird who has already filed your 1040 and anxiously awaiting a refund? If you e-filed and provided the IRS with a bank account for direct deposit, you’ll normally receive your money within 21 days and often sooner–assuming your return is in good shape. The best way to check the status of your money is the IRS’ Where’s My Refund? tool, which provides three key pieces of information: when your return was received, when your refund was approved and when it was issued. (Information is typically available on the tool, which has recently been improved, within 24 hours after the IRS receives your e-filed tax return for the current tax year.) As of the most recent IRS data, about 67% of taxpayers whose returns have been processed have received a tax refund, averaging $3,213 per taxpayer.

We’ll update this guide with any last minute changes, but you can also stay on top of developments by subscribing to the Forbes Tax Breaks newsletter here.

Tax Deadlines–And Extensions

The normal filing deadline–a.k.a. Tax Day–is April 15, 2024, though residents of Maine or Massachusetts have until April 17, 2024 (due to holidays). Those living in a federally declared disaster area may also have additional time. For example, San Diego storm victims have until June 17, 2024, to file returns and pay taxes. Ditto for individuals and businesses in parts of Washington state affected by wildfires that began on Aug. 18, 2023. You can find other disaster-related delays here.

If you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien who lives overseas or you are in the military on duty outside the U.S., you are automatically allowed an extra two months to file your return without requesting an extension. Since June 15, 2024, is a Saturday, you get until the next business day–June 17, 2024.

As April 15 approaches, consider whether you want or need more time to file. An extension is easy to get and typically gives you six more months–through October 15–to file, but you must submit Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return by April 15 to get the extra time. You don’t have to have special circumstances to file for an extension. And contrary to popular belief, filing for an extension isn’t an audit trigger. In fact, there are lots of scenarios in which it’s smart—for example, you are waiting for a Schedule K-1 associated with a partnership, trust or estate. Better to extend, than to file on time and have to amend. But remember, an automatic extension to file isn’t an extension to pay (sometimes, the IRS will allow extra time to pay in disaster areas, but not always–it’s important to read those announcements carefully). If you expect to owe taxes, you can make a payment when you request the extension.

Do You Have To File A 1040?

Whether you have to file a tax return depends on your filing status, age, and gross income. But even if you don’t have to file, you may want to file to get a refund of any federal income tax withheld. You should also file if you are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC), the American Opportunity Credit, the Credit for Federal Tax on Fuels, the Premium Tax Credit, or Credits for Sick and Family Leave.

If none of those circumstances apply, you can see if you need to file by consulting this chart:

DO YOU NEED TO FILE A TAX RETURN?

Tax Filing Requirements for the 2023 Tax Year

For purposes of the chart, gross income means all income you receive in the form of money, goods, property, and services that isn’t otherwise exempt from tax. That includes income from sources outside the U.S. and from selling your main home or other assets—including earnings from your business. When figuring gross income, don’t include Social Security benefits unless you are married filing separately and lived with your spouse at any time in 2023, 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).

U.S. filing requirements mean you may also need to file tax forms and returns if you’ve bought, inherited, been gifted, or otherwise acquired assets outside of the U.S. You can find a look at those forms and more of what you need to know here.

If your only source of income is Social Security, your benefits are generally not taxable and you may not even need to file a return. If you received income from other sources, your benefits aren’t taxed unless your combined income exceeds a base amount for your filing status. To determine if that applies to you, you’ll need the tax form that reports your total Social Security benefits—Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement (noncitizens living outside the U.S. will receive Form SSA-1042S).

Here’s the rough formula: Add one-half of the total Social Security benefits you received last year (you’ll find that amount in box 5 of your Form SSA-1099) to your other income, including any tax-exempt interest and other exclusions from income. Compare that total to the base amount for your filing status–$32,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly and $25,000 for all others except married persons filing separately who lived together during the year (their base amount is zero). If the total is more than the base amount for your filing status, some of your benefits may be taxable.

If you receive additional income outside of Social Security benefits, but didn’t need to file last year, take a new look. Recipients saw an 8.7% boost in Social Security benefits in 2023 to offset the rising cost of living, which could result in some retirees being pushed into taxable territory.

E-Filing Beats Paper

IRS data indicates that, to date, as many as 98% of individual taxpayers have e-filed their returns in 2024. And this isn’t just folks doing their taxes themselves with the help of software. Most tax professionals will e-file your return, suggesting it’s more secure and more likely to be accurate. As National Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins put it when recommending e-filing: “Paper is the IRS’ kryptonite.”

If you do file on paper, pay close attention to addresses and due dates. Your return is considered filed on time if your envelope is properly addressed, postmarked, and deposited in the mail by the due date—using registered mail or certified mail, return receipt requested is highly recommended. Check with the post office for their hours.

Keep in mind that a paper return can take six weeks—or longer—to process.

How To File For Free

If you don’t want to pay a tax pro or for tax software, consider the IRS Free File program. (You can see all the Free File options here.) Be sure to review the offers—some, but not all, partners offer free prep and filing for state returns, so check the fine print before you start your return. Any state preparation or non-qualifying fees are required to be disclosed on the company’s Free File landing page. Free File options, which are offered through private software companies, are more limited if your income is higher or your return more complicated.

Beginning March 12th, the IRS is also offering a pilot Direct File program, which allows free filing through the IRS, instead of a private company, to those with relatively simple tax returns and living in 12 states–Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington state, and Wyoming. You can check your eligibility at directfile.irs.gov.

It’s All About The Forms

Most taxpayers will file a Form 1040 this tax season—the popular Form 1040-EZ was retired a few years ago. Understanding how Form 1040 works can make taxes much more manageable, whether you’re using software or a tax pro.

Another smart move: get your other key documents together and review what’s on them before you start. Even if you use a paid preparer, give your Form W-2 (from your employer) a quick look to make sure it’s accurate and reflects not only the income you received, but any tax-favored breaks, like contributions to your 401(k) plan. It also pays to take a look at all statements from the Social Security Administration. If you’re receiving benefits, that will come on Form SSA-1099. But if you’re still working, you should make it a point of reviewing the SSA report of your earnings history and taxes paid at least once a year. (You can read more about this statement and how to get it fixed if it’s wrong, here.)

2023 Tax Rates And Brackets

Federal individual tax rates on ordinary income (10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35%, and 37%—and there is also a zero rate) didn’t change in 2023, but the individual federal tax brackets did. By law, those brackets are adjusted, based on inflation, every year. There are dozens of other inflation adjustments affecting individual income tax brackets, deductions, and credits for 2023. You can find out what they look like—and where you fall—here.

You can see all the adjustments for the 2023 tax year in IRS Revenue Procedure 22-38.

(You can find the 2024 brackets here.)

Filing Status And A New Student Loan Wrinkle

Your marital status is determined as of the last day of the tax year—December 31—according to state law. If you’re married on that day, you’re married. It’s not more complicated than that.

If you are married, you generally have two choices: married filing jointly (MFJ) or married filing separately (MFS). Most married couples file jointly. But filing jointly can be costly for some couples—specifically those relying on student loan forgiveness plans. Typically, for married borrowers, income-driven repayment plans–or IDR–are based on your combined income if you file joint tax returns. MFJ tends to result in a lower tax bill than filing separately, but combining incomes can boost your monthly student loan payment. Until last fall, most IDR plans gave married borrowers the option to file taxes separately to exclude spousal income. The Revised Pay As You Earn plan (REPAYE) did not allow this option—payments were typically based on combined incomes, regardless of filing status.

Last fall, President Biden rolled out the SAVE plan (borrowers previously enrolled in REPAYE have been automatically converted to SAVE). In addition to lower monthly payments, the SAVE plan allows married borrowers to exclude their spouse’s income if they file taxes separately. The result may not be better for every borrower, but if you’re married and you’ve been filing as MFJ under REPAYE, check with your tax professional to see if a change in filing status makes sense.

Still Pending: The Child Tax Credit And SALT

Those accustomed to filing tax returns every year often have the most questions when something changes—in their lives (e.g. a child, a divorce, a house sale), or in the law. This year, two potentially retroactive changes that are floating around Congress, but haven’t made it into the law, are also causing confusion. The first, which has received the most attention, relates to the child tax credit. The second relates to the $10,000 limit on deductions for state and local taxes, known as SALT.

No, as of now, there is no expanded child tax credit. The bill did pass the House, but it has stalled in the Senate (there has been no vote). That means that the child tax credit remains as is for now—a tax break of up to $2,000 per qualifying child. Taxpayers may confuse what the child tax credit actually is—and what it isn’t. Here’s a look at similar-sounding credits that are sometimes confused with each other.

So, should you wait to file? It depends on whom you ask. Here’s the official advice from IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel: “We urge and encourage taxpayers to file when they’re ready.” He adds: “Don’t wait on Congress.”

You might have also heard about another retroactive tax bill that would have doubled the $10,000 state and local tax deduction cap—but just for one year (2023) and just for married couples filing jointly. Forget about it. That bill died in the House.

New: Electric Vehicles And Green Credits

If you buy a new plug-in EV or fuel cell vehicle (FCV) in 2023 or later, you may qualify for a clean vehicle tax credit of up to $7,500. Used cars may also qualify for a credit, but the rules and language are different if you buy a qualified used EV or FCV. That credit is referred to as the used clean vehicle tax credit, sometimes called a previously owned clean vehicle credit, and it equals 30% of the sale price up to a maximum credit of $4,000. You can read what you need to know about claiming these credits here.

Note that if you’re looking to buy an EV in 2024, there are new wrinkles for 2024. For example, eligible electric vehicle buyers may be able to receive the federal tax credit upfront at the dealership, provided the dealership is registered with Energy Credits Online.

If you’ve greened your home in 2023, you may also qualify for the Energy Efficient Home Improvement Credit or the Residential Clean Energy Credit. These credits typically apply to homeowners, including vacation homes used as residences, but renters may also be able to claim credits.

The Energy Efficient Home Improvement Credit applies to the purchase of energy-efficient items like exterior doors, windows, skylights, insulation materials, central air conditioners, water heaters, furnaces, boilers, and heat pumps, and is a percentage of the total improvement expenses in the year of installation—for 2023, that amount is 30%, up to a maximum of $1,200 (heat pumps, biomass stoves, and boilers have a separate annual credit limit of $2,000).

The Residential Clean Energy Credit applies to installing solar, wind, and geothermal power generation, solar water heaters, fuel cells, and battery storage. The amount of the credit you can take is a percentage of the total improvement expenses in the year of installation and is a whopping 30% in 2023, and there is no annual maximum or lifetime limit.

New: Expanded 1099-K Reporting Delayed

Last year, the IRS announced that it would (again) delay a new Congressional mandate that third-party payment platforms report payments to individuals of more than $600 on Form 1099-K. That’s a big deal, because those third-parties include the likes of Venmo, eBay, and PayPal, and under prior law they only had to report if you received more than $20,000 and had more than 200 transactions. (In other words, in this case, Congress really did pass the law, but the IRS has chosen to delay its implementation, amid fears that the $600 threshold was far too low and would produce millions of unnecessary Forms 1099-K, including those that reported personal transactions–like gift collections by friends–that aren’t taxable.)

That should mean you will only receive Form 1099-K if you hit the old transaction threshold (an exception exists for taxpayers subject to backup withholding). The IRS also plans to recognize a reporting threshold of $5,000 for tax year 2024 as part of a multiyear phase-in to implement the $600 reporting threshold.

In February, the IRS updated its Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to help taxpayers understand reporting requirements for this tax season—and the next. Included in the FAQs was information about what to do when you believe your Form 1099-K needs to be corrected (contact the issuer and, if necessary, request a corrected Form 1099-K). If you can’t get a corrected Form 1099-K, you can zero out the error when you file your return. The IRS also has a dedicated webpage, Understanding Your Form 1099-K. You can find the FAQs here.

New: Delayed Retirement Distributions

One change that had tongues wagging a few years back and continues to impact taxpayers today was the SECURE Act. It bumped the age to begin taking RMDs from 70½ to 72 starting in 2020. SECURE 2.0 pushed back the threshold even further — to either age 73 for people turning 72 after 2022 or age 75 for people turning 74 after 2032. Your first RMD must be taken by April 1 of the year after you reach the starting age for distributions. Subsequent RMDs must come out of the retirement plans by December 31 each year. Failure to take RMDs on time can result in a penalty.

That means if you were born in 1951, you’re in luck–-you won’t have to take your first distribution until you turn 73 in 2024. So you don’t need to worry about that April 1 deadline right now. (If you were born in 1950, you should already be taking RMDs, since you had to start at 72. Confused? See the explanation, including a table, here.)

New: Higher Retirement Contributions

You also have time to contribute to your IRA—the deadline to contribute to an IRA for the 2023 tax year is Tax Day, April 15, 2024, even if you’re applying for an extension. The amounts you can contribute for 2023—up to $6,500 ($7,500 if you were 50 or older by the end of 2023)—are more meager than for a 401(k), but your employer doesn’t have to offer a plan for you to reap the benefit. (Note that if you want to deduct that contribution or make it into a Roth IRA, there are some income limits; read about them here.)

Don’t have an IRA or other tax-deferred account? Here’s some information about the benefits and how to set one up.

You also have until April 15 to top out your deductible 2023 contributions to a Health Savings Account, if you’re eligible for one. The money in that account, if you don’t use it now, can grow tax free and go towards medical expenses in retirement. See more details here.

Crypto And Digital Assets

The IRS hasn’t made significant changes to its approach to cryptocurrency or digital assets for this year. But it has made clear that reporting compliance remains a priority—so be sure to check the box on the front of your Form 1040 asking about digital assets.

The IRS considers cryptocurrency a capital asset. In 2014, the agency issued guidance making it clear that capital gains rules apply to any gains or losses.

  • If you buy and sell cryptocurrency as an investment, you’ll calculate gains and losses the same way you buy and sell stock.
  • If you treat cryptocurrency like cash—spending it directly for goods or services or using it to buy other digital assets—the individual transactions may result in a gain or a loss.

For tax purposes, you figure your capital gains or losses by determining how much your basis—typically, the cost you pay for assets—has gone up or down from when you acquired the asset until there’s a taxable event. A taxable event can include a sale, gift, or other disposition. If you hold an asset for more than one year before a taxable event, it’s considered a long-term gain or loss. And if you hold an asset for one year or less before a taxable event, it’s considered a short-term gain or loss.

Additionally, the receipt of cryptocurrency or other digital assets in exchange for services is considered income. That includes income earned as an employee or as an independent contractor. Income may also be recognized from mining and staking and other transactions. And if an airdrop follows a hard fork and you receive new cryptocurrency, the IRS considers that taxable income.

Forbes recently hosted a webinar addressing some of these issues, including more sophisticated ones. You can still register to watch it on demand.

Fixing Errors Early

Before you push submit on your tax return, you’ll want to give it a once over to make sure everything is correct–little errors, like an incorrectly entered Social Security number, can hold up your refund and create IRS headaches.

But what if you receive a form that’s wrong—say a Form 1099-INT from a bank reports more interest than you received? The difference between what is on that form and your 1040 could lead to one of those computerized notices from the IRS (a CP2000 it’s called) demanding more money. Yes, millions of those go out each year. First, act promptly to get that 1099 corrected by the payer—here’s how to do it. If you can’t convince the payer you’re right, explain it on your tax return.

While the odds of being selected for an audit are small, some behaviors may attract unwanted attention—a few adjustments may be all you need to avoid the audit pile. Here’s how to lower your odds of being audited before you file.

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