Every year brings new people into the workforce. The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) wants to reach individuals filing tax returns for the first time, or for the first time after a gap in filing, to share information to help them meet their federal tax obligations.
Who is a first-time filer?
Many individuals may be filing a federal income tax return for the first time, or for the first time in several years. This includes:
- Students and recent graduates working for the first time
- Gig workers who did not previously need to file
- Adults returning to the workforce after long periods of unemployment
- New military recruits who may be getting their first paychecks
- Retirees returning to work to supplement their income
- People taking on filing responsibilities after a spouse’s death
- People filing only to claim refundable credits
What are some of the challenges for first-time filers?
People who have never filed, and people who have not filed for several years, have similar needs for information and resources. First-time filers may not have experience with taxes in general. The tax law is complex and changes every year. Obtaining tax help from the IRS continues to be difficult. First-time filers may not have a trusted tax professional to rely on, and they may not be able to afford professional help. Free resources are available, and TAS wants to help you find them.
As a first-time filer, you may need help determining:
To avoid common errors when filing a tax return, first-time filers and all taxpayers should:
- Make sure each name and SSN or ITIN are listed exactly as printed on the individual’s Social Security card issued by the Social Security Administration or the ITIN notice issued by the IRS.
- Choose the correct filing status. The Interactive Tax Assistant on IRS.gov can help you choose the correct status, especially if more than one filing status applies. Tax software also helps prevent mistakes with filing status.
- Double check your math. Calculation errors are some of the most common mistakes. They range from simple addition and subtraction to more complex calculations. Check your calculations, or better yet, use tax return preparation software that does it automatically.
- Double check your bank account numbers. Taxpayers who are due a refund should choose direct deposit. This is the fastest way for taxpayers to get their money. It’s important to make sure the correct routing transit number and account number are used.
- Sign your return. An unsigned tax return isn’t valid. In most cases, both spouses must sign a joint return. Exceptions may apply for members of the armed forces or other taxpayers who have executed a valid power of attorney.
Can first-time filers use electronic filing?
Electronic filing, or e-filing, refers to the process of filing one’s tax return electronically, using approved online software. Most first-time filers can use e-file. E-filing is becoming increasingly popular because of its benefits:
- E-filing has brought about increased flexibility in the filing of tax returns and is a lot more convenient because you can file your tax return from the comfort of your home, at any time.
- You sign your return digitally when e-filing, preventing the possibility of sending an unsigned return.
- E-filing saves a huge amount of time and money. When tax returns are e-filed, the data is directly transmitted online from the e-filer’s servers to the tax agency’s servers. You won’t have to print and mail your tax return, or wait for a paper return to be received, opened and input by an IRS employee. Because you’re inputting the data yourself, you can avoid potential input, or transcription, errors.
- Because transcription errors can be avoided by accurately e-filing, the overall tax return filing process is more accurate.
- When you e-file, you will receive notifications throughout the filing process. You will receive confirmation that your return was received. Within 24 hours, you will be notified whether your return can be processed or if it must be returned, or rejected, to correct one or more errors. In most cases, you can correct the error and resubmit a rejected return. You can also check the status of your return online after it’s been accepted for processing. Paper filing is much more ambiguous. Although you can file a paper return by certified or registered mail to confirm when the IRS receives it, status updates after that point are limited.
Are there tax credits available to first-time filers?
If you are a first-time filer, you may not be aware of credits that can reduce your tax or increase your refund.
- Earned Income Tax Credit – This credit is available to taxpayers with low to moderate earned income, with or without a qualifying child.
- Education Credit – This credit is available to taxpayers who incurred qualified education expenses. Some education credits are refundable.
- Premium Tax Credit – This credit helps eligible individuals and families afford premiums for health insurance purchased through the Health Insurance Marketplace.
- Child Tax Credit – This credit is available to individuals with qualifying children. Portions of this credit are available even if the individual did not have income.
- Recovery Rebate Credit – Even if an individual did not receive stimulus payments (economic impact payments), the individual can potentially claim recovery rebate credits for 2020 and 2021. Individuals do not need income to qualify for this credit.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs offer free basic tax return preparation to qualified individuals. Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITCs) are also available to assist low-income individuals who have a tax dispute with the IRS. LITCs also provide education and outreach to individuals who speak English as a second language.
Visit the Taxpayer Advocate Service’s Get Help center for a list of tax topics to assist you with resolving many tax related issues.
For more updates from the Taxpayer Advocate Service, visit the news and information center to read the latest tax tips, blogs, alerts and more.