March 10, 2014 – by Kathryn Robinson
Tax season is no one’s favorite time of the year – and an abusive relationship (whether you’re in one, planning on leaving, or have recently left) complicates it even further.
Fortunately, there are a few economic resources that can be powerful tools in changing your circumstances for the better. Filing tax returns and seeking income tax credit refunds can help you pull together funds that may be needed to leave an abusive relationship or begin financial independence after leaving.
This may seem like a difficult process, but it’s doable! If you’re not familiar with filing taxes, check out the Get Help section at the bottom of this post for resources.
When and why should you file a tax return?
- When you have a certain amount of income – either your own or, if married, the income of a spouse
- To receive tax benefits (i.e. refund or tax credits)
- To establish a separate tax “existence” from a spouse or ex
- To help save up money (ex. if you’re planning on leaving)
Concerns about tax refunds
- Are you worried your mail isn’t safe? Some state agencies offer an address confidentiality program. You can also have the refund deposited directly into your bank account.
- Do you not have your own bank account? Some EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) coalitions can help you set one up, or some sites have options for pre-paid debit cards.
What are your rights?
- To see and understand the entire return before signing a joint return
- To refuse to sign a joint return (married people don’t have to file together)
- To request an automatic 4-month extension of time to file
- To get copies of prior year returns from the IRS
Three Federal Tax Credits You May be Eligible For:
- This is a wage supplement for low- and moderate-income workers.
- You must have some earned income.
- You must be a citizen, legal resident, or be married to one.
- You must have a valid SSN.
- Can claim this if you file as “Married Filing Jointly,” “Single,” “Head of Household,” but NOT “Married Filing Separately”
- To claim children with this, the child must be related, adopted or a foster child. The child must live with you for over half the year. The child must be under 19 (24 if a student, and no age limit if disabled)
- EITC is not counted as income in most public benefit programs including: TANF, SSI, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps), Medicaid, CHIP, and federally assisted housing. Receipt of the credit will not affect your eligibility for such benefits. Read more about keeping your benefits.
- This is intended to help offset some costs of raising children.
- You can claim up to $1,000 per child. The child must be claimed as a dependent, and the age limit is 17.
- Married survivors can file jointly or separately.
- If you don’t owe enough taxes to use all of the Child Tax Credit, you may be eligible for a refund.
- This can help you meet your child and dependent care expenses.
- The care has to be employment-related (If money was spent on childcare while a parent was working or looking for work)
- The percentage of eligible expenses you can claim is based on adjusted gross income.
Three Types of Relief You May Be Eligible For:
1) Innocent Spouse Relief
If you’re faced with tax debt or burden because of something your spouse did wrong on a jointly filed tax return, you could be eligible for this. There are different categories and different procedures for filing.
2) Relief By Separation
This involves separating the understatement of tax (plus interest and penalties) on your joint return between you and your (former or current) spouse
3) Equitable Relief
You may still be relieved of responsibility for tax/interest/penalties through this type of relief if you are not eligible for the other types.
- The IRS-sponsored VITA Program offers free tax help to low- to moderate-income people
- The Free File Program is an e-filing program using free tax prep software
- AARP-sponsored Tax-Aide Program
- CHECKLIST of tax issues
- NWLC: Tax Issues for DV Survivors
- NWLC: Tax Credits Outreach. Call United Way’s First Call for Help at 211 or access additional tax assistance resourcesin your communities
- VAWNet: Tax Credits
- The National Community Tax Coalition
- Tax Information for Survivors of Domestic Abuse: Basic informational brochure for survivors created by the IRS
- Special Issues for Immigrants Filing Tax Returns: Info on the types of refunds that are available to immigrants with various types of status
- IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers: A source for personal tax help when you feel your tax issue cannot be handled online or by phone, and you want face-to-face assistance
- National Earned Income Tax Credit Outreach Campaign
Everyone’s circumstances are different, so we encourage you to consult the resources in this post and take advantage of the programs designed to help with your situation. While our advocates at the hotline are not able to give legal or tax advice, we can talk to you about what’s going on, discuss possible courses of action, and refer you to the best resources for legal help. Feel free to give us a call anytime, 24/7, at 1-800-799-7233.