What single parents need to know about taxes for 2020 (April, 2021 deadline extended)

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Updated March 31, 2021 to reflect the newest tax laws and filing date.

Headline! IRS extends additional tax deadlines for individuals to May 17.

This post is brought to you by TurboTax.

Gah! Taxes! No one likes them (except maybe accountants and sadists), but you and I know we have to deal with them.

As a single mom or dad, there are specific considerations you must take when filing your taxes — things your married parents don’t have to deal with, and stuff that your friends without children have no idea about. 

If you are like millions of Americans, you may also be an investor since there are about 21 million investors out there. With the rise of investing and the many different ways that you can easily invest there are also tax implications to take into consideration.

TurboTax Premier easily guides you through your investment transactions and is an affordable, easy-to-use tool that automatically imports and uploads your investment transactions, including stocks, roboadvisors, and cryptocurrency transactions all at once. TurboTax Premier is the only major online tax product that supports importing over 1500 transactions and 2,250 crypto transactions at once, directly from your financial institutions, saving you time and ensuring accuracy.

If you want additional guidance, TurboTax Premier also has a live help option that connects live via one-way video to a TurboTax LiveCPA or Enrolled Agent with an average 15 years experience, to get your tax questions answered and help you fill out your filing from the comfort of your home.  TurboTax Premier Live CPAs and Enrolled Agents are available in English and Spanish and can also review, sign, and file your tax return.

Are you an entrepreneur or side-hustler? Check TurboTax Self Employed is an affordable, easy-to-use tool that quickly helps you file both your business and personal taxes online, including with a live help option

And then there is the  TurboTax Free Edition, which lets you file your federal and state taxes free if you qualify.  

Here is the down-and-dirty about what single parents must know about their 2020 taxes

There are some new rules, and income requirements that differ from last year. But the bottom line remains: File early, take all the deductions you are legitimately entitled to, and ask expert advice from a reputable tax preparer like TurboTax Online if/when you get stuck.

Determine who you can claim as a dependent as a single mom

The more kids you can claim as a dependent, the higher the deductions and credits for your dependents. 

This is usually stipulated in a separation or divorce agreement, and the parent who would normally claim the child can agree to sign a waiver allowing a non-custodial parent to make the claim. You cannot split this deduction for a single child, but some parents agree to take turns claiming children on alternate years.

Or, if there are two or more children, you and your ex might agree that each parent can claim one of the kids. However, the IRS determines that a child is a dependent based on if the child lived with a parent for at least six months and was financially supported for the same time by that same parent.

In my family, this is something that had to be re-negotiated after our initial divorce agreement, since our incomes changed. Once I earned the money, I took the kids as deductions on my taxes.

You can claim as dependents:

  • Your children, if they're under 19 years old, or under 24 years old if they're full-time students, as long as they don't provide more than half of their own financial support
  • Stepchildren
  • Foster children
  • Grandchildren whom you support financially

Exemptions for parents

The personal exemption of $4,050 was eliminated in 2018 as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. However, there are increased credits and deductions, detailed below …

Head of household status if you're a single mom

If you were unmarried on Dec. 31, 2020, earn at least 50 percent of your household income, and your kids live with you for 6 months of the year or more total, single moms can file as head of household, and claim HOH on your W4. This can afford you bigger tax breaks like a higher standard deduction and lower tax rate compared to filing as single.

As of the 2020 tax year, the standard deduction is $18,650 for head of household (that's $300 more than it was in 2019). This compares with $12,400 for single taxpayers and those who are married and filing separately, and $24,800 if you're married and filing jointly or if you're a qualifying widow or widower with a dependent child.

Tax credits for children

Parents and legal guardians can take $2,000 off their tax bill for each dependent kid who was under the age of 17 on Dec. 31, 2020, and phase-out starts at $200,000 income for single and head-of-household filers, or $400,000 for married couples.

As of tax year 2018, tax reform made up to $1,400 of the credit amount refundable. A refundable tax credit can give you a refund even if you don’t owe any tax.

However, the refundable portion of the credit is capped at 15% of any earned income higher than $4,500.

Child care deductions for single moms

Heads of household who have an income or are full-time students can get the Child and Dependent Care Credit (not deduction) of up to $1,050 (35% of $3,000) of dependent care expenses if you have only one qualifying child or other dependent, and up to $2,100 (35% of $6,000) if you have two or more children or dependents.

The amount of the credit ranges from 20 to 35 percent of your allowable expenses, depending on your adjusted gross income. As your income increases, the percentage of your allowable expenses that you claim decreases. If your adjusted gross income exceeds $43,000, the maximum credit you can receive is 20 percent.

Dependent care spending account tax changes

If this tax-sheltering benefit is available through your employer or business, single heads of household can contribute up to $5,000 tax-free to pay for child care expenses for dependent children. For some small business owners (like me), it can make sense to set up a spending account to shelter this income.

Get the best of Reddit Personal Finance advice.

Alimony law change for 2019 and beyond

Until Jan. 1, 2019, alimony was deductible for the payor (97% of alimony payers are men, according to Census data), and taxable for the recipient (women).

That's over now.

The new law applies to divorces finalized after Dec. 31, 2018. If your divorce was final in 2019 or later, any alimony will no longer be a  deduction by the payor — or considered income for the recipient. 

For divorce decrees issued prior to January 1, 2019, alimony will continue to be deductible for the payor, and taxable to the recipient. Just like the good ol' days.

Earned income tax credit for single parents

For the 2020 tax year, the earned income credit ranges from $538 to $6,660 depending on your filing status and how many children you have.

The maximum income limit for the 2020 earned income credit is:

$41,756 for a head of household with one child.

$47,440 for a head of household with two children.

$50,954 for a head of household filer with three children.

Adoption cost tax credit changes for 2020

If you adopted a child and the process was finalized in 2020, you are eligible for up to $14,300 per child in federal tax credits (that's $220 more than in 2019). Phaseouts apply beginning with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) in excess of $214,520 and completely phased out for taxpayers with MAGI of $254,520 or more.

This is one case where the federal government is a beautiful organization supporting families. Muah, IRS!

Estimate how much you owe, with this TurboTax calculator.

Commonly missed tax deductions and credits

Every year the IRS states that taxpayers miss out on valuable tax deductions and credits.  Don’t let that be you. These can include:

  • Earned Income Tax Credit worth up to $6,660 if you have three kids.  The IRS estimates 1 out of 5 taxpayers missed this credit.
  • Saver’s Credit worth up to $1,000 single and $2,000 married filing jointly.  This is a credit you get just for investing in your retirement but 1 in 5 taxpayers also miss it.
  • Tax benefits for supporting someone other than a child like a relative or significant other.  You may be eligible for the Other Dependent Credit worth up to $500.
  • For 2020, the max deduction for student loan interest remains at $2,500. Phaseouts start with incomes of $65,000.
  • Charitable contributions (just one more reason to give). The CARES Act has made it even easier to write off donations during the 2020 tax year.
  • Job search expenses, like resume consulting, networking events, gas and other expenses to attend conferences and job interviews. If you are an ambitious single parent working towards your career goals, I hope this deduction was a big one.

Preparing your taxes, and finding all the hidden deductions and credits, doesn’t have to be stressful or expensive. TurboTax products, automatically helpss single parent tax filers maximize deductions, including those for single moms and dads by asking simple questions about them and their dependents and gives them the tax deductions and credits they’re eligible for based on their answers. Lord knows we need all the deductions we can get! TurboTax products feature great user-friendly features!

Tax changes for the self-employed

Under tax reform, there is a 20% deduction on qualified business income for federal returns. This includes sole proprietor, S-corps, rental property income. The 2020 phase-out ranges for this benefit is $163,300 for single filers or $326,600 for joint filers. These limits will rise in the 2021 tax year to $164,900 for single filers and $329,800 for joint filers.

TurboTax Self-Employed automatically finds this and other tax savings.

When can you file your 2020 taxes?

Employers and payroll providers have to deliver (or at least postmark) tax-related paperwork by Jan. 31 each year. If you have all your documents, you can file your taxes any time you want before the deadline. The tax deadline for tax year 2020 has been extended to May 17, 2021. You can also automatically import your W-2 when you use TurboTax eliminating data entry and allowing for more accuracy. TurboTax supports over 150 million W-2s

If you are self-employed, don't forget your quarterly estimates.

For the 2021 tax year, quarterly estimated taxes are due:

May 17, 2021

June 15, 2021

September 15, 2021

January 15, 2022

You don’t have to make your 2021 4th quarter payment if you filed your full 2021 tax return by January 15, 2022, and pay the entire balance due with your return. However, if you skipped a quarterly payment or pay late, you may be subject to a penalty.

The 2020 CARES act allows a deferral of the 6.2% Social Security payroll tax for workers earning less than $4,000 on a pretax biweekly basis, or about $104,000 annually from September, 2020, through the end of December, 2020.

Note: Those Social Security taxes must be repaid between Jan. 1, 2021, and April 30, 2021, if no permanent cut is enacted.

How to file an extension for 2020

If you are unable to file your 2020 return by the May 17 deadline, you’ll need to file an extension with the IRS, and/ or your state tax authority to avoid any late-filing or late payment penalties. This allows you to push your deadline back six months. Check with your individual State Department of Revenue as not all States require you to file an extension with them if you filed one with the IRS.

Remember, an extension to file is not an extension to pay if you owe money. If you do owe, you need to pay at least 90% of what you owe by the tax deadline.

To file an extension, you have a few options.

  1. Use TurboTax Easy Tax Extension software, and get an extension quickly, online.
  2. Print out the IRS form and mail it in.

Not sure how to pay your tax bill? Consider selling old gold and jewelry you never wear. Gold is at an all-time high. Learn more about how to sell your gold jewelry, safely, for the highest price, fast >>

Expecting a refund? Don't blow it! Read: How to start investing — for women

Free tax filing

Taxpayers are eligible for TurboTax Free Edition if they file a simple tax return (Form 1040 with no schedules): that includes W-2 income, limited interest and dividend income reported on a 1099-INT or 1099-DIV, claiming the standard deduction, Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Child Tax Credit.

>>Check out TurboTax Free Edition now.

Do you have investment income from crypto trading, stocks, bonds, employee stock purchase programs, or rental properties? TurboTax Premier, with or without live help, is for you. TurboTax Premier automatically imports thousands of investment transactions from hundreds of financial institutions, quickly and accurately.

>>Check out TurboTax Premier now — with or without live help from a CPA or registered agent!

Self-employed? Check out the TurboTax Self Employed to ensure you're getting all the deductions and write-offs you qualify for.

>>Look into TurboTax Self Employed if you're a freelancer o side-gigger.

If you have a different situation or you'd like help from a live accountant (CPA) or enrolled agent (EA), you can connect live via one-way video to a  TurboTax Live CPA or Enrolled Agent to file taxes. TurboTax CPAs and EAs have an average of 15 years of experience, and can your answer questions, review your return and give unlimited advice. 

>>Contact a TurboTax Live expert about your tax return.

What tax deductions were you missing in the past?

What tips do you have for easy filing? Share in the comments!

How much does a single mom get back in taxes?

While there is no average tax return for a single mother, or a married mom, or anyone for that matter, a recent LendingTree survey of 1,000 Americans found:

Parents expect the highest tax returns: A third of respondents with children under 18 expect a $2,000+ return, versus 9% of those with adult children and 5% of those with no kids. Plus, 22% of married couples think they’ll get a $2,000-plus return, compared to 11% of single people.

How much does a single mom get back in taxes?

While there is no average tax return for a single mother, or a married mom, or anyone for that matter, a recent LendingTree survey of 1,000 Americans found: Parents expect the highest tax returns: A third of respondents with children under 18 expect a $2,000+ return, versus 9% of those with adult children and 5% of those with no kids. Plus, 22% of married couples think they'll get a $2,000-plus return, compared to 11% of single people.


Yes, in general that is considered a hobby … but you might be able to deduct them if they are provided through an after-school program or day camp.

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