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Single parent tax return: What you need to know about filing taxes and tax refunds for 2022

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Updated Aug. 2, 2022 to reflect the newest tax laws and filing date.

Headline! The IRS tax deadline for individuals is April 18, 2022.

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.

Consider filing for 100% FREE with TurboTax, which guarantees a max refund and can help with:

  • Earned Income Credit (EIC)
  • Child tax credits
  • Student loan interest deductions

And more.

See if you qualify to file your taxes for free with TurboTax now >>

Here is the down-and-dirty about what single parents must know about your 2021 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 (FREE!) from a reputable tax preparer like TurboTax Online if/when you get stuck.

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.

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, 2021, 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 2021 tax year, the standard deduction is $18,800 for head of household (that's $150 more than it was in 2020). This compares with $12,550 for single taxpayers and those who are married and filing separately, and $25,100 if you're married and filing jointly or if you're a qualifying widow or widower with a dependent child.

Tax credits for children

The American Rescue Plan raised the maximum child tax credit in 2021 to $3,600 for qualifying children under age 6 and $3,000 per child for ages 6 to 17. Most families will have received about half of their tax credit through monthly advance payments. The income limits for receiving the credit are $75,000 for a single individual, $112,500 for head of household and $150,000 for married couples filing jointly.

Before 2021, the credit was worth up to $2,000 per eligible child. Individuals and families whose earnings exceed the revised limits are still eligible for the $2,000-per-child credit with an income of up to $200,000 for single and head-of-household filers and $400,000 for married couples.

For 2021, the child tax credit is fully refundable (in previous years it was only refundable up to $1,400). That means if you qualify for the tax credit and it brings your tax liability below zero, you'd receive a refund of the remaining amount. 

Child care deductions for single moms

Just for the 2021 tax year, 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 $4,000 (50% of $8,000) of dependent care expenses if you have only one qualifying child or other dependent, and up to $8,000 (50% of $16,000) if you have two or more children or dependents. The credit percentage begins to drop off at an adjusted gross income (AGI) level of $125,000 up to $438,000:

  • $125,001 and $183,000, the credit percentage is phased out from 50% to 20%.
  • $183,001 to $400,000, the credit percentage remains at 20%.
  • $400,001 to $438,000, the credit percentage is phased out from 20% to 0%.

In a typical year, the max credit for one qualifying child or dependent is $1,050 (35% of $3,000) and up to $2,100 (35% of $6,000) for two or more children or dependents. The credit percentage is typically phased out starting at an AGI of $15,000.

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 2021 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 2021 earned income credit is:

$42,158 for a head of household with one child.

$47,915 for a head of household with two children.

$51,464 for a head of household filer with three or more children.

Adoption cost tax credit changes for 2021

If you adopted a child and the process was finalized in 2021, you are eligible for up to $14,440 per child in federal tax credits (that's $140 more than in 2020). Phaseouts apply beginning with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) in excess of $216,600 and completely phased out for taxpayers with MAGI of $256,660 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 $6,728 if you have three or more 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 to build wealth for 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 per qualifying dependent.
  • For 2021, the max deduction for student loan interest remains at $2,500. Phaseouts start with incomes of $70,000.
  • Charitable contributions (just one more reason to give). The CARES Act has made it even easier to write off donations during the 2021 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 toward 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 helps 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!

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 2021 phase-out ranges for this benefit is $164,900 for single filers or $329,800 for joint filers.

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

When can you file your 2021 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 2021 is April 15, 2022. 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 2022 tax year, quarterly estimated taxes are due:

April 15, 2022

June 15, 2022

September 15, 2022

January 15, 2023

You don’t have to make your 2022 4th quarter payment if you filed your full 2022 tax return by January 15, 2023, 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 was extended to allow 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 2021.

Note: You must deposit 50% of deferred taxes by Dec. 31, 2021, and and the remainder by Dec. 31, 2022, or risk significant penalties.

Where you can file taxes for free

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. 

For free help directly from the IRS:

The IRS's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs offer free basic tax return preparation to qualified individuals.

Find a free volunteer tax preparer near you.

What to do if you can't file your taxes

Christopher Jervis, an EA with Lone Wolf Financial Services in Georgia, says the only legitimate reasons someone might not be able to file a return on time is due to severe illness, natural disaster, or death.

“Simply not being ready in time is not a good reason to not file,” he says.

How to file an extension for 2021

If you are unable to file your 2021 return by the April 15 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 or work out a payment plan with the IRS.

Wendy Barlin, a CPA with Barlin Business Solutions, Inc., stresses that it's much more important to file your taxes by the deadline than it is to pay them on time.

“The IRS will always negotiate with taxpayers, but only when they timely file,” she says. “Even if you don’t have the money to pay, please always file something.”

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. Learn more about how to sell your gold jewelry, safely >>

Jervis says in most cases, you can file for an extension and get up to six additional months to file. However, if you owe taxes, you're still expected to pay by the regular due date (April 18, 2022 for the 2021 filing year) and will likely have to pay penalties and interest for failing to do so. That's why it's better to file on time but work with the IRS on a payment plan if your reason for not filing is financial.

“If at all possible, file the return, even if you can't pay,” he says.

The penalty for not filing is 5% of the tax owed per month, up to 25%. This can get significantly higher than the interest and penalty for not paying on time. By filing on time, you avoid having the sum owed increase faster than you can pay it off.

Jervis says that filing the return assesses the tax that is due, which starts the statute of limitations — which is typically 10 years.

If the IRS is unable to collect during that period, they are prohibited from continued attempts to collect and will likely write off the expense as an uncollected debt, Jervis says.

For example, if you file your 2016 return in 2022, the 10-year collection period now runs through 2032. Had you filed in 2017, the collection period would have expired in 2027 (under normal circumstances). By not filing, the IRS was essentially granted a 5-year extension to try to get money from you.

But … what are the consequences?

Barlin says a lot of people fear the IRS will come after them with jail time if they aren't able to pay their taxes by the deadline.

“Unless you owe millions of dollars, you are not going to jail and no one will come to your home and harass you,” Barlin says. “Worst case, you get a nasty notice from the IRS.”

IRS wage garnishment

Barlin says the IRS can only garnish your wages after they've sent out multiple notices, which is why it's important to respond to any notices you do receive.

“Remember, it’s a person on the other end of the phone,” Barlin says. “Explain your situation, and most often, the IRS agent will do their best to help. They are not out to get you. These are people doing their jobs, just like we do ours.”

There are certain provisions for filing tax returns in the event of a natural disaster or death, such as extended due dates or having a surviving spouse or relative file the return, Jervis says.

“Try to file the return on time, or at least file an extension,” Jervis says. “There is some thought that filing an extension increases the chances of audit, but that's not really accurate. Not filing at all is a much, much higher audit risk, particularly when income is being reported to the IRS by third parties (W-2s, 1099s, etc.).”

He says if these third-party reports (particularly 1099s) indicate that you will likely owe taxes and you continue to refuse to file, the IRS can file a tax return on your behalf, called a Substitute For Return. It is essentially the IRS doing a tax return for you, in the most disadvantageous way possible.

“They will assume you are single, with no dependents, and have no deductions,” Jervis says. “This results in the highest tax bill possible, and the they will move on to collection activities, like garnishing wages, placing liens on property, and levying (freezing or emptying) bank accounts.”

IRS payment plan

EA Manasa Nadig of MN Tax and Business Services says if you cannot pay your taxes by the due date, you can enter into an installment agreement with the IRS.

If you owe less than $50,000, you can log onto www.irs.gov/payments to set up an auto debit plan for a maximum of 72 months. Interest fees could be waived for those with qualifying incomes. 

Barlin notes that the IRS interest rate is much lower than any credit card rate, so it's usually better do a payment plan than use a credit card to pay your taxes.

If your taxes owed are more than $50,000, you'll have to work with an enrolled agent or other professional who is an expert at setting you up with a plan or getting your payment reduced based on your circumstances, Nadig says.

Jervis says another option is to petition for the IRS to deem you “Currently Not Collectible,” which means the IRS reviews your income and assets and determines that — at the moment — you have no ability to pay the debt, but you may be able to in the future.

The IRS will review your finances periodically to determine if you can begin paying on the debt, Jervis says. If your situation has changed such that you can pay, then you must reach some resolution, such as entering into an installment agreement, to prevent advanced collection activity (liens, levies, and garnishments).

“The really good thing about the CNC status is that the 10 years Statute of Limitations continues to count down,” he says. “I have seen taxpayers who were assessed a balance and never had to pay because the statute ran its full 10-year course before the taxpayer's financial status changed.”

The more complicated option if you can't pay is an Offer in Compromise. An OIC is a lengthy and costly negotiation and application process in which the taxpayer submits a full financial statement to the IRS that includes their assets, income, and monthly expenses. From that, a calculation is made to determine how much, if any, leftover income can be used to pay the debt before the statute of limitations expires. Because they would be essentially erasing some or all of your tax debt, the IRS may disallow certain expenses as luxurious or unnecessary.

“Your kids have karate, softball, and ballet that costs you $800 a month? Sorry, that's $800 a month that can be used to pay your taxes,” Jervis says. “You are a married couple with no dependents or children at home living in a 5-bedroom house with a $2,800 a month payment, in an area where the average housing price for that type of household is $1,600? Sorry, you can tap into your home equity to pay, or you can downsize to a less costly home.”

AN OIC can take nine to 18 months to process, and during that period, the 10-year Statute of Limitations period stops ticking away..

“This can be detrimental if the offer is rejected because you essentially extended their ability to collect by another year,” Jervis says. “But it can be a great benefit if it is accepted. I have seen OICs settled for half of what was owed, or 20%, or even 10%. And in some cases, the IRS simply wipes the entire debt away; this is quite rare, and you must demonstrate that there is no likelihood of you being able to pay anything by the end of the statute period.”

Fees vary by office, but most tax professionals who handle OICs charge anywhere from $1,500 to many thousands of dollars and usually require the fee to be paid in advance or require a large retainer, Jervis says.

How to file back taxes

If you haven't filed taxes for some years, or skipped some years, here are the steps for filing back taxes:

  1. Gather information

Gather your W-2s, 1099s, 1098s, and info for any deductions or credits you may qualify for for the year you wish to file for.

If you lost those documents, IRS's Form 4506-T allows you to request a transcript of your tax return information for the past 10 years — even if you haven't filed a tax return.

However, only you can generate documents re: credits and deductions.

2 . Complete and file your tax return

You can find all the documents for each year on the IRS website, then file according to instructions.

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.

Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist, author and expert. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, Elle, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. As an expert on divorce and gender, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality and multiple state legislature hearings. More about Emma's credentials.

4 Comments

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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