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Free Tax Prep for Survivors

Resources available to help survivors get money matters in order by April

  • March 08, 2017
  • By domesticshelters.org
Free Tax Prep for Survivors

After leaving a partner, abusive or not, you may find yourself facing financial hurdles on your own, like preparing and filing taxes. It can be a struggle to figure out what steps to take next, especially when you are dealing with a range of issues following the end of the relationship.

However, help is available at tax time. Here are some completely free services that can help you file your taxes:

There may be other organizations in your area that offer free assistance with taxes, such as your local library or Goodwill. But watch out for companies that offer to prepare and file your taxes in exchange for a portion of your tax refund. And read the fine print if you are considering a refund anticipation loan—these loans often have high interest rates and/or fees.

Reducing Your Taxes

An organization that helps you file your taxes can also help determine if you or your partner gets to claim your children as deductions on your taxes. For 2016, the deduction is $4,050 per child. A deduction reduces your total taxable income, which decreases the amount of taxes you owe the government.

“The first presumption is, ‘who are the children with’?” says Robert E. McKenzie, an attorney with Arnstein & Lehr in Chicago. “But then there’s a whole level of complexity.” Factors such as how long the parents have been separated or divorced and whether there are any agreements between the parents about custody can come into play.

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People who meet income requirements may also qualify for the earned income tax credit, which can increase your tax refund. The IRS estimates that 20 percent of people who qualify for this credit don’t claim it. For 2016, people with incomes from $14,880 or less with no children to $47,955 or less with three or more children may qualify for the credit. (Limits are higher for married couples filing jointly.)

Parents who pay for childcare while they work or look for work may also qualify for a $3,000 to $6,000 child and dependent care tax credit. And many parents who make less than $110,000 yearly, qualify for the child tax credit of $1,000 per child.

There are also resources to help you resolve a tax issue. The IRS has established a network of more than 130 free or low-cost clinics that can help you resolve tax disputes if you meet income qualifications. If you have two children, for example, you qualify if your income is less than $50,400 per year. (Higher income cutoffs apply in Alaska and Hawaii.)

Problems From the Past

McKenzie notes that it’s not uncommon for abusers to control household finances, and to present survivors with completed tax forms and insist they sign them. He warns that when you sign a joint return, you are liable for any taxes or penalties linked to that return. So, if it can be done safely, he recommends that survivors who are still married file their taxes as “married filing separately” to help avoid unexpected financial burdens. (Note: you cannot receive the earned income tax credit if you file as married filing separately.)

If you are saddled with an unexpected tax bill you may be able to avoid paying it under a law that provides for Innocent Spouse Relief. Evidence of domestic violence, such as police reports or testimony from family members, can help get these tax bills reversed.