Here’s how a name change affects a tax return

When someone legally changes their name, there are tax consequences they need to know about., especially at tax time. People change their names for several reasons:

  • Taking their spouse’s last name after a marriage
  • Hyphenating their last name with their spouse’s after getting married
  • Going back to their former name after a divorce
  • Giving an adopted child the last name of their new family

The IRS wants people experiencing a name change to remember these important things:

Reporting change to SSA. Taxpayers should notify the Social Security Administration of a name change ASAP. When a taxpayer files their taxes, the IRS checks SSA records to ensure names and social security numbers on the forms match.

Failing to report a name change. If a name on a taxpayer’s tax return doesn’t match SSA records, it can delay the IRS processing of that return. In that case, if the taxpayer is due a refund, it will take longer for them to get their money.

Name Change Due to Adoption. In the case of an adoption, if the child has a Social Security number, the taxpayer should be sure to inform the SSA of a name change. If the child does not have a Social Security number, the taxpayer may use an Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number on their tax return. An ATIN is a temporary number. Taxpayers can apply for an ATIN by filing Form W-7A, Application for Taxpayer Identification Number for Pending U.S. Adoptions. Taxpayers file this form with the IRS.

Getting a New SS Card. After a name change, a taxpayer should file Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card. The form is available on SSA.gov or by calling 800-772-1213. The taxpayer’s new Social Security card will reflect the name change.

Here’s how taxpayers can pay their taxes

The IRS offers several payment options where taxpayers can pay immediately or arrange to pay in installments. Taxpayers can pay online, by phone, or with their mobile device and the IRS2Go app. Taxpayers should pay in full whenever possible to avoid interest and penalty charges.

Here are some electronic payment options for taxpayers:

  • Electronic Funds Withdrawal. Taxpayers can pay using their bank account when they e-file their tax return. EFW is free and only available through e-File.
  • Direct Pay. Taxpayers can pay directly from a checking or savings account for free with IRS Direct Pay. Taxpayers receive instant confirmation after they submit a payment. With Direct Pay, taxpayers can schedule payments up to 30 days in advance. They can change or cancel their payment two business days before the scheduled payment date. Taxpayers can choose to receive email notifications each time they make a payment.
  • Credit or debit cards. Taxpayers can also pay their taxes by debit or credit card online, by phone, or with a mobile device. Card payment processing fees vary by service provider and no part of the service fee goes to the IRS. Telephone numbers for service providers are at IRS.gov/payments.
  • Pay with cash. Taxpayers can make a cash payment at a participating retail partner. Taxpayers can do this at more than 7,000 locations nationwide. Taxpayers can visit IRS.gov/paywithcash for instructions on how to pay with cash.
  • Installment agreement. Taxpayers who are unable to pay their tax debt immediately may be able to make monthly payments. Before applying for any payment agreement, taxpayers must file all required tax returns. They can apply for an installment agreement with the Online Payment Agreement tool, which also has more information about who’s eligible to apply for a monthly installment agreement.

Tax Time Guide: ‘Where’s My Refund?’ remains easiest way to check tax refund status

The Internal Revenue Service reminded taxpayers that the easiest way to check on a tax refund is “Where’s My Refund?,” an online tool available at IRS.gov and through the IRS2Go app. The fastest way to get a refund is to use IRS e-file and direct deposit.

This news release is part of a series called the Tax Time Guide, a resource to help taxpayers file an accurate tax return. Additional help is available in Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax, and the tax reform information page.

The IRS issues nine out of 10 refunds in less than 21 days. Refunds for those claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit had to be held, by law, until mid-February. Taxpayers claiming these credits should begin to see their refunds deposited in bank accounts February 27.

Using the “Where’s My Refund?” online tool, taxpayers can start checking on the status of their return within 24 hours after the IRS receives an e-filed return or four weeks after the taxpayer mailed a paper return. The tool has a tracker that displays progress through three phases: (1) Return Received; (2) Refund Approved; and (3) Refund Sent.

All that is needed to use “Where’s My Refund?” is the taxpayer’s Social Security number, tax filing status (such as single, married, head of household) and exact amount of the refund claimed on the return.

“Where’s My Refund?” is updated no more than once every 24 hours, usually overnight, so there’s no need to check the status more often.

Taxpayers should only call the IRS tax help hotline on the status of their refund if it has been:

  • 21 days or more since the return was e-filed,
  • Six weeks or more since the return was mailed, or when
  • “Where’s My Refund?” tells the taxpayer to contact the IRS.

Taxpayers who owe should pay as much as possible to minimize interest and penalty charges

Taxpayers should visit IRS.gov/payments to explore their payment options. They can pay online, by phone (telephone numbers available at IRS.gov/payments) or using their mobile device and the IRS2Go app. Payment options available include electronic funds withdrawal (during e-file), bank account (Direct Pay), debit or credit card, and the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS).

Taxpayers unsure of the amount they owe they can visit IRS.gov/account, and when logged in they can view their balance, payment history, and make a payment.

It’s especially important in 2019 for taxpayers who had an unexpected result when they filed their 2018 tax return to perform a Paycheck Checkup now to determine whether the right amount is being withheld for their 2019 taxes. Taxpayers who do need to adjust their withholding should submit a 2019 Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, to their employer as soon as possible.

Payment options for those who owe but can’t pay in full

Most taxpayers will be affected by major tax law changes, and while many will get a refund, others may owe tax. Many of those owing tax may qualify for a waiver of the estimated tax penalty that often applies. See Form 2210, Underpayment of Estimated Tax by Individuals, Estates and Trusts, and its instructions for details.

The IRS urges people with a filing requirement and a balance due to file by the April 15 due date even if they cannot pay in full. Taxpayers in this situation should pay what they can and then consider a payment plan for the rest.

Taxpayers who are unable to full pay what they owe should act quickly. Several payment options are available including:

  • Online Payment Agreement — Individuals who owe $50,000 or less in combined income tax, penalties and interest and businesses that owe $25,000 or less in payroll tax and have filed all tax returns may qualify for an Online Payment Agreement. Most taxpayers qualify for this option, and an agreement can usually be set up in a matter of minutes. Online applications to set up one of these plans are available Monday – Friday, 6 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.; Saturday, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 6 p.m. to midnight. All times are Eastern time.
  • Installment Agreement — Installment agreements paid by direct deposit from a bank account or payroll deduction will help taxpayers avoid default on their agreements. It also reduces the burden of mailing payments and saves postage costs. Taxpayers who don’t qualify for a payment agreement may still pay by installment. Certain fees apply.
  • Delaying Collection — If the IRS determines a taxpayer is unable to pay, it may delay collection until the taxpayer’s financial condition improves.
  • Offer in Compromise — Some struggling taxpayers qualify to settle their tax bill for less than the amount they owe by submitting an offer in compromise. To help determine eligibility, use the Offer in Compromise Pre-Qualifier tool.

In addition, taxpayers can consider other options for payment, including getting a loan to pay the amount due. In many cases, loan costs may be lower than the combination of interest and penalties the IRS must charge under federal law.

Taxpayers can find answers to questions, forms and instructions and easy-to-use tools online at IRS.gov. They can use these resources to get help when it’s needed from the convenience of home or office.

Individuals who need passports for imminent travel should contact IRS promptly to resolve tax debt

The Internal Revenue Service reiterated its warning that taxpayers may not be able to renew a current passport or obtain a new passport if they owe federal taxes. To avoid delays in travel plans, taxpayers need to take prompt action to resolve their tax issues.

In January of last year, the IRS began implementing new procedures affecting individuals with “seriously delinquent tax debts.” These new procedures implement provisions of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. The law requires the IRS to notify the State Department of taxpayers the IRS has certified as owing a seriously delinquent tax debt, which is $52,000 or more. The law also requires State to deny their passport application or renewal. If a taxpayer currently has a valid passport, the State Department may revoke the passport or limit ability to travel outside the United States.

When the IRS certifies a taxpayer to the State Department as owing a seriously delinquent tax debt, they receive a Notice CP508C from the IRS. The notice explains what steps a taxpayer needs to take to resolve the debt. Please note, the IRS doesn’t send copies of the notice to powers of attorney. IRS telephone assistors can help taxpayers resolve the debt, for example, they can help taxpayers set up a payment plan or make them aware of other payment alternatives. Taxpayers shouldn’t delay because some resolutions take longer than others, such as adjusting a prior tax assessment.

When a taxpayer no longer has a seriously delinquent tax debt, because they paid it in full or made another payment arrangement, the IRS will reverse the taxpayer’s certification within thirty days. State will then remove the certification from the taxpayer’s record, so their passport won’t be at risk under this program. The IRS can expedite the decertification notice to the State Department for a taxpayer who resolves their debt, has a pending passport application and has imminent travel plans or lives abroad with an urgent need for a passport.

A taxpayer with a seriously delinquent tax debt is generally someone who owes the IRS more than $52,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest for which the IRS has filed a Notice of Federal Tax Lien and the period to challenge it has expired or the IRS has issued a levy.

Before denying a passport renewal or new passport application, the State Department will hold the taxpayer’s application for 90 days to allow them to:

  • Resolve any erroneous certification issues,
  • Make full payment of the tax debt, or
  • Enter a satisfactory payment arrangement with the IRS.

Ways to Resolve Tax Issues

There are several ways taxpayers can avoid having the IRS notify the State Department of their seriously delinquent tax debt. They include the following:

  • Paying the tax debt in full,
  • Paying the tax debt timely under an approved installment agreement,
  • Paying the tax debt timely under an accepted offer in compromise,
  • Paying the tax debt timely under the terms of a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice,
  • Having requested or have a pending collection due process appeal with a levy, or
  • Having collection suspended because a taxpayer has made an innocent spouse election or requested innocent spouse relief.

Relief programs for unpaid taxes

Frequently, taxpayers qualify for one of several relief programs including the following:

  • Payment agreement. Taxpayers can ask for a payment plan with the IRS by filing Form 9465. Taxpayers can download this form from IRS.gov and mail it along with a tax return, bill or notice. Some taxpayers can use the online payment agreement to set up a monthly payment agreement.
  • Offer in compromise. Some taxpayers may qualify for an offer in compromise, an agreement between a taxpayer and the IRS that settles the tax liability for less than the full amount owed. The IRS looks at the taxpayer’s income and assets to decide the taxpayer’s ability to pay. Taxpayers can use the Offer in Compromise Pre-Qualifier tool to help them decide whether they’re eligible for an offer in compromise.

Subject to change, the IRS also will not certify a taxpayer as owing a seriously delinquent tax debt or will reverse the certification for a taxpayer:

  • Who is in bankruptcy,
  • Who is deceased,
  • Who is identified by the IRS as a victim of tax-related identity theft,
  • Whose account the IRS has determined is currently not collectible due to hardship,
  • Who is located within a federally declared disaster area,
  • Who has a request pending with the IRS for an installment agreement,
  • Who has a pending offer in compromise with the IRS, or
  • Who has an IRS accepted adjustment that will satisfy the debt in full.

For taxpayers serving in a combat zone who owe a seriously delinquent tax debt, the IRS postpones notifying the State Department of the delinquency and the taxpayer’s passport is not subject to denial during the time of service in a combat zone.

EITC provides tax break for low to moderate income taxpayers

The earned income tax credit benefits low to moderate income people and families. The credit can lower the tax someone owes or mean a refund for the taxpayer.

Taxpayers can do these things to determine if they qualify for the EITC and make claiming it easier:

Review their eligibility

  • Taxpayers must have earned income of $54,884 or less.
  • Taxpayers must file a federal tax return claiming the credit even if no tax is due and filing a return is not otherwise required.
  • Even if they didn’t qualify for the EITC in the past, filers should review EITC eligibility if their household income or family situation has changed.

Learn the EITC rules

  • Taxpayers who are married and file a separate return don’t qualify for the EITC.
  • Filers must have a valid Social Security number for themselves, their spouse and any qualifying child listed on their tax return.
  • Taxpayers must have earned income. This includes money they earn from working as an employee or being self-employed.
  • Filers may be married or single.
  • Taxpayers can be with or without qualifying children.
  • A child must have lived with the taxpayer for more than six months in 2018.
  • The child must meet the age, residency, relationship and joint return rule.
  • Filers who don’t have children must also meet the age, residency and dependency rules.
  • Members of the U.S. military serving in a combat zone have special rules that may apply.

Find free services to help claim the credit

  • Those who do their own taxes can use IRS Free File to claim EITC. Free brand-name software will figure out taxes and the credit automatically.
  • IRS volunteer programs offer free tax help at thousands of sites around the country.

Know when to expect their refund

  • By law, if a taxpayer claims either the EITC, the IRS can’t issue the refund before mid-February.
  • This applies to the entire refund, even the portion not associated with these credits.
  • The IRS expects the earliest of these refunds to be available in taxpayer bank accounts or on debit cards starting on February 27, 2019. This is if the taxpayer chose direct deposit and there are no other issues with the tax return.

Free tax preparation available for millions of families

Millions of individuals and families can have their tax returns filed free. The IRS sponsors two programs with thousands of sites across the country, available to people with lower and moderate incomes:

  • Volunteer Income Tax Assistance: The VITA program offers free tax return preparation for eligible taxpayers who generally earn $55,000 or less.
  • Tax Counseling for the Elderly: TCE is mainly for people age 60 or older, but offers service to all taxpayers. The program focuses on tax issues unique to seniors. AARP participates in this program through AARP Tax-Aide.

The IRS works with local community groups to certify thousands of volunteers who are trained in the latest tax law. Eligible taxpayers should consider taking advantage of these free programs. This includes people with disabilities and people who speak limited English.

Here are some additional details about these two programs:

  • Free tax prep around the country. The IRS works with community organizations to offer free tax help at thousands of sites nationwide. Most of these sites are open now.
  • Free electronic filing. VITA and TCE provide free electronic filing. E-file is the safest, most accurate way to file a tax return. Taxpayers can combine e-file with direct deposit for quicker refunds.
  • Volunteer preparers trained to help find tax benefits. Certified volunteers help people get all the tax benefits for which they are eligible. These include the earned income tax creditAmerican opportunity tax creditcredit for the elderlychild tax credit and credit for other dependents.
  • Bilingual help. Some VITA and TCE sites provide bilingual assistance.
  • Help for military. Many military bases have VITA sites offering free tax assistance to members of the military and their families. Volunteers can help with military tax topics, which include special rules and tax benefits that apply to those serving in combat zones.
  • Self-preparation option. At many VITA sites, people who earn $66,000 or less may be able to prepare their own tax returns. They can do this by using free web-based software. This option is for those who do not have a home computer and do not need much help.
  • Site information available on IRS.gov. Taxpayers can find the nearest VITA site by using the VITA Locator on IRS.gov. Sites are currently open, but the IRS is still adding some to the locator. Taxpayers can also find sites by downloading the IRS2Go app or calling the IRS at 800-906-9887. Find more on AARP Tax-Aide locations by using the AARP Locator.

FROM THE IRS: Here’s what taxpayers should do to protect private data

Taxpayers should protect their personal and financial data from criminals who continue to steal large amounts of information. Thieves use the data to file bogus tax returns and commit crimes while impersonating the victim.

All taxpayers should follow these steps to protect themselves and their data.

Keep a secure computer. Taxpayers should:

  • Use security software that updates automatically. Essential tools for keeping a secure computer include a firewall, virus and malware protection, and file encryption for sensitive data.
  • Treat personal information like cash; don’t leave it lying around.
  • Give personal information only over encrypted and trusted websites.
  • Use strong passwords and protect them.

Avoid Phishing and Malware. Taxpayers should:

  • Not respond to emails, texts or calls that appear to be from the IRS, tax companies and other well-known businesses. Instead, verify contact information about companies or agencies by going directly to their website.
  • Be cautious of email attachments. Think twice before opening them.
  • Turn off the option to automatically download attachments.
  • Download and install software only from known and trusted websites.

Protect personal information. Taxpayers should:

  • Not routinely carry a Social Security card or other documents showing a Social Security number.
  • Not overshare personal information on social media. This includes information about past addresses, a new car, a new home and children.
  • Keep old tax returns and tax records under lock and key.
  • Safeguard electronic files by encrypting and properly disposing them.
  • Shred tax documents before trashing.

Taxpayers should forward IRS-related scam emails to phishing@irs.gov. They can report IRS impersonation telephone calls at www.tigta.gov.