Taxes are amounts of money that people contribute to the costs of running a country or a community. For example, taxes pay for schools, hospitals, and roads. When immigrants and citizens pay taxes, they are paying their share of the programs that benefit them. Here you will find information on what is a tax, what is income tax, how to file a tax return, if you need to file a tax return, what to do if you do not have a social security number, if you are undocumented, help filing and pay taxes, what is the refund recovery credit.
What is a tax?
A tax is an amount of money that we pay to governments. Governments include federal, state, and smaller local governments that run counties and cities. If you make money, spend money, or own property in the United States, when tax season rolls around, you’ll be paying off these values of one kind or another. It is important to understand how to pay taxes the correct way.
What is income tax?
Income tax is a tax on your income (what you earn or receive each year). People pay income taxes to the federal government and most state governments. Some states, such as Washington and Florida, do not charge income tax.
Federal income tax is collected by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and goes to the United States Treasury. State income tax goes to state revenue departments.
The rate, or amount, of income tax you pay depends on how much you earn and what your expenses are.
Other things affect how much you pay. If you have children, you get a tax credit to help with the costs of raising a family. A tax credit means you pay taxes on less of your income.
Getting married can also affect how much tax you pay. Single people get a lower tax credit than a married couple, so they can pay more taxes. But married couples who both work may pay more in tax together than when they were single.
How do I file a tax return?
Every year, workers and companies have to calculate their income from the previous year. They calculate how much tax they owe and send that amount to the government. This process is called “filing a tax return.”
Many people have already paid their taxes in full when they file their tax return. This is because an amount of tax is deducted from their regular paychecks before they are paid. Sometimes your tax return can show that you have already paid too much tax, and the government owes you a refund!
Important note: You must tell the truth on your tax return. This is particularly important if you are not a US citizen because false information on your tax returns can get you deported. If you are a lawful permanent resident (green card holder), be sure to report all of your income. Read the USCIS information on taxes for resident aliens.
Do I need to file a tax return?
Whether you owe taxes or the government owes you, it is your responsibility to know when and how to pay taxes.
If you filled out tax forms when you started working, you will receive a W-2 form from your employer at the beginning of the year. The W-2 shows how much money you earned and how much money you paid in taxes. You will need this form to complete your tax return.
You must submit your previous year’s tax return to the government by April 15 of each year. You must file your taxes with the IRS on a government form.
What if I don’t have a social security number?
If you have income in the United States, the law says you must pay taxes. You can pay taxes without a social security number.
You can use an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). The Internal Revenue Service will give you an ITIN if you are not eligible for a social security number (SSN).
Find out how to apply for or renew an ITIN in English or how to apply for or renew an ITIN in Spanish.
What if I am undocumented?
If you have income in the United States, the law says that you must pay taxes even if you are not a legal resident. You can use an ITIN to pay taxes.
Paying taxes when you are undocumented can help show that you have “good moral principles.” Showing good moral principles is important if you apply for cancellation of removal, a green card, or another immigration program in the future.
Before applying for an ITIN, you speak with an immigration professional. You can find free and affordable legal services in your area.
How can I get help filing my return and paying taxes?
If the process seems difficult to you, don’t worry. You can ask for help. Many resettlement and community organizations offer assistance.
The government has a program to help people who need it. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free help to people who make $54,000 or less, people with disabilities, and people with limited English proficiency.
You can quickly find the nearest help with this VITA locator. Many offices offer help in Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and other languages.