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What is the PATH Act and How May it Impact Your Taxes?

Written by a TurboTax Expert • Reviewed by a TurboTax CPAUpdated for Tax Year 2017 • April 11, 2024 1:43 PM
OVERVIEW

The PATH Act of 2015 included several anti-fraud measures for refundable credits, such as the additional child tax credit, American Opportunity tax credit, and earned income tax credit. It also created, extended, or improved several tax breaks that still benefit taxpayers today.

 

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Key Takeaways

  • Refunds for early filers claiming the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) or Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) are held until at least February 15 to allow the IRS time to match information from the filer’s tax returns with information on W-2 forms from employers.
  • You can be barred from claiming the ACTC, EITC, or American Opportunity tax credit for up to 10 years for erroneously claiming the credit.
  • The PATH Act included changes to the ACTC and EITC that make them more beneficial for taxpayers.
  • Thanks to the PATH Act, 529 plan funds can be used to purchase computers, software, and Internet access for eligible students.

You may have heard about a possible change to the Child Tax Credit, but don’t worry. TurboTax has you covered. We are up to date with the latest tax laws so you can file your taxes with confidence and accurately claim the Child Tax Credit, if you are eligible. There is no need to delay. File now to get your max refund as soon as possible.

If lawmakers expand the Child Tax Credit, the IRS has stated that they will automatically adjust your return and notify you of the update, including any additional refund. No extra steps are required on your part.

The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015 included a wide variety of tax law changes that continue to impact millions of Americans to this day. It helped protect the tax system from abuse, while also providing stability in tax planning and compliance.

For many people, the PATH Act is primarily known for current IRS requirements that curb tax fraud and improper tax refunds, particularly with regard to the additional child tax credit, American Opportunity tax credit, and earned income tax credit. However, the legislation also created, extended, and/or improved several tax breaks that are still available today.

Anti-Fraud Measures in the PATH Act

The PATH Act included a series of anti-fraud measures targeting certain refundable tax credits prone to erroneous claims. These measures include delaying tax refunds, imposing stricter IRS penalties for improper claims, and tightening the requirements for taxpayer identification numbers.

Tax refunds delayed by the PATH Act

To address the more frequent errors, identity theft, and other methods of fraud associated with the additional child tax credit and earned income tax credit, the PATH Act gives the IRS more time to double-check early tax returns claiming these credits before issuing a tax refund.

The law requires the IRS to hold refunds for filers who claim the additional child tax credit or earned income tax credit until at least February 15. So, if you file your return before that date and claim one (or both) of the targeted credits, you may have to wait a little longer to receive your refund. And the entire tax refund is delayed, not just the part related to the additional child tax credit or earned income tax credit.

TurboTax Tip:

You’ll get your tax refund faster by filing electronically and selecting the direct deposit payment method. You can also track the status of your refund using the IRS’s “Where’s My Refund” tool.

Also note that refunds can be pushed back even later than February 15. For example, the IRS set February 27 as the target date for issuing most delayed tax refunds in 2024. But that date only applied if the taxpayer chose direct deposit and there were no other issues with the return. So, if a paper refund check is sent or there are errors on your return, your refund could arrive even later.

If you file your return after February 15, the IRS will process your refund as normal without any added delay.

Restrictions following improperly claimed credits

The PATH Act expanded certain earned income credit disallowance rules to the child tax credit and American Opportunity tax credit. As a result, after the new law was enacted, you can’t claim the child tax credit or American Opportunity credit for 10 years if the IRS determines that you fraudulently claimed the credit.

If you incorrectly claimed one of the credits due to reckless or intentional disregard of IRS rules and regulations (but not due to fraud), you have to wait two years before you can claim the credit again.

The PATH Act also allows the IRS to disallow improper credits without a formal audit if you claim the earned income tax credit, child tax credit, or American Opportunity tax credit during the two- or 10-year period. Plus, once the penalty period is over, you’ll have to file Form 8862 with your tax return to claim a previously disallowed credit.

Penalties for improperly claiming credits

Under the PATH Act, if you erroneously claim a refundable credit that’s greater than the tax you owe, you can be hit with certain accuracy-related penalties.

The legislation also eliminated an exception from the penalty for erroneous refunds and credits that previously applied to the earned income tax credit.

Reporting taxpayer identification numbers

You can’t claim the earned income tax credit unless you include a Social Security number on your return for yourself, your spouse (if you’re married), and any qualifying children.

Similarly, to claim the child tax credit, you must provide a Social Security number, individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN), or adoption taxpayer identification number (ATIN) for yourself, your spouse (if you’re married), and each qualifying child. (Note that each qualifying child must have a Social Security number for the 2018 to 2025 tax years.)

The American Opportunity tax credit contains comparable rules. To claim the credit, you must report your Social Security number or ITIN, as well as a Social Security number, ITIN, or ATIN for each qualifying student.

Since these credits are often used to obtain fraudulent tax refunds, the PATH Act added an extra layer to the identification number reporting requirements. Essentially, after the PATH Act, the applicable identification number must be issued by the due date (including any extensions) for filing your tax return. So, for example, you can’t claim the earned income credit, child tax credit, or American Opportunity tax credit on an amended return or late return if a required Social Security number, ITIN, or ATIN wasn’t obtained by the original deadline for that tax year’s return.

New, extended, or improved tax breaks in the PATH Act

In addition to the anti-fraud provisions described above, the PATH Act made other changes that created, extended, or enhanced several individual income tax credits, deductions, and exclusions. Key modifications that are still saving taxpayers money include:

Additional Child Tax Credit – The PATH Act made it easier for lower-income families to claim the refundable portion of the child tax credit by setting the cap at 15% of earned income over $3,000 (the threshold was previously scheduled to rise to $10,000 before the act). [Note: The threshold has since been reduced to $2,500 for the 2018 to 2025 tax years.]

American Opportunity Tax Credit – The credit, which provides up to $2,500 in partially refundable credits for the first four years of higher education, was made permanent by the PATH Act.

Computers Eligible for 529 Plan Distributions – The PATH Act allowed tax-preferred distributions from a 529 plan to pay for computers, software, and Internet access for students enrolled at an eligible educational institution.

Earned Income Tax Credit – The PATH Act permanently extended the credit amount for workers with three or more children from 40% to 45% of earned income. It also reduced the credit’s marriage penalty by making higher phase-out thresholds for joint filers permanent.

Educator Expense Deduction – The PATH Act made the educator expense deduction permanent, allowed the maximum deduction to be increased annually for inflation (it’s capped at $300 for both the 2023 and 2024 tax years), and made professional development classes a deductible expense.

Electric Vehicle Recharging Equipment Credit – The tax credit for installing electric vehicle recharging equipment (and other equipment for refueling alternative-fuel vehicles) was extended by the PATH Act through 2016. [Note: The credit was later enhanced and extended through 2032.]

Mass Transit Exclusion – The exclusion from gross income for employer-provided mass transit passes and vanpool benefits was increased by the PATH Act. The maximum exclusion, which is adjusted annually for inflation, is $300 for the 2023 tax year and $315 for 2024.

Mortgage Debt Forgiveness – The tax law allowing homeowners to exclude up to $2 million of forgiven mortgage debt from taxable income was extended by the PATH Act through 2016. [Note: The exclusion was later extended through 2025.]

Qualified Charitable Distributions from IRAs – The PATH Act permanently extended the provision allowing seniors aged 70½ or older to make tax-free distributions of up to $100,000 per year directly from their individual retirement accounts to qualified charities.

State and Local Sales Tax Deduction – The option to deduct state and local sales taxes, instead of income taxes, was made permanent by the PATH Act (this is particularly beneficial for people living in states without an income tax).

Wrongfully Incarcerated Exclusion – The exclusion from gross income for civil damages, restitution, or other compensation received for wrongful incarceration was added by the PATH Act.

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The above article is intended to provide generalized financial information designed to educate a broad segment of the public; it does not give personalized tax, investment, legal, or other business and professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional who knows your particular situation for advice on taxes, your investments, the law, or any other business and professional matters that affect you and/or your business.

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TURBOTAX DESKTOP

  • Installation Requirements: Product download, installation and activation requires an Intuit Account and internet connection. Product limited to one account per license code. You must accept the TurboTax License Agreement to use this product. Not for use by paid preparers.

  • TurboTax Desktop Products: Price includes tax preparation and printing of federal tax returns and free federal e-file of up to 5 federal tax returns. Additional fees may apply for e-filing state returns. E-file fees may not apply in certain states, check here for details. Savings and price comparison based on anticipated price increase. Software updates and optional online features require internet connectivity.

  • Fastest Refund Possible: Fastest federal tax refund with e-file and direct deposit; tax refund time frames will vary. The IRS issues more than 9 out of 10 refunds in less than 21 days.

  • Average Refund Amount: Sum of $3140 is the average refund American taxpayers received based upon IRS data date ending 02/17/23 and may not reflect actual refund amount received.

  • TurboTax Product Support: Customer service and product support hours and options vary by time of year.

  • #1 Best Selling Tax Software: Based on aggregated sales data for all tax year 2022 TurboTax products.

  • Deduct From Your Federal or State Refund (if applicable): A $40 Refund Processing Service fee may apply to this payment method. Prices are subject to change without notice.

  • Data Import: Imports financial data from participating companies; Requires Intuit Account. Quicken and QuickBooks import not available with TurboTax installed on a Mac. Imports from Quicken (2021 and higher) and QuickBooks Desktop (2021 and higher); both Windows only. Quicken import not available for TurboTax Desktop Business. Quicken products provided by Quicken Inc., Quicken import subject to change.

  • Audit Defense: Audit Defense is a third-party add-on service provided, for a fee, by TaxResources, Inc., dba Tax Audit. See Membership Agreements at https://turbotax.intuit.com/corp/softwarelicense/ for service terms and conditions.

All features, services, support, prices, offers, terms and conditions are subject to change without notice.

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