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Tax Tips for Low-Income Filers

Updated for Tax Year 2015


If you're a low-income filer, you might be entitled to various tax credits and deductions for which other taxpayers don't qualify.

The U.S. Tax Code is structured to provide assistance to lower-income taxpayers. As a low-income filer, you might be entitled to various credits and deductions for which other taxpayers don't qualify. Certain behaviors in particular, such as having children or making retirement plan contributions, are rewarded. However, these incentives phase out when taxpayers reach a higher income level.

Retirement saver's credit

A little-known provision allows certain lower-income taxpayers to receive credits for making retirement plan contributions. The amount of the credit ranges from 10 percent to 50 percent of the first $2,000 that you put into a retirement plan, such as an individual retirement account (IRA). As of 2015, you could get the maximum 50 percent credit if your adjusted gross income was $18,250 or less.

The amount of the credit steps down at various income levels depending on your filing status. For a single filer, an AGI exceeding $30,500 would make you ineligible to claim the credit. If you're married and filing jointly, the limit rises to $61,000.

Earned income tax credit

The earned income tax credit (EITC) is available exclusively for lower- and middle-income taxpayers. Unlike some other credits, the EITC is refundable, meaning you still receive it even if it's more than you owe.

For example, if you owe $200 in taxes but qualify for a $1,000 EITC, you'll actually receive $800 as a tax refund. Generally, you need one or more qualifying children to receive the credit, although it's possible to get the credit as an individual.

For 2015, you must have an AGI below the following levels to qualify for the EITC:

  • with three or more qualifying children, $47,747, or $53,267 if married filing jointly
  • with two qualifying children, $44,454, or $49,974 if married filing jointly
  • with one qualifying child, $39,131, or $44,651 if married filing jointly
  • with no qualifying children, $14,820, or $20,330 if married filing jointly

The maximum credit you can receive also varies based on the number of qualifying children you have. For 2015, the following maximums are in place:

  • $6,242 with three or more qualifying children
  • $5,548 with two qualifying children
  • $3,359 with one qualifying child
  • $503 with no qualifying children

Credit for the elderly & disabled

As a low-income taxpayer, you may qualify for the credit for the elderly and disabled. In addition to qualifying based on income, you must meet one of two additional criteria -- you must either be age 65 or older at the end of the year, or you must have retired on total and permanent disability and have taxable disability income.

If your AGI is equal to or exceeds the following limits, you cannot qualify for this credit:

  • $17,500, if you're single, head of household, or a qualifying widow(er) with dependent child
  • $20,000, if you're married filing jointly and only one spouse otherwise qualifies
  • $25,000, if you're married filing jointly with both spouses qualifying
  • $12,500, if you're married filing separately and lived apart from your spouse for the entire year

You also cannot take this credit if your nontaxable social security or nontaxable pension, annuity or disability income exceeds certain limits. Those limits are $5,000 for the first two filing categories above, $7,500 for the third category, and $3,750 for the final group.

IRA contributions

The IRS will allow you to take an IRA deduction as a low-income taxpayer, even if both you and your spouse are covered by retirement plans at work. There are limits that can restrict the deductibility of your contribution in certain cases, but those limits are well above the level of a low-income taxpayer.

For example, in 2015 if you were a single filer covered by a retirement plan at work, you could still deduct your full IRA contribution with a modified adjusted gross income as high as $61,000. The single-filer deduction phases out as your income increases to $71,000. As a couple filing jointly, the limit would jump to $98,000, with the deduction phasing out as your joint income reaches $118,000.

The only time a low income might cause problems with your IRA deduction is if you are married and filing separately. In that instance, you can't take a full deduction on an IRA contribution, regardless of your coverage at work. You could take a partial deduction with an MAGI of up to $10,000 only. Beyond that, you couldn't take any deduction at all.

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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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