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10 Tax Tips for the Suddenly Unemployed

Updated for Tax Year 2015


If you are facing unexpected unemployment, you may be eligible for a variety of income tax benefits. Losing a job is always hard, but these tax tips should help you maximize your tax refund.

If you recently lost your job, chances are your income has dropped dramatically. That means your tax status has likely changed as well.

10 tax tips for the unemployed

You may now qualify for credits and deductions available only to lower-income taxpayers. But you may also have to pay taxes on income other taxpayers don’t have. So take charge of your situation. Find out how to manage you taxes while you search for your next job.

1. File your tax return

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Yet, if you’ve been unemployed for some time, it can be easy to forget to file a tax return. If you lost your job mid-year, you’ll need to file if your income exceeds $10,000 (single filer under age 65) or $20,000 (joint filer under age 65).

2. File early

Don’t delay filing your tax return. You may have a refund coming. The reason is simple: People who have lost their jobs often move into a lower tax bracket. This means the withholding from your former job was likely too high, possibly resulting in a sizeable refund at tax time.

3. Take advantage of government benefit programs, some of which are tax-free

Every year, federal, state, and local governments distribute $1.8 trillion in benefits. From money for food to health care plans, there are government benefit programs that can reduce your day-to-day expenses. Some of the money-saving benefits include:
  • health insurance
  • food assistance
  • low cost gas and electric
  • low cost phone service
  • low cost auto insurance
  • unclaimed funds

Use the free service TurboTax Benefit Assist to search for benefits you may qualify for and apply.

4. Deduct those job search expenses

Being able to deduct job search expenses is one of the best perks available to unemployed taxpayers who qualify. Here’s some of what you can deduct:

  • Resume preparation costs
  • Travel expenses related to a job search (out-of-town interviews or career fairs)
  • Postage, express delivery or other mailing fees
  • Employment and outplacement agency fees

To qualify, you must:

  • Itemize your deductions. People taking the standard deduction aren't eligible.
  • Be searching for a job in the same field. If you decide to become an actor after working as a chemist all your life, those audition expenses aren’t deductible.
  • If you’re a first-time job seeker - say, right out of college - you can’t take job search deductions.

5. Give yourself a tax break

Depending on your income level, losing your job may open the door to some additional tax breaks, like the following:

  • Earned Income Tax Credit. The amount of the credit increases the more children you have. A taxpayer with three or more qualifying children is eligible for a maximum credit of $6,242 in 2015.
  • Child Tax Credit. A tax credit of up to $1,000 for qualifying children under the age of 17.
  • Child and Dependent Care Credit. Amounts you pay someone to care for your child so you can work or look for work may be deductible, depending on your level of income.
  • Savers Credit. Credit of up to $1,000 ($2,000 for couples) for retirement plan contributions by low-income taxpayers. To be eligible in 2015, married couples can't have income over $61,000 and single taxpayers over $30,500.

6. Remember your job termination income is fully taxable

If you received severance pay, including payment for unused vacation or sick days, those amounts are fully taxable to you in 2015. Those amounts will be included on the W-2 form you receive from your former employer.

7. Pay taxes on unemployment compensation

You must pay taxes on the full amount of any unemployment compensation you receive. Early in the year, you’ll receive a copy of Form 1099-G from your state telling you how much unemployment compensation you received during the previous year so you can report it on your tax return.

8. Learn about self-employment taxes

If you’re unexpectedly unemployed, you may find yourself suddenly self-employed. You’ll need to learn a new set of tax rules. But don’t worry – for most, there are just a few extra steps.

9. Take the Health Coverage Tax Credit (HCTC)

The Health Coverage Tax Credit (HCTC) is available for a select group of unemployed people. If you lost your job due to trade with foreign countries and are receiving Trade Adjustment Assistance benefits, you may claim this credit, which covers 80% of your health insurance premiums.

10. Taking advantage of these tax breaks using TurboTax

If you lost your job during the past year, TurboTax can help you make sure you get the deductions and credits you deserve. We’ll ask simple questions about your situation and guide you to the credits and deductions that will put the most money back in your pocket.

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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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