TurboTax / Tax Calculators & Tips / All Tax Guides / Tax Deductions and Credits / 5 Things You Should Know About Refundable Tax Credits

5 Things You Should Know About Refundable Tax Credits

Updated for Tax Year 2014


OVERVIEW

There are two types of tax credits available for taxpayers: refundable and nonrefundable. Both types offer you the chance to lower the amount of taxes you owe, but refundable credits can also get you a tax refund when you don't owe any tax.


When filing their income taxes each year, taxpayers may have different goals in mind. Some may want to lower the amount of taxes they owe, seek the largest refund possible or avoid paying more in taxes than they are legally required to pay. Tax credits can help you meet all of those goals. There are two types of credits available for taxpayers: refundable and nonrefundable. Both types of credits offer you the chance to lower the amount of taxes you owe, but refundable tax credits can also get you a tax refund when you don’t owe any tax.

Refundable credits can provide you with a refund

Refundable tax credits are called “refundable” because they can reduce your tax liability below zero and allow you to receive a tax refund. If you qualify for a refundable credit and the amount of the credit is larger than the tax you owe, you will receive a refund for the difference.

Steven Williams, a private accountant and financial planner, explains, "A refundable credit is considered a payment of tax, similar to payroll withholding." This means that the amount of a refundable credit is subtracted from the amount of taxes owed, just like the amount of tax you had withheld from your paycheck. For example, if you owe $800 in taxes and qualify for a $1,000 refundable credit, you would receive a $200 refund.

With some of the larger refundable credits, like the Earned Income Tax Credit, the amount of your refund can be substantial. This makes refundable credits some of the most valuable parts of your tax return.

Even with zero tax liability, you may still qualify

With refundable credits, if you qualify, you can still use the credit even if you have no tax liability. Some taxpayers may find that nonrefundable credits, deductions or other circumstances leave them with zero taxes due. Even with no taxes owed, taxpayers can still apply any refundable credits they qualify for and receive the amount of the credit or credits as a refund. This means that if you end up with no taxes due and you qualify for a $2,000 refundable tax credit, you will receive the entire $2,000 as a refund.

For this reason, when doing your taxes, you calculate refundable tax credits after figuring in all nonrefundable credits, deductions and tax payments.

Each credit has different qualifications

"Tax credits are created in the tax code, by Congress, to benefit certain groups of citizens," Williams says. To make sure that the correct group of citizens benefits from the credit, all tax credits come with a set of qualifications that the taxpayer needs to meet in order to receive the credit.

Some common requirements include an income level within a certain range, family size, or a requirement that the taxpayer had some earned income.

While some credits are specifically for lower-income taxpayers, others have much higher income thresholds. Many of the credits even have a step scale in which taxpayers with lower incomes are eligible for a larger credit than taxpayers at the higher end of the income scale.

Available credits change from year to year

Each year, Congress has the opportunity to extend many of the tax credits available the previous year. Some credits are created as part of a stimulus plan to help boost the economy and, therefore, are set to expire after a limited number of years.

If Congress chooses not to extend a credit, the credit expires. One example of this is the Making Work Pay Credit, which offered a refundable credit of $400 for individuals and $800 for couples married filing jointly. It was available in tax years 2009 and 2010, but because Congress did not vote to extend it, the credit is no longer available. Since the continuance of tax credits is not guaranteed, Williams says, "It is wise not to rely on a tax credit as part of your budget each year."

Congress can change the rules

"Congress can change the tax code, including credits, at its discretion," states Williams. When deciding whether to extend a tax credit or allow it to expire, the federal government sometimes compromises by altering the terms of the credit. For example, the First-Time Homebuyer Credit created in 2008 was originally worth up to $7,500 with the requirement that the taxpayer repay a portion of it each year. Instead of allowing it to expire at the end of 2008, it was extended and altered for homes purchased in 2009 and 2010. The altered credit was worth up to $8,000 and did not have to be repaid unless the homebuyer sold or moved out of the home.

This means that even if Congress votes to extend a credit that was set to expire, the credit could be worth more or less than it had been in previous years. The federal government can also alter the terms of the credit. For example, the credit could change from being refundable to nonrefundable, or the qualifications for the credit could change, altering the number of people who will be able to take advantage of the credit.

When you use TurboTax to prepare your taxes, you can be sure it’s up-to-date with all the latest tax laws and credit amounts. You just need to answer basic questions about your income and tax situation, and TurboTax will help uncover all of the deductions and credits you qualify for.

Get every deduction you deserve

TurboTax Deluxe searches more than 350 tax deductions and credits so you get your maximum refund, guaranteed.

For only $54.99*
Start for Free

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.

* Important Offer Details and Disclosures
  • Try for Free/Pay When You File: TurboTax online and mobile pricing is based on your tax situation and varies by product. Actual prices are determined at the time of print or efile and are subject to change without notice. Special discount offers may not be valid for mobile in-app purchases.
  • TurboTax CD/Download products: Price includes tax preparation and printing of federal tax returns and free federal efile of up to 5 federal tax returns. Additional fees apply for efiling state returns. E-file fees do not apply to New York state returns. Prices subject to change without notice.
  • TurboTax Mobile: Actual prices are determined at the time of print or efile and are subject to change without notice. Come back here before you file to confirm that the price has not changed, especially if it's been a while since you downloaded this app.
  • Anytime, anywhere: Internet access required; standard message and data rates apply to download and use mobile app features and content. TurboTax mobile app devices supported include Android 4.1 and above, iOS 8 on iPhone 4s and above, and iPad 2.
  • Fastest refund possible: Fastest tax refund with efile and direct deposit; tax refund timeframes will vary.
  • Pay for TurboTax out of your federal refund: A $34.99 Refund Processing Service fee applies to this payment method. Prices are subject to change without notice.
  • About our TurboTax Product Experts: Customer service and product support (phone or chat) vary by time of year. Phone support not included with Free Edition.
  • About our credentialed tax experts: Live tax advice service is available for your toughest tax questions; fees may apply. Service, experience levels, hours of operation and availability vary, and are subject to restriction and change without notice. Click here for full terms and conditions. Not available for TurboTax Business customers.
  • Get up to 10% on top of your federal refund: Amazon.com Gift Card offer is for federal refunds only. Limits apply ($2000 per e-card, maximum $10,000 per customer). Offer available only for TurboTax Online (except Federal Free Edition) or CD/download versions sold and shipped, or downloaded directly from Intuit or Amazon. Except as required by law, Amazon.com Gift Cards cannot be canceled, transferred for value or redeemed for cash.

    Amazon.com is not a sponsor of this promotion. Except as required by law, Amazon.com Gift Cards ('GCs') cannot be transferred for value or redeemed for cash. GCs may be used only for purchases of eligible goods at Amazon.com or certain of its affiliated websites. For complete terms and conditions, see www.amazon.com/gc-legal. GCs are issued by ACI Gift Cards, Inc., a Washington corporation. All Amazon ®, ™ & © are IP of Amazon.com or its affiliates. No expiration date or service fees.
  • #1 best-selling tax software: Based on aggregated sales data for all tax year 2013 TurboTax products.
  • 4.8 out of 5 stars: Average based on customer ratings on TurboTax.com for TurboTax Online and CD/download products tax year 2014, as of January 2015.
  • Most Popular: TurboTax Deluxe is our most popular product among TurboTax Online users with more complex tax situations.
  • TurboTax CD/Download priority phone support: Priority phone support for TurboTax CD/Download Premier and Home & Business is accessible exclusively via the TurboTax.com Help Center.
  • Benefit Assist: After you file, TurboTax automatically shows you a full list of government benefits you may qualify for, like Food Stamps or reduced phone & utilities. Plus, we help you apply, saving you time and making it easier than ever to get more money! Estimate based on calculation of Benefit Assist users from tax year 2013 and published reports of average benefit and savings amounts from federal and state programs. Actual amounts and qualifications based on your individual situation; some individuals will not qualify. Feature may not be available for all customers.
  • Simplified State Experience: New, simplified state tax preparation available for most filers.
  • Eligibility for $25 cash back for returning Deluxe customers: Customers who have completed their 2013 taxes in TurboTax Deluxe (CD or download), and have completed their 2014 taxes in either TurboTax Premier or TurboTax Home & Business (CD or download), and apply here before 11:59PM PDT April 20, 2015, are eligible for $25 back. 2014 TurboTax Advantage users are ineligible for this offer. Terms and conditions are subject to change without notice.
  • $0 Upgrade Offer: Valid for customers who filed their 2013 taxes with TurboTax Deluxe (CD or download), completed prior year data transfer this year, and encounter an upgrade to either 2014 TurboTax Premier or 2014 TurboTax Home & Business (CD or download). Valid February 6, 2015 through April 20, 2015. TurboTax Advantage users are ineligible for this offer. This offer may not be combined with our $25 cash back offer. Terms and conditions are subject to change without notice.