IRS offers special tax-filing options for domestic violence victims

Tax filing season opens tomorrow. As this local TV report suggests:

Financial control plays a big role in domestic violence, which is why an abuse survivor is thankful for a memo the IRS put out three months ago.

Rights of Domestic Violence Victim:

In the memo released in October 2016 specifically for domestic violence victims, the IRS highlighted that taxpayers have the following rights:

Domestic abuse is not just physical abuse. It often includes economic control. As a survivor of domestic abuse, you can take control of your finances. An important part of managing your finances is understanding your tax rights and responsibilities.
  • File a separate return even if they’re married
  • Review the entire tax return before signing a joint return
  • Refuse to sign a joint return
  • Request more time to file their tax return
  • Ask the IRS for copies of prior-year tax returns
  • Seek independent legal advice

Innocent Spouse:

“The IRS also offers a separate form called a Request for Innocent Spouse Relief, which is Form 8857. If a survivor and a spouse file a joint return and the survivor is not aware that the abuser has not paid the taxes, the survivor can fill out the form to be relieved of liability. It’s a right for all taxpayers, but it can be very helpful to someone under an abuser’s financial control.”

There are others as well: Injured spouse relief which releases a spouse from liability for certain past-due tax debt that are attributable to the other spouse. Separation of liability divides tax liability based on ability to pay for spouses who are legally separated or no longer married. Equitable relief divides tax liability based on the adjusted gross income of each spouse but does not clear either spouse of the total liability. Reasonable cause relief provides clearance from the obligation to file a tax return or pay penalties if you can present compelling facts to show why you were unable to do so on time.

Address Confidentiality:
Some state agencies or coalitions may offer an Address Confidentiality Program, which provides survivors with a safe address. Thirty-six states have Address Confidentiality Programs, but Alabama is not one of them.

Bank Accounts:

Some EITC coalitions can help survivors establish bank accounts. Some VITA sites have options for pre-paid debit cards.
Tax Credits:
Domestic violence survivors should know about three federal tax credits: the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, the federal
Child Tax Credit, and the federal Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. Per the IRS:

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) may be available if you are working and your earnings are low. The credit may be larger if you have one or more children living with you. You cannot take this credit if you file as married filing separately, but if your spouse didn’t live in your home at any time during the last six months of the year, you may be able to file as “head of household” and claim the EITC.

See IRS Publication 596, Earned Income Credit, for more information on the credit, and IRS Publication, 501 Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information for more on filing as “head of household.”
The Child Tax Credit may reduce your tax or increase your refund for each qualifying child. See IRS Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax, for more information.
Finally, the Child and Dependent Care Credit may reduce your tax. See IRS Publication 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses, for more information.
Tax Preparation assistance:
VITA is a program that offers free tax help to low- to moderate-income (generally, $49,000 and below) people who cannot prepare their own tax returns. Trained certified volunteers sponsored by various organizations help prepare basic tax returns in communities across Alabama. VITA sites are generally located at community and neighborhood centers, churches, libraries, schools, shopping malls, and other convenient locations. Most locations also offer free electronic filing. To locate the nearest VITA site, call 1-800-906-9887.
The VITA in Alexander City is offers free tax help for taxpayers who qualify. (256-234-0347)