Being of dependent filing status — and therefore neither paying into Social Security nor required to file — you will not pay a penalty for choosing to remain uninsured under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).
This doesn’t change anything about the filing instructions below, but it’s nice to know authoritatively that you will not be penalized fiscally for being below the federal poverty threshold and uninsured. After all, there’s no refund to be withheld for payment of a PPACA penalty if you’re not filing for a refund!
Original post from 04-12-2013:
As you may infer from the lengthy vertical scroll bar on this page, today’s article is lengthy enough to warrant a hotlinked Table of Contents so you can teleport among content areas. Click the TOC line item to zoom down to the relevant section, and click the “Back to Top” link — or press the Control and Home keys simultaneously (“Ctrl”+”Home”) — to warp to the beginning.
However, Wild & Wooly WordPress (3WP) is paranoid about allowing warp anchors and hence disables this widespread feature of the various HTML specifications. I’d use my Blogger site to post, except this article doesn’t quite fit the theme of the Absurd Job Vacancies blog. Why use WordPress at all? Because I see the limitations of free WordPress for my personal blog as a metaphor for the limitations I face generally; I know how to analyze data, narrative tone, and policy — and to publish it online and in print — but am ill-positioned to profitably use any of those skills. No one’s paying me to serve them, so I look out for #1!
My other blog is also not financed, but it doesn’t cost me anything in terms of upfront or opportunity costs. I knew the human resources-bashing slant of AJV would give it a broader appeal, so I chose Blogger as its hosting platform to parallel the existence of fewer obstacles — social or otherwise — that an idea or disembodied brand often faces relative to the person or people behind it. That’s art!
The Challenge: Filing Without Exemptions
E-File: Not Necessarily Better Than Snail Mail
Telling the Free File Alliance Like It Is
Never Mind the “Free File Fillable Forms” Web App:
Using Offline Fillable PDFs
Federal vs. State Revenue Codes:
Selected Differences in Wisconsin
The Politics of Tax Credits and the WEDC
My article today covers the often-overlooked subject of tax filing for single dependents. I tackle such questions as: Why is there a need to file a federal tax return if your gross income was below the $5,650 threshold for single dependents? Because the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has literally over two dozen wacky ways to make that cutoff absolutely meaningless.
In typical government fashion, the revenuers list an exhaustive array of such situations spanning Lines 8 and 9 of the Form 1040 instructions. Why not save time, paper, and ultimately Internet bandwidth by trimming that colossal collection of “must file” scenarios into a little list of circumstances in which the individual is not required to file? While I’m not a mind reader, government employees and contractors are bound by schedules upon schedules of rules and regulations, and so whoever makes those — usually agency heads and department directors with their pseudo-science of “policy analysis” — are the people to criticize, no matter how low-profile they try to be while working in the PUBLIC sector.
The Challenge: Filing Without Exemptions Back to Top
I’ve seen plenty of tax articles online, but none seem targeted to the individual who earns less than half of his or her income as a share of living expenses but nonetheless has some documented income and therefore needs to file taxes without the ability to claim himself or herself as an exemption. Ask nearly any tax filer of five-digit income what the largest single source of savings on income tax is, and most will mention exemptions. Why?
Because your number of exemptions constitutes one of the requisites for claiming potential tax credits: Those with zero exemptions cannot claim credits, and those who are someone else’s exemption (dependent) cannot claim oneself as an exemption. If you are someone else’s dependent, then you cannot claim others as your dependent.
Page 16 of the 1040 instructions asks, “Could you, or your spouse if filing jointly, be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s 2012 tax return?…(If so, then) you cannot claim any dependents.” The IRS uses the term “could” because the Federal Government allows for a potentially larger number of dependent filers than independent filers. So while independent filers need to list the names and Social Security numbers of any dependents whom they support to claim them as exemptions, dependent filers need not list who does or could potentially list them as an exemption on an income tax return — there’s not even a space or data field for that side of the dependent filer-independent exemptor (exemptioner) relationship.
In the case of an unmarried person having one or more children and surviving on governmental transfers of income the rest of us pay, s/he would file as “head of household” due to his or her living expenses being low enough such that income transfers received comprise more than half those living expenses — but be unable to claim any exemptions beyond oneself due to the restrictions described on pages 13 through 19 of the 1040 instructions. This means all of a dependent’s income is taxed; he or she may claim the dependent-sized standard deduction afforded by the IRS and possibly by his or her state.
E-File: Not Necessarily Better Than Snail Mail Back to Top
Due to laws such as Executive Order 13514, the Federal Government is on a paper-free kick to have e-this and e-that. The IRS has offered e-File since the mid-1980s — predating the 1991 debut of the World Wide Web portion of the Internet — to provide an electronic but legally identifying means of submitting one’s income tax return.
Unfortunately, that security comes with the considerable inconvenience of having to authenticate through unconventional means — the combination of your chosen e-File username and password isn’t good enough for the IRS to authenticate a submitted return as yours. The agency additionally demands you provide either your prior year’s adjusted gross income (AGI) or an electronic filing PIN, which also expires annually.
Use of last year’s AGI sounds theoretically effective to force a filer to personally submit his or her return rather than be the victim of identity theft in a misfiled e-document, but a glitch occurs when the person’s actual AGI was a number ending in non-zero cents and is therefore not recognized by the e-File verification system because it is programmed to check only for whole dollar amounts. My rounding up or down to the nearest dollar did not trigger a match, either.
I subsequently asked for and then input a randomly generated five-digit PIN to validate myself as the system user filing the particular tax return bearing my name. Therein lies the problem: The IRS issues the electronic filing PIN upon filer request, but there seems to be a miscommunication between the IRS and the Free File Fillable Forms (4F) application hosted and operated by the Free File Alliance, Inc. (FFA). Without further diagnostic information, my best guess is a botched remote call procedure whose sent parameters misalign with those of the recipient application’s corresponding stub. And with that idea, I hereby use the term “bad Web intent” to describe the situation!
Perhaps the most irritating part is the delayed notification of a rejected filing. The 4F application transmits the tax-related data entered, but up to a full business day may pass before the IRS rules on whether to accept your return. So if you attempt to e-File, then make sure to do so at least four of five days in advance so you can snail mail your return if the authentication problems described above or other issues arise.
I ended up mailing my return but have decided to present my e-File walkthrough anyway because I had written it and taken screen captures on the fly before these onerous inter-organization authentication issues became known and did not want to waste the content in offline obscurity. As you will read, I take the opportunity to comment rather extensively on several organizations as part and parcel of this review. That’s the price of admission!
The Walkthrough Back to Top
Because you’re filing as a dependent (per the title of my article), any of three forms offered will suffice. I chose the regular Form 1040 because it has lines and questions for just about everything to make sure I account for everything the IRS already knows. And trust me — with information listed on W-2s (sample below), 1099-Whatevers, and everything not cash — they already know! An American tax return is more of an honesty test than anything.
If you earn enough income where you can file as an independent, then you need to file Form 1040 to claim any tax credits, even the smaller ones such as the Making Work Pay Credit (omitted in 2011 but returned for 2012). While filers who report capital gains, business income, and/or itemized deductions already need to use Form 1040, the Free File Alliance wants filers to use Form 1040A or 1040EZ to cheat them out of tax credits!
How did I infer this? Look at the screen capture below, and you’ll notice Form 1040 listed last (the unseen Form 1040EZ appears first to bait hurried filers) and the cover page images of Forms 1040EZ and 1040A being almost a third larger than that of Form 1040 — despite the hardcopy length and width being identical among the forms! This was clearly a coordinated pair of design choices to influence tax filers to choose either of the more visually attractive forms which disallow all potential tax credits.
How does this layout influence people? Americans tend to perceive icons which are farther towards the top of a list and having larger graphics as more prestigious, and those who are not thinking carefully might choose either of the non-credit forms. As I do, always double-check the federal income tax form you select says only “1040” and not a character more. Many data inputs and data-saving clicks on the “do the math” button later, I clicked the “submit e-File” tab, re-entered personally identifying data, and clicked the “e-File your return” button to arrive at the screen below:
That confirmation screen is misleading due to the aforementioned delay between submission to the IRS and notification to the end user of rejection or acceptance of the income tax return. About an hour later, I received an email stating the IRS had rejected my return — the same which the 4F software had validated and transmitted. The contention was that my electronic PINs didn’t match.
I also tried using my prior year’s adjusted gross income (AGI) to convince the IRS it really was me filing my return, but that didn’t match, either. I further tried AGIs rounded to the nearest dollar but received the same eventual ruling before snail mailing my taxes to the appropriate IRS tax return regional processing branch.
Telling the Free File Alliance Like It Is Back to Top
I then composed a letter communicating how much easier it is to file hardcopy taxes through snail mail than it is to use their junky e-File process. Of course, the 4F “customer service” email is only a one-way pusher of automated messages, and so comments must be written to the service provider’s snail mail address:
Free File Alliance
7144 Main Street
Clifton, VA 20124-1733
I thereby mailed the following letter:
I am writing to let you know the “Free File Fillable Forms” (4F) software of the Free File Alliance — aye, even the very namesake FFA organization – is a WASTE of taxpayer money! Read on to find out how and why I reached this conclusion and refuse to backlink their website.
I had already figured my returns in electronic fillable PDFs offline, but when I tried to file via the FFA software, it would recognize neither my prior year AGI nor the eFile PIN which I had requested and received the preceding day from the IRS! FFA’s poorly designed 4F system requires all these hoops and hurdles which make it SO much more difficult to e-file than to file via the old-fashioned “snail mail” method! The IRS will just have to DEAL WITH all the paper returns they receive from frustrated would-be e-filers despite wasting millions on your stupid “Free Fillable Forms” program!
And yes, I’ve also written to IRS Customer Service, the GSA, and my congressmen to let them know how badly you stink! It’s a shame that GSA gives you so much preference just because your mediocre software was the best in a subpar field that ONE YEAR — now it’s going to be used practically forever!!! All on the dime of the tax payers! You and your mooks should be SO LUCKY to earn minimum wage and not a red cent more.
Tired, Annoyed, eXhausted — Completely, Utterly, and Thoroughly,
Joseph Ohler, Jr.
On top of that, I emailed IRS customer service with a similar message with re-worded pronouns. Now that you’ve read of my apparently all-too-common experience with e-file, it’s time to join me in making noise against that shoddy system! Although the General Services Administration is unlikely to drop FFA or the 4F software anytime soon — always giving preference points to existing federal contractors, as there are none prior for e-file — the public pressure can easily persuade FFA to make its own changes under the omen of a social media backlash. I certainly hope the GSA does not choose FFA to deploy or administer the rumored successor to e-File.
And if that doesn’t convince you of how poorly e-File is administered, then behold the logout screen which follows the submission confirmation screen:
Never Mind the “Free File Fillable Forms” Web App: Using Offline Fillable PDFs Back to Top
It turns out I had completed all my data entry in the non-4F fillable PDF forms (as opposed to the web application income tax forms within the 4F program). I prefer the offline PDF income tax forms because they lag a lot less than the 4F web application and because they are much more intuitive to use: simply type your data and click “save” to store everything on your hard drive WITHOUT logging into any website. A quasi-photojournalistic series of screen captures follows:
Above: Downloading the “f1040.pdf” income tax return
Below: The first page of the 2012 Form 1040
Above: Warning to consult special instructions for dependent income deduction
Below: Instructions for computing a dependent filer’s deduction
Above: The second page of the 2012 Form 1040
There you see that I owe no federal taxes for Fiscal Year 2012. But that about state tax liability? That can be a different situation due to state-by-state deviations from otherwise mirror-like modeling — mostly out of convenience to legislators and agency rule makers — of the Internal Revenue Code.
Federal vs. State Revenue Codes: Selected Differences in Wisconsin Back to Top
The State of Wisconsin Department of Revenue (WIDR) actually has a more regressive tax structure because it chooses the single-filer dependent deduction as the lesser of either $950 or the value corresponding in Table 45: 2012 Standard Deductions corresponding to $300 more than your earned income. This contrasts with the federal method, which skips the table and gives you the sum of your income and $300 as the dependent’s deduction if you earn more than $950.
However, Wisconsin’s Form 01 also has Line 22 for the Renter’s and Homeowner’s School Property Tax Credit as computed on Schedule H, which means every tenant who paid rent can receive a tax credit of between 1% and 3.5% of the rent he or she paid and that every deed holder who paid property taxes to a school district may receive a state tax credit of between 11% and 13% of school district taxes paid.
That is Wisconsin’s way of rebating a few dollars of school district taxes to those who rent in a school district and about twice the per-dollar renter’s rebate to those who own a Wisconsin home within a school district. The homeowner must include his or her property tax bill with Schedule H — and also an ownership document if the name on the property tax bill is not yours. These should all be paper clipped to your Form 01 when mailing.
If you rent in Wisconsin or another state which grants tax credits based on what you paid in annual rent, then it is important that you ask your landlord to complete, sign, and date both a WI Schedule H rent certificate and a statement to the effect of, “I have received a rent payment of $AMOUNT per month from TAXPAYER during YEAR for the residence in Apt. NUMBER of ADDRESS, CITY, STATE, ZIP.” As the instructions below demonstrate, there is no “rent certificate” form or template, and so I made one:
In case you’re having issues with the document template, then here is the plain document file:
This should be done for every tenant in the unit, not only for the leaseholder. Include these documents with your WI Form 01 income tax statement. You might have to remind your landlord every week for him or her to cooperate, so begin asking in January. If your landlord refuses to cooperate, then you may have a civil rights case on your hands due to the landlord violating your right to a federal service (the tax credit for which you are eligible). Show him this part of Schedule H to prove your right to a rent certificate:
Renters who are a dependent on someone else’s tax return cannot claim the Homestead Credit — so it does not apply to my intended audience today — but I wanted to elaborate because most filers who pay rent, and therefore most readers, are eligible per the Schedule H instructions. It is good to know anyway in case you receive windfall income which transforms your filing status to independent such as by lawsuit settlement, inheritance, or a better job.
The Politics of Tax Credits and the WEDC Back to Top
While I’m on the subject of Wisconsin income tax policy, I may as well note that draconian terms of some of the credits. Most onerous are the respective time commitments to claim the state historic rehabilitation credit – owning, paying property taxes on, and maintaining the property for at least five years after the property’s rehabilitation, or prior years’ credits may be recaptured by WIDR — and the angel investment / early stage seed investment credit — owning the investment for at least three years unless such investment becomes worthless or is bona fide liquidated as determined by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), revealing they do have a purpose other than public relations. Behold the below excerpt from page 29 of the 2012 Form 01 Instructions Form 01 Instructions:
Did you also notice the Line 38 penalties of pre-mature withdrawal from a retirement investment vehicle? They’re currently capped at 33% of the federal taxes respective to qualified income from each type of retirement investment vehicle. If state legislators are so hard up for more public finance, they could raise that proportion to 40% without breaking people’s livelihoods. The amount of money received from a $10,000 IRA withdrawal would be more like $6,700 after tax penalties, and that amount can fit within the limit of a credit card of someone having a decent credit score, thereby making the IRA withdrawal entirely optional except in the most disastrous of cases. And Line 36 regarding sales and use tax on out-of-state purchases, including Internet orders? Good luck enforcing that!
Then again, the additional tax monies would likely be squandered on stuff such as funding more “so what” studies conducted by self-centered universities haphazardly churning out more college graduates with minimal work experience unrelated to their field of study, even if that field is allegedly professional. Bureaucrats loathe being mentors and hide behind secretaries and backroom office doors. Although many would-be mentors tend to mistake aloofness for professionalism, anyone can be aloof — but interacting with someone professionally requires skill and builds character.
Just ask (soon to be erstwhile?) WEDC Electronic Channels Director Shauna Breneman, who shirked a very simple question about grant recipient transfers back to WEDC and neglected to forward my question about WEDC’s plans for shovel-ready jobs which don’t require a lot of interning to become qualified for. Having the state’s name in its title, WEDC has a state mandate but is managed outside state government. Like the University of Wisconsin System, the WEDC is “quasi-autonomous,” but we know whoever holds the purse strings — Wisconsin State government — also holds primary power. And because WEDC receives taxpayer funding, its activities are subject to disclosure under Wisconsin sunshine laws such as Open Meetings and Open Records laws.
After some escalation to Shauna’s coworkers about her electronic non-communication (in a pun on her position), the labyrinthine voice mail directory with half the website-listed staff omitted, and my suggestion that an Open Records Request was in WEDC’s near future, Vice President of Business and Industry Lee Swindall called me personally to address the grievance and shed some light. It just so happens the backwards grant transfers were a recovery of unused program funds and that WEDC’s current jobs development strategies may be found in the Act 125 Report, which also happens to be nearly 200 pages long and read by those who are either paid to or by those who forget about the dozen or so more useful things one could do. You’ll find concision neither in my blog nor in a government report!
I just have to say that when a state spends over $55 million promoting itself as a reasonable place to set up shop (having a ready labor force, lower income and sales taxes, and streamlined licensing procedures), it is understandable why businesses may feel apprehensive: Wisconsin is tooting its own horn as credibly as an internship-less college graduate claims s/he can do whatever job you need done better than his/her competition. Prove it, Wisconsin — but we won’t give you any more chance than that hypothetical college graduate! Nya nyaaaah! Catch-22 situations are a real burden, aren’t they?
As a final criticism of incompetent technocrats, I expose typos within the WIDR’s e-File instructions! How much do you think the agency paid in taxpayer monies for such lackluster quality?
I’ll grant that it is difficult to proofread one’s work due to mentally filling in any written gaps in consistency or lacuna with one’s assumed cognitive intentions, but the simplicity of the errors shows the writers of that instruction booklet merely ran spell check without reading through at least three times.
And with that, I conclude my Freebird-length jam session of an endurance post!
How do I Free File federal income taxes? And state income taxes in Wisconsin?