Since 1975, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has provided a tax break to millions of Americans each year. The credit was originally established to give low and medium income taxpayers a break on their Social Security taxes while providing an incentive to work. The EITC is often the subject of missed opportunity as the IRS estimates as many as 20% of taxpayers that qualify for the credit do not include it on their tax return. Here are some things to consider:
Q. Do I have to have children to qualify? Do I have to be married?
A. No. One of the most common errors is thinking the EITC is only for married couples with children. Both single and married taxpayers can qualify for the EITC. Even taxpayers without children may qualify for the credit if they meet certain age and residency requirements. You may NOT, however, file your tax return as “married filing separate” and still receive the credit.
Q. How much can I earn and still qualify for the EITC?
A. If you earned $49,078 or less in 2011 you could qualify ($43,998 if you are single).
Q. If I did not earn income can I still get the credit?
A. No, you must have “earned” income to qualify for the credit. You have earned income if you worked for someone else (wages), are self-employed, or have income from farming. Nontaxable combat pay for military members qualifies as does some cases of disability income.
Q. How much is the credit?
A. In 2010 the average credit was $2,240 according to the IRS. The maximum credit could be worth $5,751 to you in 2011. The amount of the credit depends on your filing status (married filing jointly, single, widow, or head of household), your income, and how many qualifying children you have.
Q. What else should I know?
A. A valid social security number is required for you, your spouse, and any qualifying children to receive the credit. It is also important to save information to support your claim for the credit. If the IRS thinks you recklessly disregarded the rules and claimed the credit in error, they could prohibit you from receiving the credit for two more years. If the filing was deemed fraudulent, you could be barred from using the credit for 10 years!
Remember to check for your EITC every year. Just because you did not qualify in the past does not mean you can’t qualify for the credit in the future. Many other rules apply but thankfully professional tax preparation software does a good job evaluating your qualifications.