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LAW Home > Legal Topics > Taxes > Earlier Years Tax Questions and Answers

2009 Income Tax: Filing Your Own Return


Please note: This is an archived article. It does not apply to current-year tax preparation. Please see our current article to read up-to-date tax information.

Tax Season has started. It is time to begin to prepare and file your tax return for 2009. All returns are due on or before April 15, 2010. You may request an automatic extension of time to file but, if you owe any tax, you must pay it by April 15, 2010. If you owe taxes and do not pay them on or before April 15, 2010, you may also owe a late payment penalty.

If you do not feel that you are able to prepare your own tax return, there are many other ways in which you may have someone prepare your taxes at no cost to you. See Free Tax Preparation for Low-Income Taxpayers for more information.

This article gives you information to help you if you decide to file your own tax return. This includes information about filing status, dependents, exemptions, what qualifies as income, and some of the major credits for which you may be eligible. It also contains information about recent changes in tax law for 2009, including the tax benefits contained in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

If you do not have the money to pay the taxes you owe, file your return anyway. If you do not file your return by the legal deadline, the IRS has the right to collect not only the tax you owe, but also additional interest and penalties. There are alternative ways for the IRS to collect your taxes that are available to you if you cannot pay your taxes in the usual way. These alternatives include installment plans, offers-in-compromise, and placing IRS collection activities regarding your tax account on hold until your financial situation improves. However, it is important to remember that, in order to take advantage of these alternatives, you must file your tax return.
Filing Requirements

Whether or not you need to file a tax return depends upon your income, your filing status, and your age. Even if you are a low-income wage earner, it is a good idea to file because you may be eligible for exemptions, deductions, and credits, which may create a refund for you. You are not entitled to a refund unless you file a return.
Who must file a tax return?

You must file a return if:
  • You are single, under the age of 65, and earned at least $9,350.
  • You are single, over 65, and earned at least $10,750.
  • You are married and both you and your spouse (husband/wife) were under the age of 65 and your combined income was at least $18,700.
  • You are married, one spouse was over 65, and your combined income was at least $19,800.
  • You are married, both spouses were over 65, and your combined income was at least $20,900.
  • You are married, but filing separately, any age, and your income was at least $3,650.
  • You are head of household, under 65, and your income was at least $12,000.
  • You are head of household, 65 or older, and your income was at least $13,400.
  • You are a qualifying widow(er) with dependent child under 65 and your income was at least $15,050.
  • You are a qualifying widow(er) with dependent child, age 65 or older, and your income was at least $16,150.
Note: If you were born on January 1, 1945, you are considered to be age 65 at the end of 2009.
You must file if you had advance earned income credits withheld from your pay.
What income is taxable?

The Internal Revenue Code states that income from all sources is to be included as income, unless the Code provides an exception. Some types of taxable income are:
  • Wages, fees, commissions, fringe benefits, and other money paid to you for services
  • Gross income from your own business
  • Interest
  • Dividends
  • Rent received
  • Tips
  • Alimony received
  • Annuities
  • Advanced earnings for services to be performed in the future
  • Back pay awards from settlements or judgments (also includes unpaid life insurance premiums and unpaid health insurance premiums)
  • Severance pay
  • Income from an interest in an estate or trust
  • Pensions
  • Income from discharge of indebtedness (such as reaching an agreement with a credit card company to pay less than what is due).
If you work and earn wages, your income is generally taxable income. Many times, your employer has already withheld taxes for you and submitted these taxes to the federal and state governments. Often, the amounts withheld are too high and, when you file a tax return, the government will return part of the amount to you in a refund. If you received wages during 2009, your employer is obligated to send you, by January 31, 2010, a Form W-2 with the wages and taxes paid.
What income is not taxable?

Non-taxable income includes:
  • Value of an accident/health insurance plan coverage paid by your employer
  • Contributions by your employer for long-term health care
  • Amount of salary reduction due to contributions for FSA or HSA
  • $5,250 of qualified employer-provided educational assistance
  • Retirement plan contributions by your employer.
Benefits from Public Welfare Fund. Generally, you do not pay taxes on benefits that you receive from a public welfare fund, such as TANF, GA, child care grants, and housing assistance programs. SSI is not taxable income.

Unemployment Compensation. If you received unemployment insurance benefits in 2009, you will receive a Form 1099-G showing the total amount you received. For 2009, the first $2,400 in unemployment compensation you received is non-taxable. However, you are responsible for reporting the income and paying income tax on the amount received unless you chose to have taxes withheld from your weekly unemployment check.

Social Security or Social Security Disability. If the only income you received in 2009 was Social Security retirement benefits or disability benefits, your income is not taxable. However, if you had other sources of income, from work or investments, some Social Security or disability benefits may be taxable. About one-third of people who get Social Security have to pay income taxes on their benefits. At the end of each year, you will receive a Social Security Benefit Statement (Form SSA-1099) showing the amount of benefits you received. You may use this statement when you complete your federal income tax return to find out if you have to pay taxes on your benefits.
Filing Status

There are five filing statuses: single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household, and qualifying widow(er) with dependent child.
It is important to select the correct filing status, since it affects your exemptions, standard deductions, and other credits. Generally, your marital status on the last day of the year determines your filing status for the whole year. For example, if you were married on December 31, 2009, you are considered married for the entire year. If you were divorced on December 31, 2009, you are considered unmarried for the whole year.

Following are some important guidelines about filing status.
What are the conditions for filing as single?

To be single (unmarried), you must be unmarried on the last day of the year or legally separated from your spouse under a divorce or separate maintenance decree. State law governs whether you are married or legally separated or divorced.

If you obtain a court decree of annulment, which holds that no valid marriage ever took place, you are considered unmarried. You must also amend (correct) returns for the past three years (or whatever years are not barred by the statute of limitations), changing your filing status to single or head of household. The form to use to amend your returns is a 1040X.
What are the conditions for filing as married?

For federal tax purposes, a marriage is defined as a legal union between a husband and wife. In addition, one of the following conditions must also be met:
You are married and living together as husband and wife.
  • You are living together in a common law marriage (a marriage without the legal ceremony performed by an official) and common law marriage is recognized in the state where you now live or in the state where the common law marriage began.
  • You are married and living apart, but there is no court order stating that you are legally separated.
  • You are married and living apart, but there is no court order granting either spouse separate maintenance (spousal support).
  • You are separated, but not under a court order or judgment of divorce.
If your spouse died during the year, you are considered married for the whole year for filing purposes.
    1. Married Filing Jointly. If you are married, you and your spouse may choose to file as married filing jointly. This means that you will file a tax return together (a joint return). On this joint return, you will report your combined income and deduct your combined expenses. You may file a joint return even if only one of you had income.

      The possible benefits to filing a joint tax return are:
      • Your tax may be lower than if you choose to file separate tax returns.
      • Your standard deduction may be higher.
      • You may qualify for tax benefits and credits that do not apply to all other filing statuses.

      There is one thing to remember about choosing this filing status—you and your spouse are both jointly and individually responsible for any tax that is owed. That means that, even if your spouse earned the money, the IRS can seek payment of any tax due not just from your spouse, but from you as well. There are ways to be relieved of this responsibility, known as innocent spouse relief, but strict standards must be met in order to qualify for innocent spouse relief.

      Once you file a joint return, you cannot change your mind and change the return to a separate return. But, if you file a separate return, you can generally change to a joint return any time within three years of the due date of the returns.

      Finally, if you file a joint return with your spouse and are due a refund, but you think that the refund may be applied to a past-due debt of your spouse (such as child support arrears or old tax liabilities), you may file an Injured Spouse Form 8379. The IRS will then apportion the refund and send your share of the refund to you while keeping only your spouse’s share to apply to your spouse’s debts.

    2. Married Filing Separately. If you are married, you and your spouse may choose to file as married filing separately. This filing status may benefit you if you only want to be responsible for your own tax or if it results in a lower tax rate. If you and your spouse cannot agree to file a joint return, you may use this status. You may not use this status if you qualify as head of household.

      Usually, if you are married and you choose this filing status, your tax is higher than if you file jointly. Also, you may only report your own income, personal exemption, and credits. You may only claim an exemption for your spouse if your spouse had no income and was not the dependent of another person.

      Finally, there are certain restrictions if you choose this filing status:
      • You cannot take the credit for child and dependent care expenses in most cases.
      • You cannot take the Earned Income Tax Credit.
      • You cannot take the education credits.
      • If you lived with your spouse during any part of the year, you cannot claim the credit for the elderly or disabled. You will have to include in income more of any Social Security or equivalent railroad retirement benefits you received, and you cannot roll over amounts from a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA.
      • If your spouse itemizes deductions, you cannot claim the standard deduction.
      • The following credits and deductions are reduced at income levels that are half of those for a joint return: the child tax credit, the retirement savings contributions credit, itemized deductions, and the deduction for personal exemptions.

  1. Head of Household. The head of household filing status can be used if you are unmarried or considered unmarried on the last day of the year, you paid more than half of the cost of keeping up a home for the year, and a “qualifying person” lived with you in your home for more than half of the year. If the qualifying person is your dependent parent, he or she does not have to live with you.

    The tax rate for head of household will generally be lower than rates for singles or married filing separately. The standard deduction will also be higher.

    See the chart below, from IRS Publication 501, to determine if you have a qualifying child for head of household filing status.

    If you are divorced, you may have a separate agreement with your ex-spouse concerning who can claim an exemption for your children.

    Can you qualify as head of household?
    IF the person is your
    THEN that person is
    Qualifying child (such as a son, daughter, or grandchild who lived with you more than half the year and meets certain other tests)
    He or she is single
    A qualifying person, whether or not you can claim an exemption for the person.
    He or she is married and you can claim an exemption for him or her
    A qualifying person.
    He or she is married and you cannot claim an exemption for him or her
    Not a qualifying person.
    Qualifying relative who is your father or mother
    You can claim an exemption for him or her
    A qualifying person.
    You cannot claim an exemption for him or her
    Not a qualifying person.
    Qualifying relative other than your father or mother (such as a grandparent, brother, or sister who meets certain tests)
    He or she lived with you more than half the year, and you can claim an exemption for him or her
    A qualifying person.
    He or she did not live with you more than half the year
    Not a qualifying person.
    You cannot claim an exemption for him or her
    Not a qualifying person.

    If you are divorced, you may have a separate agreement with your ex-spouse concerning who can claim an exemption of children.

  2. Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child. You may be eligible to use qualifying widow(er) with dependent child as your filing status for two years following the year your spouse died. For example, if your spouse died in 2007 and you have not remarried, you may be able to use this filing status for 2008 and 2009. Using this filing status allows you use the lower joint return rates and the highest standard deduction amount, but you cannot file a joint return. To use this filing status, the child or children must live in your home all year, and you must have paid more than half the cost of keeping up the home (rent, electricity, etc.).

  3. If you cannot use any of the above four filing statuses, you must file as single.

Exemptions reduce your taxable income. For the 2009 year, you can deduct $3,650 for each exemption you claim. You are generally allowed one exemption for yourself, one for your spouse, and one for each of your dependents. If you are a nonresident alien (other than a resident of Canada or Mexico), you can only use an exemption for yourself. You are not allowed to claim exemptions for dependents. If you can be claimed as a dependent by another person, you cannot take a personal exemption, even if the other person does not actually claim you as a dependent. Your spouse is never considered your dependent.

A dependent is a “qualifying child” or a “qualifying relative.” The chart below, from IRS Publication 501, provides guidance.

To claim an exemption for a dependent, the dependent must be a person who does not claim an exemption if he or she files a tax return. A married person who files a joint tax return may not be claimed as a dependant.

You may not claim a person as a dependent unless that person is a U.S. citizen, U.S. resident alien, U.S. national, or a resident of Canada or Mexico for some part of the year.

You must list the Social Security number for any dependent for whom you claim an exemption. Without a Social Security number, the exemption may be disallowed and the amount of your return will be reduced. If the dependent does not have a Social Security number, you should apply for one by filing a Form SS-5 with the Social Security Administration. If you do not have the Social Security number by the time you need to file your return, you should use Form 4868 to ask the IRS for an automatic extension of time to file the return.

If your dependent is not eligible for a Social Security number, your dependent must apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) using Form W-7.

What are the tests to be a qualifying child or relative?

Tests to be a qualifying child
Tests to be a qualifying relative
  • The child must be your son, daughter, stepchild, eligible foster child, brother, sister, half brother, half sister, stepbrother, stepsister, or a descendant of any of them.
  • The child must be (a) under age 19 at the end of the year, (b) under age 24 at the end of the year and a full-time student, or (c) any age if permanently and totally disabled.
  • The child must have lived with you
    for more than half of the year.1
  • The child must not have provided more than half of his or her own support for the year.
  • If the child meets the rules to be a qualifying child of more than one person, you must be the person entitled to claim the child as a qualifying child.
  • The person cannot be your qualifying child or the qualifying child of anyone else.
  • The person must either (a) be related to you in one of the ways listed under Relatives who do not have to live with you in IRS Publication 501, or (b) live with you all year as a member of your household (and your relationship must not violate local law).2
  • The person's gross income for the year must be less than $3,650.3
  • You must provide more than half of the person's total support for the year.4
  1. There is an exception for certain adopted children.
  2. There are exceptions for temporary absences, children who were born or died during the year, children of divorced or separated parents, and kidnapped children.
  3. There is an exception if the person is disabled and has income from a sheltered workshop.
  4. There are exceptions for multiple support agreements, children of divorced or separated parents, and kidnapped children.

Deductions reduce your taxable income and reduce the tax you must pay. Itemized deductions include mortgage interest paid throughout the year, real property taxes paid, charitable contributions, and unreimbursed business expenses.

Use the standard deduction if it is higher than the total of your itemized expenses. The standard deduction depends on your filing status and whether you are 65 or older or blind. The standard deduction for 2009, if you file as married filing jointly, is $11,400. For head of household, it is $8,350. If you file as married filing separately or single, the deduction is $5,700. The amount of the deduction you can use is listed on your tax return form.

Credits may increase your tax refund and lower the amount of tax you owe the IRS. Each credit has different rules and works differently. Some credits simply reduce and possibly eliminate the tax you owe. Other credits may actually put money in your pocket. You must file your tax return to claim a credit.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a refundable credit that is only available to you if you are a United States citizen or resident alien with a Social Security number and if you have earned income. You may receive as much as $5,657 for this credit, which may either eliminate any tax you owe the IRS or may result in an increased refund to you. If you receive a Social Security number after you file your tax return and you qualify for the credit, you may go back up to three years to claim the credit by filing an amended tax return. This is true even if you used to use an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) or invalid Social Security number on your previous returns.

You must have earned income to apply for this credit. This includes income from wages, tips and self-employment. The following are not considered to be earned income: unemployment benefits, child support, Social Security benefits, pensions, alimony, welfare benefits, food stamps, job training benefits, and interest.

You must use the filing status single, married filing jointly, head of household, or qualifying widower. You may not use married filing separately. You must file a Form 1040 to claim this credit. You are not allowed to use Form 1040EZ or Form 1040A.

You may not claim the EITC if you have investment income, such as dividends or interest or rents, of more than $3,100 for the taxable year 2009.

A qualifying child for the Earned Income Tax Credit is not the same as a qualifying child for purposes of filing status. A qualifying child for the EITC must meet relationship, age, residence, self-support, and citizen/resident tests. All of the following tests must be satisfied in order for a child to qualify.
  • The relationship test. The child you are claiming must be your son, daughter, adopted child, stepchild, grandchild, or great-grandchild. The child may also be your brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, niece, nephew, or a descendant of these relatives. A foster child is also eligible, as long as the child was placed with you by an authorized placement agency.

  • The age test. The child claimed must be under age 18 at the end of the year or a full-time student under age 24. To be a full-time student, the child must be enrolled in school full time for at least five months of the year.

  • The residence test. The child must live with you in the United States for more than half the year.

  • The self-support test. The child cannot provide more than half of his or her own support.

  • The citizen/resident test. The child must have a valid Social Security number.
Remember: If you qualify for the federal EITC, you qualify for the New Jersey EITC. You will need to file a state income tax form to claim the credit. You must file both returns, even if your income is considered too low to be required to file or owe taxes.

To be eligible for the federal and NJ EITC, those filing must have earned income from wages or self-employment. For the 2009 tax year, the income levels are as follows:
  • Head of household, three or more children lived with you, and you earned less than $43,279 ($48,279 if married filing jointly)

  • Head of household, two children lived with you, and you earned less than $40,295 ($42,295 if married filing jointly)

  • Head of household, one child lived with you, and you earned less than $35,463 ($40,463 if married filing jointly)

  • Single, no children lived with you, and you earned less than $13,440 ($18,440 if married filing jointly).
This year, the IRS has increased the amount of the EITC to give more credit for those households with three or more children. Prior to 2009, the credit was at a maximum for those households with two or more children.

The Child Tax Credit may be available to you if you have a child who was under the age of 17 at the end of 2009. You must use Form 1040, 1040A or 1040NR. You cannot use a Form 1040EZ. The child tax credit will not affect your ability to receive food stamps, public housing, welfare, or SSI.

To qualify for the credit, you must be raising the child as your own. The child may be your son, daughter, stepson, stepdaughter, adopted child, brother, sister, niece, nephew, grandchild, or eligible foster child (one placed with you by a court or authorized placement agency). You must be able to get a dependent exemption on your return for the child, and the child must be a citizen or resident alien with a Social Security number. If the child does not have a Social Security number when you file the return, you should apply through the Social Security Administration for a number and use Form 4868 to request an automatic extension of time to file your tax return until you get the child’s Social Security number.

For each child you claim, you get $1,000 deducted from the taxes you owe to the government. Generally, the credit does not pay you a refund; it simply lowers your taxes. However, depending on your income, you may qualify for the Additional Child Tax Credit. If you qualify for this credit, you will receive a refund if the child tax credit reduces the taxes you owe and generates a refund. You must use IRS For​m 8812 to claim the additional child tax credit.

The Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit provides a credit to you by reducing your taxes by a percentage of the money you spent on child and adult care because you needed to go to work. You must have at least one dependent under the age of 13, or a dependent spouse or child who is physically or mentally disabled. The amount of the credit will depend on your income and the amount of money you spent on eligible care during the year. The child or adult for whom you are claiming the credit needs to be a U.S. citizen or alien resident with a Social Security number. You also need a Social Security number to claim the credit. If you file your return using an ITIN, you are not able to claim this credit. You cannot use Form 1040EZ to claim this credit.

Tax Changes for 2009

Releasing Child Dependent Exemption to Noncustodial Parent had new rules in 2008 which are continued this year. The release of the right to claim children as dependent exemptions and to get the child tax credit for the children, from a custodial parent to a noncustodial parent, must be accomplished by either IRS Form 8332 or by a written declaration that the release is unconditional. There must be no conditions, such as the common requirement that a noncustodial parent be current with support payments in order to take advantage of the release. A court order is not sufficient unless its wording conforms to Form 8332 and is unconditional. Form 8332 or the written declaration must be attached to the noncustodial parent’s tax return each year the child is claimed on the return.

The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act was passed by Congress on December 29, 2007. It permits eligible taxpayers to exclude any income realized as a result of either a modification of the mortgage terms or a foreclosure of a principal residence. Usually, when a debt is forgiven or cancelled by a lender, the debt that is forgiven is considered income and is taxable. Under this law, if your mortgage is modified or cancelled due to foreclosure from 2007 to 2013, you must use Form 982 to report the amount of income that was cancelled. But that income is not taxable, and you do not have to pay tax on it. Your lender will send you a Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt, by January 31, 2010, and the amount shown in box 2 of Form 1099-C should be reported on Form 982 and attached to your return. The rules for this credit are complicated, because it involves determining the basis of the property and whether your debt is recourse or non-recourse, so it is probably best that you seek help when completing this form.

First-Time Homebuyer Credit. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, the First-Time Homebuyer Credit increased to $8,000 for purchases made in 2009 before December 1. However, the new Worker, Homeownership and Business Assistance Act of 2009 extended the deadline. Now, taxpayers who have a binding contract to purchase a home before May 1, 2010, are eligible for the credit. Buyers must close on the home before July 1, 2010.

For homes purchased in 2009, the credit does not have to be paid back unless the home ceases to be the taxpayer’s main residence within a three-year period following the purchase.

First-time homebuyers who purchased a home in 2009 may claim the credit on either a 2008 tax return, due April 15, 2009, or a 2009 tax return, due April 15, 2010. The credit may not be claimed before the closing date. But, if the closing occurred after April 15, 2009, a taxpayer can still claim it on a 2008 tax return by requesting an extension of time to file or by filing an amended return.

Homebuyers who purchase a home in 2008, 2009, or 2010 may be able to take advantage of the first-time homebuyer credit. The credit:
  • Applies only to homes used as a taxpayer’s principal residence;
  • Reduces a taxpayer’s tax bill or increases his or her refund, dollar for dollar; and
  • Is fully refundable, meaning the credit will be paid out to eligible taxpayers, even if they owe no tax or the credit is more than the tax owed.
The credit is claimed using Form 5405, which you file with your original or amended tax return.

New Vehicle Purchase Initiative and Cash for Clunkers Program. Under the ARRA of 2009, taxpayers who bought a new motor vehicle in 2009 are entitled to deduct state or local sales or excise taxes paid on the purchase. The deduction is limited to the fees or taxes paid on up to $49,500 of the purchase price of a qualified new car, light truck, motor home, or motorcycle. The special deduction is available regardless of whether taxpayers itemize deductions on their returns. Taxpayers who do not itemize will add this additional amount to the standard deduction on their 2009 tax return. In order to take the deduction, you must be the first owner of the vehicle, which means that it must be a new, not used, automobile. The purchase of the car must have been completed after February 17, 2009. Under the Cash for Clunkers program, you may have received between $3,500 and $4,500 when you traded in an older car to purchase a more energy-efficient car; the amount you received is not taxable as income.

Subsidy for COBRA Health care Coverage. Under the ARRA of 2009, you may have received a 65% subsidy for payment of COBRA health care coverage continuation. The subsidies are not taxable as income.

Under the ARRA of 2009, the minimum earned income amount used to calculate the additional child tax was reduced to $3,000. Reducing the amount to $3,000 allows more taxpayers to claim the additional child tax credit and increases the amount of the payments that low-income taxpayers may receive. The change applies to 2009 and 2010.

Hope Credit. For the years 2009 and 2010, the American Opportunity Tax Credit makes temporary changes to the education credit known as the Hope Credit. For these two years, required course materials are added to the list of qualifying expenses, and the credit can be claimed for four years of post-secondary education instead of two years. A portion of the credit may be refundable. In addition, for the years 2009 and 2010, the definition of “qualified higher education expenses for tax-free distributions from a qualified tuition program” is expanded to include the purchase of computer technology equipment or Internet access and related services. In the past, you could qualify for the Hope Credit only if your income was less than $58,000 for single taxpayers or $118,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly. The limit is now $90,000 for single taxpayers and $180,000 for joint filers. The maximum Hope education credit is now $2,500.

Residential Energy Credits have been extended and modified under the ARRA of 2009. The law increases the credit rate to 30 percent of the cost of all qualifying improvements and raises the maximum credit limit to $1,500 for improvements placed in service in 2009 and 2010.

During 2009, a one-time Economic Recovery Payment was paid to recipients of certain benefits administered by the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs. This payment is not included in taxable income for 2009.
Other Tax Information
An Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN) should be used to file your return if you cannot legally obtain a Social Security number. ITINs are used for tax reporting purposes only. They are not general identification numbers and will not authorize you to work in the United States or receive Social Security benefits. However, if you are able to legally obtain a Social Security number in the future, the income that you have reported using the ITIN may be used to establish and increase Social Security benefits.

The IRS keeps all its return information strictly confidential. That means that, if you use an ITIN to file a return because you have worked in the United States but do not have a Social Security number, that information will not be shared with any other federal or state agency, including immigration.

To obtain an ITIN, you must complete a Form W-7, Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. The form is available at the IRS Web site, or by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM. You must provide certain identification documents, which are listed on the application form.

Privacy of Tax Information is a major priority of the IRS. When you file a return, the IRS does not share your information—either your immigration status or your financial data—with other federal agencies, including the US Department of Homeland Security and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The IRS has publicly stated that it is determined to keep all taxpayer information confidential. There are a few situations where the IRS is forced to share taxpayer information, but these situations are rare.

Notarios are attorneys in many Latin American countries. However, in the United States, a notary public is not a lawyer, an accountant, or a licensed qualified tax preparer and cannot give legal advice or prepare tax returns. In the United States, a notary public can only administer oaths and witness signatures.
Unfortunately, scam artists, using the title notario, have preyed on immigrants with limited English skills and little understanding of the American legal system by misrepresenting themselves as lawyers or tax preparers. Beware of “notarios” who represent that they provide legal services or tax preparation services under a state law or city ordinance, because they might be involved in the unauthorized practice of law or unauthorized preparation of tax returns.

E-filing is the fastest and most accurate way to file your taxes. To electronically file your taxes, you need access to a personal computer and the Internet. To take advantage of e-filing, you can purchase commercially available software from a retailer, download software from an Internet site, and prepare your return offline or prepare and file your return online. The IRS does not offer free e-file software or direct filing, but some companies will, while others charge a minimal fee. Filing electronically means a quicker refund. If you have supporting documents that are required to be submitted to the IRS, you will need to mail them in with Form 8453 within three business days of the IRS acknowledgment of your electronically filed return. The IRS does not charge a fee for e-file, although a tax preparer often will charge. To find a list of IRS-authorized e-filers, go to the IRS Web site, enter your zip code in the box, and click the Submit button.

Tax Legal Assistance Project (TLAP)
The Tax Legal Assistance Project (TLAP) at Legal Services of New Jersey may be able to assist you if you receive a letter or notice from the IRS challenging items on your tax return. TLAP may also help you with IRS collection matters. TLAP represents low-income individuals in legal disputes with the IRS. TLAP does not prepare tax returns. If you have a tax problem and want to see whether you are eligible for representation, call LSNJLAWSM, Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline, at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529). Tell the person who answers the telephone that you have a tax problem. All potential clients are screened for eligibility and representation is not guaranteed.
The tax project is not part of the Internal Revenue Service or the United States Tax Court.
One Last Point

Read and understand your return before you sign and file it! You are ultimately responsible for everything on your return, whether you had it prepared for you or you prepared it yourself. When you sign and file your return, you are stating that you have reviewed every line of the return and you agree with everything on the return. Be careful! If you do not understand an entry made by a preparer, make sure you ask questions until you understand how and why the preparer completed the return, and only sign the return if you agree with it. If you cannot prepare your return by yourself, go to one of the free sites. The tax laws in the United States are complex and the tax forms are confusing. That is why there are so many free programs to help you.