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

Information to Help You Prepare and File Your 2015 Federal Income Tax 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.

The deadline to file your federal tax return for the 2015 tax year is April 18, 2016. The change from the standard April 15 due date is a result of operlapping tax deadlines and federal and state holidays. If you fail to file a timely tax return or ask for an extension for time to file, you may have to pay penalties and interest. This article will give you basic information about filing your taxes and answer some of the most common questions taxpayers ask.

Get Your Federal and and State Tax Returns Prepared for Free

If your income is below $54,000, you probably qualify for free tax preparation assistance through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE), or the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Tax-Aide Program. More about these programs will be discussed later in this article. We recommend that you avoid commercial tax preparers, whether they are a major chain or a smaller independent preparer. If you use one of these free tax preparation services, you are less likely to get ripped off and more likely to have a correct return prepared. Also, if you use a paid tax ­preparer, you might be charged an unfair price. Note there are also a number of websites that allow low- and middle-income taxpayers to prepare and file online for free, such as the IRS Free File program (from The average cost of having a return prepared in 2015 was $273. Save your money and use a free tax return service!

Do I have to file?

Whether you are required to file a tax return depends on your age, filing status, and gross income. The amount of taxable income you can receive before you are required to file a tax return is called a filing threshold. Use the following table to see if you are required to file a federal tax return.

Table 1. 2015 Filing Requirements Chart for Most Taxpayers

IF your filing status is. . .

AND at the end of 2015 
you were*. . .

THEN file a return if your gross income was at least. . .


under 65


65 or older


Head of household

under 65


65 or older


Married filing jointly

under 65 (both spouses)


65 or older (one spouse)


65 or older (both spouses)


Married filing separately

any age

$ 4,000

Qualifying widow(er)
with dependent child

under 65


65 or older


Note: If you were born before January 2, 1951, you are considered to be 65 or older at the end of 2015.

See Publication 501 (from for more information.

Consider filing a return even if you do not have to!

Even if you do not make enough money to have to file a tax return, you should consider filing one. If you are working, but your income is low, you are probably eligible to get a refund of taxes that were withheld from your paycheck during the year. There are also other tax credits for which you might be eligible, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). See Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for more information. A tax refund means that the IRS will be returning money to you. If you don’t file a return, you won’t get back money to which you are entitled.

What if I am unable to file my tax return on time?

If you are unable to file by April 18, 2016, you may file for a six-month extension by completing IRS Form 4868 (PDF) (from . Extension requests are automatically granted. Submitting this form gives you until October 18, 2016, to file. Note! This is only an extension of time to file, NOT the time to pay. You should still estimate your tax liability for 2015 and pay any amount due. If you do not have the money to pay what you owe, you should still file the request for the extension. You will avoid a late-filing penalty, and you may also reduce or eliminate interest and late-payment penalties.

What if I was supposed to file a return for previous years but did not?

If you were required to file a tax return for past years but failed to do so, you should still file your tax return for 2015. Just because you have not filed a return in previous years, this does not mean you cannot still file for the current year.

What does filing status mean?

Filing status is a term used by the IRS to determine your tax filing obligations, standard deductions, and eligibility for certain credits and deductions. It is based mainly upon marital status and family situation. There are five types of filing status: Single, Married Filing Jointly, Married Filing Separately, Head of Household (HOH), and Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child. Note that your marital status on the last day of the year determines your filing status for the entire year. You can choose Single filing status if you are divorced or legally separated according to state law. Head of Household generally applies to unmarried taxpayers. To qualify for HOH status, you must have paid more than half the cost of maintaining your household for yourself and a qualifying person. For more information about filing status, see IRS Publication 501: Exemptions, Standard Deductions and Filing Information (PDF) (from

What is the difference between an exemption and a deduction?

An exemption is a fixed amount of money that the IRS determines should be excluded from being taxed. Each person in the household is eligible for an exemption. The exemption reduces the amount of overall income on which you are taxed. The exemption for 2015 is $4,000.

Drew is a single parent with one child. He earned $24,000 in 2015. Drew can take a personal exemption of $4,000 for himself and a dependent exemption of $4,000 for his child. Therefore, he can take a total of $8,000 in exemptions.

Drew’s Adjusted Gross Income
- 8,000
Drew's Adjusted Gross Income, less exemptions

As you can see by our example, Drew will only pay tax on $16,000. This amount will be further reduced by other deductions and tax credits.


You can also claim deductions, which are amounts subtracted from your taxable income. Generally, deductions are eligible expenses that taxpayers are allowed to report. You can choose whether to take a standard deduction or to itemize (list) your deductions. You should choose the option that is best for you. A standard deduction is a set, flat amount determined each year by the IRS. Each household can take one standard deduction. When you itemize your deductions, you specify item by item what was spent, such as mortgage interest, unreimbursed business expenses, medical expenses, state taxes, and charitable deductions. The dollar amount of your standard deduction depends on your filing status. The standard deduction chart on Table 20.1 below lists the dollar amount of the standard deduction for the 2015 tax year.

Remember, Drew’s taxable income went from $24,000 to $16,000 when we subtracted his exemptions. Now let’s adjust for deductions based upon the following facts:

Drew rents an apartment and does not have a lot of deductions, such as mortgage interest, property taxes, or unreimbursed business expenses, to itemize. He will take the standard deduction. Since he is a single parent who provides all the support for his daughter, his filing status is Head of Household. Based upon the table above, Drew can take a standard deduction of $9,250.

Drew’s Adjusted Gross Income
- 8,000
- 9,250
Standard Deduction
$ 7,750
Drew's Taxable Income

Table 20.1 - Standard Deduction Chart for Most People*

If your filing status is...

Your standard deduction is:

Single or Married filing separately

$   6,300

Married filing jointly or Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child

$ 12,600

Head of household

$   9,250

*Do not use this chart if you were born before January 2, 1951, or are blind, or if someone else can claim you (or your spouse if filing jointly) as a dependent.Use Table 20-2 or 20-3 instead, which you may find at Standard Deduction (from

What is a tax credit?

Unlike exemptions and deductions, which reduce the amount of income on which your tax is calculated, tax credits reduce the actual amount of your tax. There are several tax credits available for families, such as the Child Tax Credit, the Child and Dependent Care Credit, and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

This is one of the most valuable credits because it is fully refundable. This means that you will get money back, even if you did not owe any tax. See the table below. The amount of EITC depends upon income and family size. You must meet the following requirements in order to claim EITC:

  • Your status cannot be Married Filing Separately.
  • You must have a valid Social Security Number for you and your spouse (if filing a joint return) and any qualifying child.
  • You must have earned income. Earned income means you are paid in wages, are self-employed, have farming income, or you receive disability retirement income.

For more information and to see if you qualify, see Use the EITC Assistant (from

2015 EITC

Maximum Income
Single/Head of Household
Maximum Income
Married Filing Jointly




No qualifying children



$ 503

With one qualifying child




With two qualifying children




With three or more qualifying children




Where can I get free help filing my tax return?

If you are a low-income taxpayer, there are several resources to help you file your taxes for free.

IRS Free File Program. This program makes commercial tax preparation software available to low-income taxpayers at no cost. If you had less than $62,000 in adjusted gross income in 2015, these programs will help you complete and return your tax return at no cost. Go to Free File (from Select the tax software that best suits your needs. Once you choose a preparer, you will leave the IRS website and be taken to the commercial preparer’s site. Based upon your answers to income and family questions, a tax return will be prepared on your behalf and filed electronically. Note: This may not be an option for filing your state tax return, so you may want to consider one of the other in-person tax preparation options listed below.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE), and AARP's Tax Aide Program. The VITA program generally offers free tax preparation services to people with incomes below $54,000. In addition, the TCE program offers free tax help for all taxpayers, particularly those who are 60 years of age and older, specializing in questions about pensions and retirement related issues unique to seniors. VITA and TCE sites are staffed with volunteers trained to prepare returns and are located at libraries, senior centers, and other community centers. To find a VITA or TCE site near you, call 1-800-906-9887 or 211, or visit Free Tax Return Preparation for Qualifying Taxpayers (from The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Tax-Aide program also provides free tax preparation for low- to moderate- income taxpayers and are often located at a TCE site. You do not have to be a senior citizen to qualify for services. To find an AARP Tax-Aide location near you, see the AARP Tax-Aide Site Locator.

Note that many free tax preparation sites require an appointment. You should contact these agencies as soon as possible to avoid the rush before the filing deadline.

See Free Tax Filing Assistance (from NJ 2-1-1) for more information about free tax filing assistance.

What are the tax penalties under the Affordable Care Act?

If you could afford it, but failed to purchase minimum coverage health insurance in 2015, you may have to pay a fine or penalty. This is called the individual shared responsibility payment. You will pay the fee when you file your federal tax return for the year that you didn’t have health insurance. The fine is due for any month that you, your spouse, or your tax dependents failed to have minimum coverage health insurance.

What if I didn’t purchase health insurance because I couldn’t afford it?

If you could not afford to buy health insurance, you likely qualify for an exemption from the requirement to have insurance. This means that you are excused from the requirement to have health insurance and will not have to pay a fine or penalty. For more information and a list of the exemptions under the Affordable Care Act, go to Exemptions from the requirement to have health insurance (from

Fees or Penalties are Higher in 2016

The fee can be calculated in two ways—as a percentage of your household income or per person. You will pay the higher of the two fees.

  1. 2.5% of your household income. The maximum amount is the cost equivalent of the ACA Marketplace Bronze plan ($695.00 per person, or $347.50 per child under 18) or $2,085.
  2. $325 per adult, $162.50 per child under 18. The maximum under this method is $975.

Again, you will pay whichever amount is the highest.

Don’t Be A Victim!

Recently, there has been a surge in phone scams by criminals impersonating IRS agents. These criminals often use fear tactics such as threat of arrest or deportation to scam people out of money. Protect yourself and be informed. Remember, the IRS will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment or call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question the bill.
  • Tell you to use a specific form of payment, such as a credit card.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Threaten you with arrest if you don’t pay.

If you get an unsolicited phone call from someone claiming to be the IRS:

  • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
  • Report the incident by calling 800-366-4484.
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission.

You have rights!

The Taxpayer Bill of Rights includes the right to:

  • Be Informed
  • Receive Quality Service
  • Privacy
  • Retain Representation

The Taxpayer Bill of Rights (from is available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Russian, and Vietnamese.

If you need tax help and cannot afford a lawyer, contact Legal Services of New Jersey’s Low Income Taxpayer Clinic at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888- 576-5529). You may also apply for help online.

More tax information is also available.​​​​​​​​​​​