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VITA, free tax preparation

Remote bilingual and free tax preparation for individuals and solopreneurs in New Jersey

Free tax preparation with bilingual tax preparers seems too good to be true but with the tax filing deadline approaching quickly, you can take advantage of the United Way of Central Jersey’s Voluntary Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. 

VITA, UWCJ, free tax preparation

Your taxes made easy by IRS-certified volunteers in the community. (VITA)

The organization has offered this program since 2007, and it runs year-round. Charmaine Rodriguez, VITA Program Director (Volunteer Engagement & Volunteer Income Tax Program/VITA), spoke with us about the program and why it is important to take advantage of such an opportunity, especially for seniors, low-income residents, and those who do not speak English fluently or might need extra help. 

“The program is offered to all residents in the state regardless of their location,” said Charmaine. “You do not need to live in United Way of Central Jersey’s area of service to apply for the program,” she clarified. 

The VITA program offers free tax help to people who make $66,000 or less, persons with disabilities, and limited English-speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to those who qualify for the program. Some volunteers speak Spanish and can help taxpayer clients who need that extra help. 

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UWCJ, free tax preparation

Be Tax Ready! VITA can help you better understand the process and resuce the possibility of error. (VITA)

Take advantage of free tax preparation

Due to Covid-19, VITA’s services will continue remotely to continue to keep people safe, with various options for delivering your documents. 

“We have been working through concerns regarding the current health emergency,” said Gloria Aftanski, Chief Professional Officer at UWCJ. “We will continue to provide tax return preparation services, but on an online/virtual basis, and we are also trying to accommodate those who do not have access to a computer or cannot drive to our location to drop off the forms,” she said. 

VITA, free tax preparation

Submit your documents via curbside drop-off, at a lockbox location, via mail, or digitally. (VITA)

You can submit your documents by: 

No matter how you choose to submit your documents, a volunteer preparer will still prepare your taxes and returns will still be reviewed by VITA’s quality reviewer to ensure accuracy. 

So if you are eligible, be sure to take advantage of this opportunity! 

To schedule your appointment, please follow these steps: 

  • Click to Schedule an Appointment to Have Your 2020 Federal and/or State Taxes Prepared.
  • Call 732-247-3730 to make an appointment by phone.
  • Check list of what you need to complete your intake

Financial Counseling Information:

You can find information on becoming a VITA volunteer here.

tax season file jointly

Tax season should you file jointly or separately from your spouse

Yes, this is this time of year, tax season. For many married couples, filing jointly is a good idea, but there times when you might decide to file separately from your spouse.

Ninety-five percent of married couples file joint federal tax returns

tax season file jointly

Do you have trust issues with your spouse?

Filing jointly can be convenient. Frequently, there’s a financial advantage, but that does not mean it should be done without consideration.1

Years ago, there was less incentive to file jointly. That was because the “marriage penalty” for doing so was effectively greater. There is no written “marriage penalty” in the Internal Revenue Code, but, in the past, income tax brackets were structured a bit differently and spouses having similar annual incomes sometimes paid more taxes by filing jointly than single taxpayers did.

There are many good reasons to file jointly

Nearly all of them involve saving money. Joint filing may give you an effective tax break right off the bat. Currently, married taxpayers who file separately face the 28%, 33%, 35%, and 39.6% income tax brackets at lower income thresholds than other unmarried taxpayers.2

Joint filers can claim significant tax credits that marrieds filing separately cannot

If you want to claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit, the Elderly or Disabled Credit, or the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), you have to file jointly. Joint filing also gives you the potential to claim the full Child Tax Credit, rather than a reduced one.3

Deductions, too, decrease when you file separately as a married couple

Standard deductions fall significantly. Phase-out ranges affect itemized deductions, and some itemized deductions are unavailable for married couples who do not file jointly. Couples who file separate 1040s can only deduct 50% of the capital gains losses joint filers can. In addition, if one spouse elects to itemize deductions, so must the other (there must be a separate Schedule A for each spouse). The spouse with fewer deductions has no ability to use the standard deduction to lower his or her taxable income.2,3

Joint filing even helps you with regard to the Alternative Minimum Tax

When you file separately as a married couple, your AMT exemption falls by 50%. So you may be more susceptible to the AMT if you file separately. If the AMT affects you, you will find many federal tax deductions reduced or unavailable to you.3

Do you live in a community property state?

If you do, you may know that state tax law defines what is considered separately held or jointly held property. If you want to itemize deductions in a community property state, the paperwork can be onerous.3

More of your Social Security benefits may be taxed if you file separately

Social Security gives you a “base exemption,” an income threshold above which Social Security benefits may be taxable. The base exemption for married couples filing jointly is $32,000, meaning that if 50% of the Social Security benefits you receive in a tax year plus your other income in a tax year exceeds $32,000, taxes may apply. The base exemption for married couples filing separately who live together at any time during the tax year is $0. It improves to $25,000 for married couples filing separately who live apart for an entire year.4

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So why would you not file jointly when married?

In certain circumstances, filing separately may be wiser.

Maybe you do not trust your spouse financially

If your spouse is a tax cheat or interprets federal tax law very loosely, filing jointly could prove hazardous in the case of an audit or other troubles. Both spouses must sign a joint return, meaning that both spouses are legally responsible for all taxes, penalties, and fines linked to that return. Yes, an innocent spouse may be offered tax protection by the IRS, but that innocence must be proven.2,3

Maybe you or your spouse have large out-of-pocket medical expenses

If so, and if the spouse contending with such bills earns much less than the other, there may be merit in filing separately. By doing so, the spouse with far less income might have an opportunity to meet the 10% AGI threshold needed to itemize medical expenses. (The 7.5% AGI threshold for itemizing these costs is still in place for taxpayers age 65 and older.)2

Maybe you are separating or divorcing. If that is the case, then it may seem only natural to begin filing separately while still married. Doing so now may lessen the chance of the two of you wading through tax issues in the aftermath of a split.

If you are unsure about whether to file jointly or singly, you can ask a tax professional for his or her opinion. Or, that professional can look at last year’s return and run the numbers for you. Most couples find that filing jointly works out best, but there are exceptions.

 

Aquiles Larrea Jr., AIF® may be reached at 212-390-8918 or aq@larreawealth.com.

www.larreawealth.com

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