Can I Get a Tax Refund if I Don’t Pay Taxes?

If you are owed a refund, you must file your taxes even if you do not owe anything.

Refunds are an important – and exciting – part of taxes. However, not everyone’s tax situation is straight forward when it comes to receiving a refund. Even if you don’t pay taxes or withhold them from your paychecks, you might still be eligible for a refund. 

Who is required to file taxes? 

There are generally 5 questions that determine if you are required to file taxes or not.  

Refer to the chart below to see if you should file taxes for tax year 2018. 

If your filing status is:  And your age at the end of 2017 was:  Then file a return if your AGI was at least: 
Single  Under 65  $10,400 
65 or older  $11,950 
Married Filing Jointly  Both spouses under 65  $20,800 
Both spouses 65 or older  $23,300 
One spouse 65 or older  $22,050 
Married Filing Separately  Any age  $4,050 
Head of Household  Under 65  $13,400 
65 or older  $14,950 
Qualifying Widow(er)  Under 65  $16,750 
65 or older  $18,000 


If you are self-employed, you need to file if you make $400 or more. If you earned more than $108.28 from a church, you also need to file.  

Can I get a refund if I don’t make enough income to be required to file? 

Yes. Even if you are not required to file, you may be eligible for certain refundable credits if you do. This means that a portion of those credits could result in a refund. A few examples of refundable credits are the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit. 

Can I get a refund if I don’t pay taxes? 

Yes. If you do not have any federal tax withheld from your paycheck that year, your credits and deductions might outweigh any tax you owe, resulting in a refund. You must file your tax return to receive your refund. 

If I don’t file my taxes, can I still claim my refund? 

Yes. If you do not file your taxes but you are due a refund, you can still file to claim your refund. However, you must file within 3 years of the original due date to receive it.  

What is a CP88 notice? 

If the IRS is holding your refund because you didn’t pay prior year taxes, they will send you a CP88. This will explain why your refund is being held and will require a response from you about why you didn’t file. Mail this form back or call the number on the notice to speak with an agent. 

The information in this article is current through tax year 2018. 

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