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.  

  1. Are you a dependent
  2. How old are you? 
  3. Are you blind? 
  4. What is your filing status
  5. What is your adjusted gross income (AGI)

Refer to the chart below to see if you should file taxes for tax year 2020. 

If your filing status is: And your age at the end of 2020 was: Then file a return if your AGI was at least: 
Single Under 65 $12,400 
Single 65 or older $14,050
Married Filing Jointly Both spouses under 65 $24,800 
Married Filing Jointly  Both spouses 65 or older $26,100 
Married Filing Jointly  One spouse 65 or older  $27,400 
Married Filing Separately Any age $5
Head of Household Under 65 $18,650
Head of Household  65 or older $20,300
Qualifying Widow(er) Under 65 $24,800
Qualifying Widow(er)  65 or older $26,100

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 a tax return, you may be eligible to claim certain refundable credits. “Refundable” means that a portion of those credits could come back to you in a tax 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? 

It’s possible. If you do not have any federal tax withheld from your paycheck (for example, if you are self-employed) your credits and deductions could still outweigh any tax you owe, and this would result in a refund. You must file your tax return to claim tax breaks and to get a refund if you are owed one.

If you receive a W-2 from your employer, a certain amount of money gets withheld from your paycheck to pay your tax bill all year long. So you do pay taxes, even if you’re not aware of it.

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

You need to file a return to claim your refund. If you deserve a refund but you don’t file your taxes, the IRS will hold onto your funds until you submit a return for that year. There is no penalty for filing a return late if you are owed a refund, but you must file within 3 years of the original due date to receive it. Learn how to file a prior year return.

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 up to date through tax year 2020 (taxes filed 2021).  

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