Get Help with Your Taxes
You could get thousands of dollars back, even if you don’t need to file a tax return.
Hundreds or even thousands of dollars are available in tax credits, especially for low-income individuals and families. Even if you are not required to file a tax return, you could receive a tax refund when you file taxes. For example, you may get money back by filing if you:
- Had income tax withheld from your pay, pension, social security or other income
- Work but earn less than $57,000
- Care for your dependent children
- Were eligible for but didn’t receive the first and/or second stimulus check
- See the full list of those who can file to receive additional funds even if they don’t have to file
Filing your taxes right away could put you in line for a higher payment this year!
Also, you have 3 years to claim a refund! If you were owed a refund on your 2019 or 2018 tax return, it’s not too late to claim it! Learn more below.
Child Tax Credit (CTC)
- The CTC has been expanded for 2021. Eligible individuals can get up to $3,600 for each child under 6 and up to $3,000 for each child age 6-17. For instance, a family with two children could be eligible for as much as $7,200 for 2021.
- You could receive half of your CTC as early as July! The IRS will start sending advance payments each month starting in July 2021. You can receive half of your 2021 CTC in 2021 and then the other half in 2022 when you file your 2021 taxes.
- If you have very little earned income or no earned income in 2020, use the Non-filer Sign-up Tool on the IRS website as soon as possible to let the IRS know you are eligible for the advance payments: https://www.irs.gov/credits-deductions/child-tax-credit-non-filer-sign-up-tool
- If you earned enough money to qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, had too much in taxes withheld from your paychecks, or are eligible for other tax credits, file a full tax return as soon as possible. Do not use the Non-filer Sign-up Tool on the IRS website - the tool will not allow you to claim all the money you are due
- If you want to unenroll from receiving the advance payments of the CTC, use the CTC Update Portal on the IRS website to opt out of the advance payments.
- Check this 2021 CTC webpage and this IRS CTC webpage to learn about the advance payments.
- Check your eligibility for the 2020 CTC here.
Recovery Rebate Credit
- If you are eligible for the stimulus checks from 2020 but you haven’t received the first and/or second stimulus check, you must file taxes to receive your checks
- File a 2020 tax return and claim the Recovery Rebate Credit to receive your stimulus checks.
- If you had very little earned income or no earned income in 2020 and you are only filing a 2020 return to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit, use the IRS Non-filer Sign-up Tool for an easier way to claim your check: https://www.irs.gov/credits-deductions/child-tax-credit-non-filer-sign-up-tool.
- If you earned enough money to qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, had too much in taxes withheld from your paychecks, or are eligible for other tax credits, file a full tax return. Do not use the Non-filer Sign-up Tool on the IRS website - the tool will not allow you to claim as much money as you are due.
- Learn more about the first two rounds of stimulus checks here.
You may be eligible to use tax filing software for free! Learn more below.
- You have 3 years to file a tax return to claim a refund.
- It’s not too late to file a 2018 or a 2019 tax return to claim your refund.
- Now that the filing deadline of May 17, 2021, has passed, you can no longer claim a refund from a 2017 return.
- If you use tax software to prepare your prior-year return, you will have to mail in your return. You won’t have an option to electronically file your return.
- Click here to learn more about how you can file prior-year returns.
- Individuals filing as single who earned less than $12,400 (or less than $14,050 if age 65 or older)
- Married couples filing jointly who earned less than $24,800 (or less than $26,100 if one spouse was age 65 or older or less than $27,400 if both spouses were age 65 or older)
- Individuals filing as married filing separately who earned less than $5
- Individuals filing as head of household who earned less than $18,650 (or less than $20,300 if age 65 or older)
- Individuals filing as qualifying widow(er) who earned less than $24,800 (or less than $26,100 if age 65 or older)
But, even if your income is under the limits shown above, there are other reasons why you still need to file, including;
- Your net earnings from self-employment was $400 or more (please note that net earnings is how much money you made after subtracting expenses and that rideshare driving and many other kinds of gig work is considered self-employment income)
- You had health insurance through the Marketplace and received money from the government to help pay your premiums
- You have a Health Savings Account (HSA) and you received a distribution from your HSA
A full list of reasons why you might still need to file is found on the IRS website.
Still not sure if you need to file taxes? Learn more by using the IRS Do I Need to File a Tax Return tool.
I need to file a return - what are my options?
File Online for Free
If you earn less than $72,000 a year, you are eligible to use online tax software at no cost through Free File on the IRS website. Be aware that while you can file a Federal return for free, you may have to pay a fee for filing a state return with some of the software brands available through IRS Free File - be sure to read all the details.
For Illinois residents, there are two software brands that offer free Federal and state filing:
- TurboTax: Available for those who earned up to $39,000 in 2020; step-by-step guides on how to use TurboTax for certain situations are below
- OnLine Taxes: Available for those who earned between $16,000 and $72,000 in 2020
You may be eligible to file your taxes online for free using GetYourRefund.org if you earned up to $66,000 in 2020 and don’t have income from rental property or from owning a farm.
You may also be eligible to use United Way’s MyFreeTaxes website.
If you only need to file a 2020 return for any of the reasons listed below, then use the IRS Non-Filer Sign-Up Tool online:
- You need to let the IRS know you are eligible for advance payments of the Child Tax Credit
- You need to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit because you did not receive as much stimulus money in 2020 as you were eligible for
- You received your first two stimulus checks, but need to let the IRS know you are eligible for the third stimulus check
If you want step-by-step guidance on how to use the IRS Free File version of TurboTax to file your 2020 return online for free, we have prepared videos and written guides:
For someone who received only Social Security benefits in 2020:
For someone who had only W-2 income in 2020:
You may be able to receive more money with your Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) this year! Due a new “look-back” provision in the last relief bill, you may receive a higher EITC and Child Tax Credit if you earned less in 2020 than in 2019. You can use your 2019 earnings to calculate those credits if that would give you higher credits than using your 2020 earnings. Be sure to have your 2019 tax return available when you prepare your 2020 tax return.
Get free tax help
If you earn less than $66,000 and don’t own rental property or a farm, you may be eligible for free tax help through Code for America’s Get Your Refund program: www.getyourrefund.org. The website allows you to check EITC and CTC eligibility, as well as get connected to free online filing or a volunteer tax preparer for additional help. If you haven’t filed taxes any time in the last three years, the team can also help you claim past tax refunds.
You may also be eligible to have your taxes prepared for free by nonprofit organizations participating in the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. To find your nearest VITA site, visit https://irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep.
Filing prior-year returns
If you use tax software to prepare your prior-year return, you will have to mail in your return. You won’t have an option to electronically file your return.
Also, you may need to pay for the software.
There are several tax software providers that participate in the IRS Free File program that also offer prior-year tax software, including: