How to File Taxes if You’re Experiencing Homelessness

Filing taxes can be a complicated process, especially if you are experiencing housing instability or homelessness.

If you have lost your tax documents, don’t know where to file your taxes, or don’t know how to receive your refund, here are some guidelines to help prepare you to file your taxes.

Should I file taxes if I don’t have to?

Even if you make less than the tax-filing threshold, you may still qualify for tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit. These credits reduce the amount of taxes you owe and may provide a refund at tax time.

To claim the credits, all you need to do is file your taxes. The eligibility quiz can help you understand how the credits work, whether you qualify, and how much you may receive.

How do I file taxes without a permanent address?

Shelters and other service providers, such as health care clinics and drop-in day centers, may allow you to use their address for tax purposes. Other agencies that offer homeless prevention services like a Community Action Agency or Salvation Army are also options. If you are not staying in a shelter or cannot find a service provider nearby, you can also use a relative’s or friend’s address.

How do I file taxes if I’ve lost my tax forms?

To file taxes, you will need Forms W-2 or 1099, provided by your employer. If you did not receive these forms or misplaced them, you can still file taxes and claim tax credits by obtaining a copy of these documents from your employer.

If you cannot get a copy, you can fill out Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, or Form 1099-R, Distributions From Pensions, Annuities, Retirement or Profit-Sharing Plans, IRAs, Insurance Contracts, etc. These forms will request information about your wages and taxes that are withheld, so it would be helpful if you have documentation, such as a final pay stub, to complete it. If you do not have a final pay stub, you may still be able to fill out the form by estimating your earnings.

If you are unable to estimate your earnings, you can request a wage and income transcript from the IRS for free. This transcript includes data for Forms W-2, 1099, and 1098. You have two options to receive the transcript.

Online: Register for Get Online Transcript, to instantly view, print, or download your transcript. Online transcripts are redacted and mask some of your personal information to help reduce identity theft.

Mail: The IRS will mail unredacted transcripts with all your personal information visible to the last address they have on record for you. File Form 8822, Change of Address, to update your mailing address to the one you will use to file your tax return. Transcripts cannot be faxed.

If your state requires you to file a state return, contact your state’s department of revenue or tax office to get info on any state tax withheld.

How do I claim an exemption for the health insurance mandate?

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), everyone is required to have health insurance. If you don’t have coverage, you may have to pay a penalty. However, you may be exempt from this requirement when you file your taxes for 2016, 2017, or 2018.

Many states provide Medicaid health coverage for people below the federal poverty level. This map provides eligibility information for your state’s Medicaid coverage.

If you make less than the filing threshold, you are exempted from the ACA requirement. Even if you are not below the filing threshold, you can claim a hardship exemption by completing the application form. You do not need to provide any other documentation. At the end of the document, there are instructions on where to mail your application to the Health Insurance Marketplace. Expect a response from the Marketplace within four weeks of submission.

If your application is approved, you will receive an Exemption Certificate Number (ECN). Use the ECN when filing taxes on Form 8965, Health Coverage Exemptions. If you need to file your taxes before your application is approved, indicate “pending” on Form 8965 for your exemption. Complete Part III of the form using code “G” in column (c). Refer to Form 8965 Instructions for guidance. You may qualify for other exemptions for months you didn’t experience homelessness.

Starting in 2019 (which you file taxes for in 2020), the penalty for not having health insurance no longer applies and you won’t be required to claim an exemption.

Where do I find free tax help?

If you (and your spouse if filing jointly) earn less than $54,000, you could qualify for free tax preparation in your community. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax-Aide sites offer free and reliable tax filing services. They prioritize accuracy, with a rate of over 90 percent, the highest in the industry. To find a site, visit the IRS’ site locator tool.

If you have a basic tax return, there are free options to file online. MyFreeTaxes is available for anyone who makes under $66,000. If you’re over the income limit, there are many tax filing software options that are more affordable than visiting a paid tax preparer.

Other Resources:

Claiming Social Security Benefits While Experiencing Homelessness

Homelessness Resources & Shelter Directory

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