First Time Tax Filer FAQs

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First time filing taxes? Be confident! With a few tips, you can get file and your refund. 

What is filing taxes?

Filing taxes means reporting to the government how much income you had last year, how much tax you already paid by having tax withheld from your wages or other income, and what other credits or taxes might apply to you. If you paid more than you needed to, including by tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, or stimulus credits, the IRS pays you a refund. Sometimes, especially if you didn’t have taxes withheld, you end up owing money to the IRS instead. ​

Also, if you had self-employment income or income from gig work such as app-based driving, you need to file taxes to have those earnings count towards your future Social Security (which is based on how many years you worked and how much you earned).

How do I know if I have to file?

In general, anyone who made more than $12,400 in 2020 ($24,800 if married filing jointly) has to file. People who were self-employed, or who received a Form 1099 for their earnings, have to file even if they made less than that. Also, anyone who received Advance Premium Tax Credit (Affordable Care Act/Obamacare health subsidies through the Marketplace) has to file. If you’re not sure if that’s you, check to see if there is a Form 1095-A for you.  

But even if you don’t have to file, you might want to file anyway to get a refund. You could get a refund of taxes that were taken out of your paychecks during the year, or you might be eligible for the Recovery Rebate Credit (stimulus money) or the Earned Income Credit (if you either have kids or are between ages 25 and 65) or the Child Tax Credit. 

Can I file my own taxes if I lived with my family or they supported me?

Yes. If you had income of your own, you can file your own tax return. But, you might also qualify as someone’s dependent, which could affect both your and their taxes. You can find out if you count as a dependent using this online tool (you have to enter the information about the person who you think might be able to claim you):

Even if you are claimed by someone else as a dependent, you can still file your own taxes. If you had a job, you might be able to get a refund of taxes that were withheld from your pay.

What do I need before I file?

Every job you had during the year should send you a Form W-2 or Form 1099. If your employer didn’t give you one of those forms, even when you asked, contact PLA’s general intake line for help. 

Other sources of income like unemployment or cash scholarships should also send you tax forms. Lastly, if you had health insurance through the Marketplace (Affordable Care Act/Obamacare), you should get a Form 1095-A.

If you didn’t get a form that you were expecting from one of these sources, or you lost your form, DON’T file without it—contact the company or agency and ask them for another copy. If you leave out forms when you file, it could delay your tax refund, cause you to get audited, or even put you in debt to the IRS. By taking the time now to make sure you have all your forms, you’ll avoid headaches down the road.

How do I know what my refund will be?

The only way to know for sure how much your refund will be is to get your taxes prepared either by a tax preparer or using software. Nobody can guarantee how much you will receive without looking at your tax documents and getting other information from you, so don’t trust anyone who says they can promise you a certain amount.

Is it expensive to file taxes? How do I file? 

Most people who had less than $56,000 of income can get their taxes prepared for FREE through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. Check out for different options to get help in person or online, and/or for free software you can use to file yourself, go to Whichever way you file, remember that this is your money and personal information, so a reputable program or organization is your best bet. Be careful:  there are a lot of tax preparers out there who charge a lot and do things wrong. Learn more about choosing a paid preparer here:

What’s the deal with April 15th?

April 15th is the day you are supposed to file your taxes by. But many people don’t realize you can still file after that date. If you owe taxes you may have to pay a penalty for filing late, but if you are claiming a refund, you can still get the full amount. You can also request an automatic extension until October 15th if you are not able to file by the deadline:

You can actually claim a refund up to 3 years after the due date, so if you worked in 2019 or even 2018 or 2017 but never filed taxes, you may want to see if you are eligible for refunds for those years too. April 15, 2021 is the deadline to claim a refund for 2017. If you are claiming a refund, there is no penalty for being late. If you owe, the law still requires you to file, even if it’s late.  If you have questions, contact us!