The time to file taxes for 2018 is just around the corner. If you’re preparing your own tax return, or tax return for your elderly mom or dad, here are some tips to avoid common errors.
- Standard deduction for seniors. If you do not itemize your deductions, you can get a higher standard deduction amount if you and/or your spouse are 65 years old or older. You can get an even higher standard deduction amount if you or your spouse are blind.
- Social Security benefits. Many seniors make mistakes when calculating the taxable amount of Social Security. Use the Social Security benefits worksheet on IRS Form 1040 and Form 1040A, and double- and even triple-check.
- Credit for the Elderly or Disabled. To receive the Credit for the Elderly or Disabled, you must file using Form 1040 or Form 1040A (not Form 1040EZ). To quality for the credit, you must meet two qualifications: 1) you and/or your spouse are either 65 years or older, or under age 65 years old and are permanently blind, and 2) your income on Form 1040 line 38 is less than $17,500, $20,000 (married filing jointly and only one spouse qualifies), $25,000 (married filing jointly and both qualify), and $12,500 (married filing separately and lived apart from your spouse for the entire year). And, the non-taxable part of your Social Security or other nontaxable pensions, annuities or disability income is less than $5,000 (single, head of household, or qualifying window/er with dependent child); $5,000 (married filing jointly and only one spouse qualifies); $7,500 (married filing jointly and both qualify); or $3,750 (married filing separately and lived apart from your spouse the entire year).
- Tax assistance programs. For seniors and others with low- to moderate-income, the IRS sponsors volunteer tax assistance programs to help people who cannot prepare their own tax returns. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free tax help to people who generally make $53,000 or less, persons with disabilities, the elderly and limited English-speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program offers free tax help for all taxpayers, particularly those who are 60 years of age or older, specializing in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors.
With these tips in mind, you can help your aging mom or dad better navigate tax season. For more information, please visit www.irs.gov.
While anyone can be a victim of identify theft, your aging mom and dad are more likely to be victims. Thieves realize seniors carry less credit card debt than other age groups, so a criminal applying for credit using an older victim’s information is more likely to be approved. According to the Federal Trade Commission, consumers age 60 and older filed about 20% of all identity theft complaints.
Here are tips to help your mom and dad avoid identify theft.
- Don’t carry your original Social Security or Medicare card in your wallet. Make a copy of your card and block out the last four digits of your Social Security number so if you lose your wallet or it is stolen, no one can get your full Social Security number.
- Don’t give personal information over the phone. There are many phone scams by thieves who call requesting information under the guise of a legitimate need. Any legitimate requests for personal information are typically done in writing, so you should be suspicious of any phone call you receive for personal information. If you receive a phone call, hang up and verify the legitimacy of the caller before you return the call.
- Don’t carry more personal documents than necessary. Whenever you leave your home, leave behind Social Security numbers, checks, extra credit cards and other financial statements or documents. Be sure to keep these locked in a security box at a secure location. If you’re admitted into a hospital, personal documents should be put in the hands of someone you trust.
- Don’t be a pack rat. You don’t need to keep all paperwork. Shred anything you don’t need to keep, specifically documents with your Social Security number, PINs, credit card statements, canceled checks, expired credit cards and other financial statements. Here is a guide to help you decide how long you need to keep a paper trail.
- Don’t leave behind receipts. Whether you’re at a store, restaurant or gas station, be sure to always take your receipts with you.
- Don’t unnecessarily share personal information online. Be smart about sharing your personal information online. Never respond to emails asking you to verify your password, account number, Social Security number or credit information. Make sure your passwords for websites are secure, and use a mix of numbers, symbols and upper- and lowercase letters. If you’re unsure of a website requesting personal information, don’t share it.
- Do check your credit. You can receive a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the nationwide credit reporting companies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. When you receive a copy of the report, review your personal information, current accounts and credit inquiries. If anything looks suspicious, contact the credit reporting company and your financial institution.
If you believe your aging parent may have fallen victim to identify theft, immediately alert your financial institution, credit card companies, and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.