If Taxable Income Is Zero, Why Do I Owe Taxes?

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Since the federal government taxes only your taxable income instead of all of your income, qualifying to claim tax credits can help reduce or even eliminate any tax you owe. However, even though tax exemptions, deductions and tax credits can reduce a taxpayer's total tax liability to zero, there are situations when you might still owe the government taxes.

Self-Employment Tax

  • Self-employment tax is comparable to the Social Security and Medicare taxes usually withheld from a wage earner's pay. Individuals who work for themselves rather than an employer must figure their self-employment tax using Schedule SE Form 1040 when filing federal income tax. Net earnings of $400 or more are subject to self-employment tax. Use Schedule C or C-EZ to figure your net earnings from self-employment if you work as an independent contractor or are self-employed as the sole proprietor of a business. Even if you have no taxable income after exemptions and deductions, you may still owe self-employment tax if you did not pay enough estimated tax.

Estimated Tax Payments

  • If you are self-employed, you are required to use Form 1040-ES to figure and pay estimated tax for income you report on your federal tax return. Filing Form 1040-ES allows you to pay income tax, self-employment tax and other taxes. If you do not pay an adequate amount of tax when each quarterly installment payment comes due, you can be charged an underpayment penalty when you file your tax return even if no other tax liability is due. Form 1040-ES includes a worksheet you can use to calculate the amount of income you expect to earn. When figuring your estimated tax, take into account your adjusted gross income for the year, taxable income, deductions and credits.

Tax on Investment Income

  • The health care bill passed by Congress in March 2010 comes with a new tax to help pay for Social Security and Medicare. Beginning in 2013, taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes above the threshold amounts will pay a 3.8 percent tax on a portion of their net investment income. The threshold for a single taxpayer is $200,000 and $250,000 for married taxpayers. If earnings from investment income when added to your wages put you above the adjusted gross income threshold for your filing status, you will owe the 3.8 percent tax on the amount of investment income above the limit. For instance, a married couple who earn combined wages of $170,000 and have investment income of $100,000 will owe additional tax on the $20,000 above the $250,000 AGI threshold. Even if you reduce your taxable income to zero after deductions, you could still owe the Medicare tax on your net investment income.

Late Filing Penalty

  • Unless you request an extension of time to file your income tax return for the tax year after the filing deadline, or can show reasonable cause for filing your return late, the IRS will charge you a late filing penalty. What not all taxpayers know is that since the penalty for filing your tax return late is a percentage of the tax you owe, there is no late penalty if you don't owe any tax. However, if you have a refund coming, you won't get your money until you file your return.

References

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