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Frequently Asked Questions: Computing Your Refund or Taxes Owed

Q: I am on a payment plan with the IRS for back taxes. Will I get a tax refund when I file my tax return?

A: The IRS will automatically apply your refund against any tax you owe. Any balance left over would be refunded. You should continue to make your regular installment tax payments as any refund is not considered to be a plan payment.

Q: I haven't filed tax returns for the last three years. What should I do?

A: Taxpayers should file all tax returns that are due, regardless of whether full payment can be made with the return. If you owe money, you should send your payment with each tax return. The IRS will bill you for interest and penalties. If you are due a refund, there will be no interest or penalties for that tax year. Please note that there is a statute of limitation for obtaining a refund. You have the later of three years from the due date of the return or two years from the date you paid the taxes to file for a refund.

Q: My husband owes back child support payments to his former spouse and has been notified by the Treasury Department that he is subject to the offset program. We file jointly. How do we get the IRS to not seize my refund?

A: In order to ensure that the IRS does not seize your share of any refund on a joint return, you need to complete IRS Form 8379, Injured Spouse Claim and Allocation, and attach it to your tax return. The form allows you to compute how much of any refund belongs to you, the injured spouse, and frees that amount for a refund.

Q: What do I do if I can't pay the amount owed on my tax return?

A: The first thing you must do is to make sure you file your tax return on a timely basis even if you can't pay anything. In this manner, you avoid any failure-to-file penalties. Prior to filing you should call the IRS at 800-829-1040 (follow the voice prompts) and discuss the options with them. If the amounts are small, the IRS will usually arrange a 120-day informal payment program. If the amount is under $25,000 and you can't pay within 120 days, you may be eligible for the Installment Payment Program. Information on all your options is available at IRS Tax Topic 202 on the IRS website.

Q: My brother died this year and I am filing his tax return. He is due a refund. How do I file his return and obtain the refund?

A: As your brother's personal representative, you should complete a tax return for him. You must write the word "Deceased" across the top of the tax form, followed by the decedent's name and date of death. If you are using tax software, there is a section where you check a box that the taxpayer is deceased and enter the date of death. As you are not a surviving spouse, you must complete IRS Form 1310 to obtain any refund. Lastly, sign your name in the signature box followed by the words "personal representative."

Through the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program, AARP Foundation is providing online tax counseling as a public service, and cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information provided. Your taxes are your responsibility. You are solely responsible for what you do in your own tax situation.

The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Program is a volunteer-run, free tax-preparation and assistance service offered to low- and middle-income taxpayers with special attention to those age 60 and older. Our volunteers are trained and IRS-certified to understand individual federal-tax issues. Our volunteers provide tax assistance as a public service and cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information provided.