What Is IRS Publication 17?

Most taxpayers have questions when it comes time to file federal tax returns. Poring over tax-related information and sifting through numerous IRS forms is enough to make you close your eyes and plow through your electronic filing software without asking those questions.

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But that's not the best way to go about tax filing. That's where Publication 17 from Internal Revenue Service (IRS) comes in. It is a guide that puts a lot of helpful information together in one, easy-to-use resource.

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IRS Publication 17: Your Magic Tax Key

Maybe this tax year, with Publication 17 at your side, you'll get up to date with current tax laws and changes and file your federal tax return with confidence. There's a good chance you'll even figure out the Earned Income Credit (EIC).

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IRS Publication 17 is designed to simplify the tax code, answer your questions about filing requirements and easily link you to tax forms and their explanations. The IRS says the goal of the document is to help taxpayers understand how much tax they owe and pay no more than they should.

The 2020 version is 138 pages of information and tips directed toward helping you be more informed. The 2021 updates to the publication have not yet been released.

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Two of the best parts of this tax guide: it comes from an official source you can trust to have the latest, most accurate tax information (irs.gov), and ​it's free​.

Consider also:Take It or Leave It? Child Tax Credit Payments

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Learn What's New in 2021

The first part of Publication 17 will focus on what has changed in this tax year from last year. The calendar years of 2020 and 2021 saw some significant economic consequences due to the pandemic, and the government reacted with new policies, relief packages and tax changes. These are important for you to know.

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For instance, in 2020, the standard deduction amount was increased by $200-$400, depending on your filing status, from the previous year. Wondering what to do about charitable contributions you made? Want to learn whether your 2021 Economic Impact Payment (EIP) will be taxable income?

It's all right here in Publication 17, organized in a table by topic, with hyperlinks to focus on the information you need.

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Consider also​: Don't Overlook the Earned Income Tax Credit

Help for Different Tax Situations

Whether you need to file a prior year's amended return, or you had a baby in the current year and need to learn about the child tax credit, Publication 17 has the information you need.

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The information is divided into four sections along with supplementary tables worksheets, and schedules:

  • Part 1: The Income Tax Return​ – general filing information, filing status, dependents, estimated tax, refunds, owed taxes, recordkeeping
  • Part 2: Income and Adjustments to Income​ – wages and other income and earnings, Social Security benefits, Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs), life insurance proceeds, capital gains
  • Part 3: Deductions​ – standard deduction, itemized deductions and other deductions
  • Part 4: Figuring your Taxes​ – Refundable and nonrefundable credits, child tax credit, credit for other dependents

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Each section is broken down into information that supplements tax forms and schedules, instructions for computations on different tax forms and explanations of rules and processes.

Whatever your personal tax situation, you'll find resources and links to guide you toward understanding the laws, rules and potential benefits that apply to you. You'll also find sections on your rights as a taxpayer, how to get tax help and where to file. Looking for deadlines? There is a link for those, too.

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Consider also​: Salary Tax vs. Commission Tax

Publication 17 Helps Even if You e-File

You can rest assured that the software you use to file electronically will incorporate the latest information from the IRS. And it's programmed to know how to use the information you provide in your W-2 and other supporting documentation.

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But having Publication 17 by your side allows you to understand what the software is asking you and what steps it's taking you through. It's a way to be more informed about each decision you make along the way as you file your federal income tax this year.

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