The Difference Between the Long & Short 540NR Forms

Eligible taxpayers can save time by filing the short form of California's 540NR income tax return.

Taxpayers who earned income in California but were not legal residents of the state during the year or who only lived in California for part of the year still need to file a California state income tax return. The form nonresidents and part-year residents need to file is Form 540NR. There are two versions of California's Form 540NR: the short form and the long form. Both forms begin with the information on your federal tax return. The long form includes adjustments to the federal income for California-specific transactions and enables eligible taxpayers to take advantage of additional credits. Which form you file depends on several factors.

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Filing Status

Your California filing status will generally be the same as your federal filing status. There are a few exceptions for military individuals and same-sex married/RDP (registered domestic partner) couples who were required to file as single for federal tax purposes.

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If your filing status is Married/RDP filing separately, you cannot use the 540NR short form and must file the 540NR long form. This means that each partner who has California income must file the 540NR long form.

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Age

Only California taxpayers who are under age 65 can file the 540NR short form. If either you or your spouse/RDP are age 65 or older, you need to file the 540NR long form. Although the tax rates are the same no matter which form you file, the long form includes a calculation for a senior head of household tax credit, which reduces the tax liability of eligible taxpayers 65 years of age or older.

Dependents

There are spaces to list information for three dependents on the short form of 540NR. If you have four or five dependents, you can still use the short form, but you need to attach a separate schedule for the additional information. If you are claiming more than five dependents, you need to file the long form of 540NR.

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Even if you have five or fewer dependents, you'll want to file the long form if you qualify for the California Refundable Child and Dependent Care Expenses credit. This credit is not included on the short form.

Income

California taxpayers with a total income of more than $100,000 are required to file the 540NR long form. You'll also need to file the long form if you have income that is taxable for federal purposes but exempt for state purposes, such as U.S. Treasury Bill or Bond interest income.

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