Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Tax filing in US

I have always taken for granted how easy it is to file income tax in Singapore. Most employers would do that for their staff, and all we have to do is to go online and click on a button. Done!

Here is US, there's state tax and then there's federal tax. Employers will generate your W-2 form and then you are expected to file your own returns. And you better learn, because hiring a tax adviser could cost as high as a few grand. 

So why should I, a non-working person, be concerned about all these? Because the husband said we could save a sum if we file joint returns this year. And to do that, I need to apply for Individual Taxpayers Identification Number (ITIN).

Argh. Visions of filling up endless forms.

We tried our best to understand the online information and prepare all the forms and documents. Then I marched down to the IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centre at Golden Gate Ave (SF city) to submit my application.

A word of caution to anyone who's entering that building. Just take off everything before you pass through the walk-through metal detector. The instructions weren't clear and I ended up going through the detector 4 times. "Go back and take off your jacket." "Take off your shoes too, Miss." "Have you emptied your pockets? Did you take off your watch?" The person behind me had to go back and take off his glasses too.

That tall building at Civic Centre
Address as stated
My turn came after an hour's wait. The good news is, the officer told me I have filled up most of my W-7 form correctly. The bad news? I was sent back because "you have to follow the correct procedure." 
See, Panda and I had thought I should apply for ITIN before the tax filing period. Then he could insert my ITIN in the joint tax form when the filing period comes. Right? Wrong. 
Turns out, I have to first answer a series of questions to find out if I am eligible for ITIN. The kind lady said I could do it online, but since I was already there, she read the full list of questions to me. One of it was the substantial presence test to see if I'm a resident-alien for tax purposes (you have to pass 183 days). 
After being satisfied with my eligibility, she told me that I have to come back with my passport, my W-7 form, the husband's W-2 and the joint tax filing form 1040EZ. And I can only go back during the filing period, because my ITIN application will be processed together with the joint tax returns.
(Tip from her: Under 1040EZ's ITIN section, write 'Applied For'. On computer, the trick is to put zeros so that the computer allows it to be submitted.)
W-7 form. Read the instructions, which is also available online.
Sample of W-2

Sample of 1040EZ

Boy, I was so glad I met this helpful lady. Because her instructions were clear, my second visit was a breeze. I was able to get my documents certified and application submitted within two hours. That's pretty short considering the place could get swarmed during the filing period. I got there slightly after 8am, as the lady said the queue could get so bad that they wouldn't even issue queue numbers.

Phew! So here ends my post on that tax filing experience. I hope it can be of use to people with a similar situation. For those who wish to know more, go to Another great tool is TurboTax.

Good luck!

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