What Can I Do if I Have Negative Taxable Income?

What Can I Do if I Have Negative Taxable Income?
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There are many possibilities of incomes on the tax return; one such possibility is having a negative taxable income. Having a negative taxable income is not the end of the world, and there are things that a taxpayer can do to make the situation better, including moving some deductions to tax credits and moving taxable income from future years to the current tax year.


  • If you have a negative taxable income, you can look into tax credits you could use instead of deductions. Also, you can look into ways to prevent the issue in the future, such as increasing your wages and pushing forward retirement contributions.

Learning About Negative Taxable Income

Taxable income is the amount used by the IRS to calculate how much you owe in taxes on the income you generated (minus all deductions). If you have a negative taxable income, it is counted as a zero taxable income. The IRS does not provide an income tax refund amount for having a negative taxable income. Having a negative taxable income is not bad; it simply means that you have no tax liability. No tax liability means you owe zero taxes unless you are self employed and owe FICA taxes. The FICA taxes are calculated below the taxable income line.

Looking For Tax Credits

There are ways to maximize a refund, even if you have a negative taxable income. If there are certain items listed as tax deductions that are eligible for tax credits, such as education credits, then it may make more sense to change them into tax credits so that you can receive money back from the IRS. The IRS will give money back to a taxpayer in the case the tax payer has no tax liability but does have tax credits.

Suppose you have a negative $5,000 taxable income, and your tuition and fees deduction was $5,000. In this example, you you would not receive anything back in terms of an income tax refund amount for that tuition and fees deduction. It is possible, however, to claim a different education tax break in the form of a tax credit. The IRS will then send money back to the tax payer, even with a negative taxable income.

Considering Future Strategies

If you estimate that you will have a negative taxable income during a tax year, you can do some things that will push your deductions to another year or increase your earnings during the tax year. This will have the impact of increasing your income so that you can take advantage of your deductions. Earnings that you can take during a certain year include working more or taking capital gains in the tax year. Deductions that you can push forward to the next year include retirement contributions to a 401(k) or an IRA.

Reporting on Your Tax Return

You can report not only your adjusted gross income but also a variety of qualifying tax credits and deductions using IRS Form 1040. Consider getting the help of a tax professional to take advantage of any credits and deductions you're eligible for and to develop strategies that will prevent a negative taxable income for future tax years.