MONEY Taxes

How to Get Free Tax Help When the IRS Won’t Answer Your Call

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iStock

Budget cuts have made getting through to the agency by phone tougher than ever. Here's where else to turn.

Excruciatingly long holds on the Internal Revenue Service’s help line this year mean that taxpayers need to find better ways to get their questions answered.

The problems start with the fact that the IRS has cut nearly 12,000 positions as its budget has fallen by an inflation-adjusted 17% since 2010.

New health insurance requirements are also creating more paperwork. People with health coverage through their employers or other groups will just have to check a box, but those with coverage through Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges, or who are applying for an exemption, will have to submit more forms.

In addition, the IRS changed the rules on how repairs to tangible property are treated, requiring accounting changes for businesses, including landlords, that own real estate and equipment.

As there will likely be a last-minute crush of work for professionals as affected taxpayers belatedly learn about the changes, it’s best to start as early as possible, says Melanie Lauridsen, tax technical manager for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

The National Taxpayer Advocate earlier this year predicted that about half of all hotline calls wouldn’t be answered and average wait times would stretch beyond 30 minutes.

Compare that to fiscal year 2004, when the IRS answered 87% of calls with average wait times of less than three minutes.

Tax professionals, who have their own dedicated hotline with the IRS, aren’t being spared either. One CPA recently spent two hours and nine minutes on hold before his call to the tax practioner’s hotline was answered, and his experience isn’t unusual, said AICPA’s Lauridsen.

“It’s going to be a horrible filing season for everyone,” she said. “As we’re getting deeper into the filing season, the wait times are getting worse.”

And taxpayers who get through to the IRS have no guarantees their question will be answered, Lauridsen added. This year helpline staff are limiting their answers to “basic” tax law inquiries, and won’t answer any tax law questions at all after the filing season ends.

Some free alternatives to the helpline exist, including:

1. The IRS website. Not only does the IRS site have every form and publication you’re likely to need, but the site also handles some of the most common tasks, including paying your tax bill, setting up a payment plan, getting a transcript of your return, and checking on the status of your refund (which you also can do with the agency’s mobile app, IRS2Go). The site features an interactive tax assistant, which uses an interview format to answer some of the most common preparation and filing questions.

2. Walk-in centers. You can make an appointment to get free face-to-face help at one of the Taxpayer Assistance Centers. As with the IRS helpline, only basic tax law questions will be answered and only until April 15. The centers no longer will help you prepare a tax return.

3. Tax software. The IRS’ Free File program allows people with incomes under $60,000 to use popular tax preparation software such as H&R Block, TaxAct and TurboTax for free.

The programs offer an interview format and built-in error checkers that catch math and other common mistakes.

4. Volunteer sites. The AARP Foundation’s 35,000 Tax-Aide volunteers helped 2.6 million people file their returns last year, said Dorothy Howe, the program’s assistant national director. The program is designed to help low- to moderate-income people, but there’s no age limit, Howe said.

“Even though this is being offered by AARP, you don’t have to be over 50 and you don’t have to be retired,” Howe said.

What you do have to have is a relative straightforward return, Howe said. A 1040 with some itemized deductions is fine. If you’re a day trader with a ton of investments or a small business owner, you should hire a tax pro.

TIME apps

These Apps Will Make Filing Your Taxes Way Less Painful

Taxes
Jamie Grill—Getty Images Woman filing taxes online.

From planning to scanning, there’s an app for every accounting need

Let me start by saying that I am not a tax professional. But I am a professional who pays his taxes, and I highly recommend getting expert assistance in navigating the bureaucratic machinations that are the state and federal income tax systems.

Still, if you are planning on going it alone (or you want to get organized enough that your accountant doesn’t charge you a bundle), there are many ways technology can help you file your taxes. Let’s take a look:

Planning:

The best way to take the sting out of tax time is to make a plan and stick to it year-round. Online budgeting programs like Mint can continuously monitor your spending to keep you on the straight and narrow, while making it easier to pull out certain details once tax season comes around. But Learnvest, a financial planning program with a great educational element, can help you better understand your money, not just categorize it.

Where neither of these fit the bill, turn to Ask A CPA, a free app available on iOS and Android that shares answers to many questions asked by taxpayers, some common — “Are funeral costs deductible?” — and others not —“Can I deduct my ‘girlfriend’ who lives with me as a dependent?” — really.

Receipts:

Whether it’s keeping track of a year’s worth of healthcare payments or accounting for various business-related expenses, the long slog of shepherding your receipts can be a tough one to keep up. TurboTax ItsDeductible, which is available online or as an iPhone app, excels at keeping track of your charitable donations, whether they were goods or funds. Shoeboxed, as its cutesy name implies, helps get through the clutter of your favorite paper receptacle by not only providing a scan-by-mail service for your paper trail but also by collecting electronic receipts from your Gmail account. With an organization system approved by the IRS, it’s a great way to go paperless with confidence.

For people who would rather scan their own files, Neat offers a great combination of scanners, mobile apps, and software to keep your data categorized and easy to search. It also offers cloud backups, which is great in case something happens to your home or office computer. However you do it, make sure you keep track of IRS guidelines for keeping electronic records.

Filing:

Gone are the days of filling in forms with pencils (and littering your table with eraser bits). Now, programs like Intuit’s TurboTax (available in every permutation imaginable, from CDs to online interfaces to mobile apps) are the way most people make good with Uncle Sam. For people with relatively straightforward taxes, the app makes filing almost fun, with easy-to-follow questions and imagery to help guide your answers. Of course, these conveniences come at a cost, as the mobile software has a mind-boggling variety of in-app purchases available.

H&R Block 1040EZ 2014 keeps it simple and low-cost for iPhone users as well, with free-to-file federal returns and just $9.99 for state return preparation. But perhaps more valuable is the company’s free, in-person audit support for people who use their services.

Keeping Track:

Once you’ve submitted your income tax return information, be sure to download IRS2GoApp, which is available for both Android and iOS. The official smartphone app of the IRS, it can provide status updates on your refund as well as provide tax tips so you’re streamlined and ready to go next year.

TIME 2016 Election

Jeb Bush Runs Conservative Gatekeeper Gauntlet

Jeb Bush speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME Jeb Bush speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.

Jeb Bush made headlines Friday when he used wit to parry the boos of college-age conservatives at a conference outside Washington, D.C. “For those who made an ‘ooo’ sound — is that what it was? — I’m marking you down as neutral and I want to be your second choice,” he told the crowd, in what sounded like a prepared line.

But the moment may not have been the most consequential conservative test he passed last week. Just a day earlier, Bush addressed and largely won over a crowd of strict fiscal conservative donors off camera and thousands of miles away at a gathering of wealthy donors at a Club for Growth confab in Palm Beach, Fla.

David McIntosh, the group’s president, who interviewed Bush on stage, said his members, who tend to be wealthy fighters for strict fiscal conservatism, had been wary before Bush appeared, wondering who they would meet, “the old Governor or a new Bush,” a reference the raw feelings many conservatives still have against Jeb’s father and brother, who both enraged conservatives during their administrations.

But Bush made a forceful case for himself, McIntosh said. “I got to be governor of this state — this purple state, this wacky, wonderful state — for eight years,” Bush told the group, according to an account from the Washington Post. “I ran as a conservative, I said what I was going to do, and I had a chance to do it. And trust me, I did.” By the time it was over, McIntosh was all praise. “Bush impressed people,” he said.

That seal of approval could prove huge dividends as the establishment frontrunner works to avoid a movement backlash to his nascent presidential effort. The man who once said Republicans should “lose the primary to win the general election” is nonetheless aiming to establish his credentials in a way that minimizes the ideological protest against his candidacy from the right. But the fight is far from over. Other conservative activists have been far more skeptical. Grover Norquist, who runs another fiscal conservative group, Americans for Tax Reform, has been critical of Jeb Bush for refusing to sign his pledge, during his gubernatorial campaigns and now, to oppose all increases in taxes.

“My concern is that he has not made a commitment to the American people that he will not raise taxes when all the other candidates have done so,” Norquist said at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington. “I think Jeb will take the pledge at the end of the day because both his father and his brother said ‘I don’t know’ and then when they realized what the pledge was and what it actually meant and that it was a pledge to the American people and not to me or Americans for Tax Reform, and that they had no intention of raising taxes, and that everyone else was doing it, they said yes, absolutely.”

Bush has so far refused to budge, and on Saturday his spokesman dismissed Norquist’s organization as just another “lobbying group.” “If Governor Bush decides to move forward, he will not sign any pledges circulated by lobbying groups,” Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell, told ABC News. President George H.W. Bush famously signed Norquist’s pledge and then broke it by supporting a tax increase as part of the 1990 budget, a move that hurt his reelection effort in 1992. President George W. Bush signed and honored the pledge as president, and his White House worked closely with Norquist to rally support for tax cuts in his first term.

One reason for Jeb Bush’s reluctance may be his desire to strike a bargain to reform entitlements if he became president. In 2012, he said in a congressional hearing that he would accept a theoretical deal to raise $1 of tax revenue for every $10 in spending cuts, a position that had been rejected by that year’s Republican presidential contenders, in large part because of Norquist’s pledge.

Like Norquist’s group, the Club For Growth also has a reputation for taking a hard line against any candidate who either raises taxes or leaves the door open to tax increases. But so far this cycle, there are no signs that the Club will target Bush. In 2008, the Club for Growth played an aggressive role in opposing Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign, attacking him for some tax increases he pushed as governor of Arkansas. In 2012, the group released research papers on the candidates, but did not spend money or offer endorsements in the primary. This year, the group could be more agressive. “There is no decision on an endorsement,” McIntosh said.

But Bush is not seeking an endorsement as much as a lack of opposition. If the Club simply concludes that Bush can be seen in the same category as other Club for Growth favorites, including Ted Cruz, Scott Walker and Rand Paul, that would be victory enough for his presidential effort.

Additional reporting by Zeke Miller

MONEY Taxes

Why Some Taxpayers Are In for a Big Shock This Year

Many middle-class families who got subsidized health coverage through Obamacare in 2014 are facing an unexpected tax bill now.

Roberta and Curtis Campbell typically look forward to tax time. Most years, they receive a refund–a little extra cash to pay off credit card bills.

But this year the California couple got a shock: According to their tax preparer, they owe the IRS more than $6,000.

That’s the money the Campbells received from the federal government last year to make their Obamacare health coverage more affordable. Roberta, unemployed when she signed up for the plan, got a job halfway through the year and Curtis found full-time work. The couple’s total yearly income became too high to qualify for federal subsidies. Now they have to pay all the money all back.

“Oh my goodness, this is just not right,” said Roberta Campbell, who lives in the Sacramento suburb of Roseville. “This is supposed to be a safety net health care and I am getting burned left and right by having used it.”

As tax day approaches, hundreds of thousands of families who enrolled in plans through the insurance marketplaces could be stuck with unexpected tax bills, according to researchers. Those payments could be as high as $11,000, although most would be several hundred dollars, one study found.

The result is frustration and confusion among some working and middle-class taxpayers, whom the Affordable Care Act was specifically intended to help. The repayment obligations could dissuade people from re-enrolling and provide more fuel to Republicans’ continuing push for a repeal of the law.

The problem is that many consumers didn’t realize that the subsidies were based on their total year-end income and couldn’t reliably project what would happen over the course of the year, said Alyene Senger, research associate at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

“How do you know if you are going to get that promotion?” she said. “How do you know what your Christmas bonus is going to be?”

In addition, Senger said the government didn’t go out of its way to publicize the tax consequences of receiving too much in federal subsidies. “It isn’t really something the administration focused on heavily,” she said. “It’s not exactly popular.”

The system was intended to ensure that people received the right amount in subsidies, no more or less than needed. But the means the government chose to reconcile the numbers was the tax system — notorious for its complexity well before the Affordable Care Act passed.

Enrollees who enrolled in Obamacare now are realizing that certain positive life changes–a pay raise, a marriage, a spouse’s new job–can turn out to be a liability at tax time. “We are definitely seeing some pain,” said Jackie Perlman, a principal tax research analyst at H&R Block.

H&R Block released a report Tuesday saying that 52% of customers who received health coverage through the insurance marketplaces last year underestimated their income and now owe the government. They estimate that the average subsidy repayment amount is $530.

At the same time, about a third of those enrolled in marketplace coverage overestimated their income and are receiving money back–about $365 on average, the report said.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government made subsidies available to people who earned up to 400% of the federal poverty level—about $47,000 for an individual and $63,000 for a couple. For families who ended up making less than that, the federal government limits any repayments that might be due: The poorest consumers will have to repay no more than $300 and most others no more than $2,500. But the Campbells’ income last year exceeded the limit to receive federal help, so they have pay back the whole amount.

Roberta Campbell said she was only trying to do the right thing. Campbell, now 59, lost her job as a program director for the Arthritis Foundation in late 2012. She and her husband, who was working part-time as a merchandiser, downsized and moved into a smaller house.

They were left uninsured but were mindful of the federal mandate to be covered as of January 2014. So they signed up for a plan through California’s insurance marketplace, Covered California. The plan cost about $1,400 a month, but they were able to qualify for a monthly subsidy of about $1,000.

“We are rule followers,” she said. “We decided to get insurance because we were supposed to get insurance.”

They barely used the coverage. Roberta and Curtis each went to the doctor once for a check-up. Then, about halfway through the year, Roberta got a job at UC Davis and became insured through the university. Curtis, who had been working part-time, got a full-time job for a magazine distribution company.

They notified Covered California, which Campbell said cancelled the insurance after 30 days. But with the new salaries, his pension from a previous career and a brief period of unemployment compensation, the couple’s year-end income totaled about $85,000, making them ineligible for any subsidies.

Their tax preparer told them they would have been better off not getting insurance at all and just paying the fine for being uninsured. In that case, the Campbells say their financial obligation would have been much smaller–about $850.

“The ironic thing is that we tried to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps,” Curtis Campbell said. “Now they are going to penalize us. It’s frustrating.”

It’s not surprising that the projections people made about their income in 2014 in many cases were incorrect, said Gerald Kominski, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. The first open enrollment period started in October 2013, meaning that some enrollees based their estimates on what they earned in 2012.

Kominski said that policy experts knew there would be significant “churn” of people whose incomes change throughout the year and who would gain or lose their eligibility for subsidized coverage. But he and others said there was less understanding among consumers about how that could affect their taxes.

With tax season still underway, it not entirely clear how many people will have to repay the government for excess subsidies. But along with the recent H & R block estimates based on the firm’s customers, a UC Berkeley Labor Center study published in Health Affairs in 2013 suggested the numbers would not be not small.

Nationwide, 6.7 million people enrolled in marketplace exchanges through Obamacare in the first year. About 85% of people got federal help paying their insurance premiums.

Using California as a model, labor center chair Ken Jacobs estimated that even if everyone reported income changes to the insurance marketplace during the year, nearly 23 percent of consumers who were eligible for subsidies would have to pay the government back at least some of the amount received. About 9 percent of those receiving subsidies would have to pay the full amount. If no one reported changes, 38 percent would owe money.

The median repayment–if people reported income changes along the way—would be about $243 but some couples could owe more than $11,000, according to the research. The median amount due if people didn’t report the changes during the year would be $750.

“The most important thing for people to do along the way is to report [income] changes so the subsidy amount is adjusted,” Jacobs said.

For those who must repay money, the IRS will allow payment in installments, even after the April 15 tax deadline. Interest will continue accruing, however, until the balance is paid.

Covered California spokesman Dana Howard said he understands paying back excess subsidies puts some in a difficult spot. But he said consumers who think their circumstances might change can decline the money or just take part of it.

Howard also said the subsidies were designed to give the working class and middle class folks a leg up in affording health coverage. So when people get good jobs, he said, they don’t necessarily need the federal help to get insurance.

“When you get that really good fortune, that has to be shared back,” Howard said. “That is just how the ACA law was written.”

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

MONEY Taxes

Your Kids Are the New ID Theft Targets — Here’s How to Protect Them

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Meg Fahrenbach—Getty Images

Identity theft poses a huge risk to your children's financial future, but it could make a mess of your taxes, too.

Filing your taxes should trigger a feeling of relief — it’s a huge thing you get to scratch off your to-do list — but millions of taxpayers have submitted their taxes only to have a very unpleasant experience: that their Social Security number has already been used in a tax filing. Most people discover this when attempting to file their taxes online, and they’ll instantly receive a notification from the IRS that the return has been rejected as a fraud attempt.

Instead of marking the end of your tax adventures for the year, such a notification is only the beginning of the many months it will take to correct your taxes. Risk isn’t limited to your Social Security number — if you have dependents and someone fraudulently files taxes with their Social Security numbers before you do, it will affect your return.

It happens. Identity theft among children is sometimes harder to detect, because one of the best ways to discover fraud is by checking credit reports. Your child shouldn’t have a credit report until he or she has a loan or credit card in his or her name, so parents assume there’s nothing to use as a fraud detector in the first place.

If Someone Claims Your Child as a Dependent

When you try to file your taxes, rightfully claiming your child as a dependent, you’ll likely receive a message from the IRS saying someone has already claimed the person with that Social Security number as a dependent and your return has been modified to exclude that person. That will affect the refund you receive (or how much you owe the IRS), even though you can rightfully claim the child as your dependent.

At this point, you need to do two very important things: Start the process of fixing the problem, and protect your child’s identity from further abuse.

How to Fix Your Taxes After Fraud

Jared Callister, a partner and tax attorney at Fishman Larsen Chaltraw & Zeitler in California, said the first thing you should do is contact the IRS to dispute the rejection of your dependent claim. The message from the IRS informing you of the issue should include contact information.

“Write a quick letter to that response, saying it’s your child and you want the IRS to adjust it back to what the original return said,” Callister said.

Then you need to notify the IRS of the identity theft by filling out Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit on behalf of your child.

“And then you’re just kind of waiting for a response from the IRS,” Callister said. “My guess is it will take about 6 months to get that resolved.”

To follow up on identity theft issues regarding taxes, you can contact the Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490 — expect to be on hold for a long time, especially if you’re calling during filing season.

How to Protect Your Kids From Further Fraud

Once someone’s Social Security number has been stolen, it can be extremely difficult to prevent abuse. Contact the credit bureaus and notify them your child’s Social Security number has been stolen, and regularly request the child’s credit reports to make sure no one is opening unauthorized accounts in his or her name.

Undetected fraud can wreck a child’s credit before he or she has had a chance to establish it, which is why it’s important to intervene early. Most parents want their children to enter adulthood with a good financial foundation, and credit is a huge part of that, so take action quickly if you sense your child’s identity has been abused.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY Social Security

The Taxing Problem With Working Longer

Earning money after you start collecting Social Security can be a tax headache.

The question of when and how to file for Social Security is a tough one for many retirees—I regularly field questions on the topic. Recently a reader wrote to say he’d like to draw Social Security benefits at age 66 yet keep working until 75. What are the tax implications?

When you continue to work and draw Social Security, your benefits are reduced temporarily if you’re 65 or younger and your outside income exceeds certain levels. After 65, these reductions do not apply. You may, however, owe taxes on your Social Security income.

How Earnings Can Hurt

Not all of your Social Security income is taxable. Social Security uses a measure it calls “combined income” to determine how much of your benefit is taxable, and it can be tricky to understand.

To determine your combined income, take your adjusted gross income (check last year’s tax return), then add any nontaxable interest income and half of your Social Security benefit. (If you haven’t started claiming, you can get a projection online by setting up an account at ssa.gov.)

If the total is less than $25,000 ($32,000 on joint tax returns), you owe no income taxes on your Social Security benefits. If the total is between $25,000 and $34,000 ($32,000 and $44,000 on joint returns), you may have to pay taxes on half of your Social Security that’s over that threshold. Above that, 85% of your benefits may be taxable—the top rate.

Here’s how that could play out. Take a retiree in the 15% federal tax bracket who is taxed on 50% of his Social Security. When he earns another $1,000, his so-called combined income rises by that much too, subjecting another $500 of Social Security income to taxes. So the tax bill on that $1,000 won’t be $150 (15% of $1,000) but $225 (15% of $1,500), for an effective rate of 22.5%.

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MONEY

Your Workarounds

Beefing up your tax-free holdings, especially Roth IRAs, can mean money coming in that won’t trigger more taxable Social Security income. (Working less lowers your tax bill too, but you’re usually better off earning the money.)

If you can live on just your salary, deferring Social Security until age 70 also helps. Your taxes should be lower while you wait. And delaying benefits will increase your monthly Social Security payments by 8% a year (plus annual inflation adjustments).

Hedging Your Bets

Single retirees should think about one other option: filing for and suspending Social Security benefits at age 66. By doing so you will be able to request a lump-sum payment for all the suspended benefits
anytime until age 70.

Even the best of plans can change, so that payment could come in handy if you face an emergency cash crunch. But there’s a downside: Once you request a lump sum, your payout will be valued as if you took benefits at 66, as will your regular monthly benefit going forward.

Philip Moeller is an expert on retirement, aging, and health. His book, “Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security,” was published in February by Simon & Schuster. Reach him at moeller.philip@gmail.com or @PhilMoeller on Twitter.

 

TIME Taxes

Here’s How Unlikely It Is the IRS Will Actually Audit You

But fines and jail time still await tax frauds

Here’s something the IRS probably doesn’t want you to know: Our entire tax code mostly works on the honor system. The much-feared agency only audited 0.86% of individual tax returns in 2014, the lowest percentage since 2004, Bloomberg reports. Among households with incomes greater than $1 million, 7.5% were audited.

The auditing rate is falling because the IRS is bleeding employees. By 2014, the number of revenue agents had declined 16% from its 2010 peak, to 11,629. It’s a trend that IRS Commissioner John Koskinen called “deeply disturbing” in a Tuesday speech.

At its peak efficiency, the IRS was auditing about 1.11% of individual returns back in 2011. Even if those figures seem small, getting caught committing tax fraud can result in heavy fines or jail time—which seems to be enough to keep most citizens honest.

[Bloomberg]

MONEY Taxes

Why the IRS Probably Won’t Audit Your Tax Return This Year

Although the IRS audit rate is at a 10-year low, certain items on your return will up the odds that your taxes get audited. Here's a brief guide.

TIME Taxes

Most Americans Say the Rich Aren’t Taxed Enough

taxes
Getty Images

And many claim the middle class pays too much

Tax season is here and more than two-thirds of Americans think the wealthy pay too little in federal dues, according to a new poll. What’s more, six in 10 say the middle class pays too much.

The Associated Press-GfK poll, which comes in the wake of President Barack Obama’s proposals in his 2016 budget to raise investment taxes on high-income American families, found overall that 56% of respondents think their own federal taxes are too steep.

It also found widespread support for specific tax-raising measures: A bid to raise capital gains taxes on households with incomes greater than $500,000 saw support at 56%, while only 16% opposed it. And a new tax on banks was supported by 47%, while only 13% opposed it.

The estate tax did not fare as well. Thirty-six percent opposed what would require estates to pay taxes on inherited assets, while 27% approved. Despite the poll’s apparent show of support for the President’s proposals, none are expected to win the support of the Republican-controlled Congress.

[AP]

MONEY Health Care

Obamacare Procrastinators Get Tax-Time Reprieve

healthcare.gov website
Don Ryan—AP

Americans have between March 15 and April 30 to enroll in a health plan and avoid paying a tax penalty.

The Obama administration said Friday it will allow a special health law enrollment period from March 15 to April 30 for consumers who realize while filling out their taxes that they owe a fee for not signing up for coverage last year.

The special enrollment period applies to people in the 37 states covered by the federal marketplace, though some state-run exchanges are also expected to follow suit.

People will have to attest that they first became aware of the tax penalty for lack of coverage when they filled out their taxes. They will still have to pay the fine, which for last year was $95 or 1% of their income, whichever was greater. This year, the penalty for not having insurance coverage is $325 per person or 2% of household income, whichever is greater. By signing up during the special enrollment period for 2015 they can avoid paying most of the tax penalty for this year.

The Affordable Care Act requires most Americans to have health insurance or pay a financial penalty. But some people may not realize they face a penalty for not having coverage until they file their tax returns ahead of the April 15 tax deadline.

The administration also said Friday it sent out the wrong information to 800,000 people to help them calculate whether they received too much of a subsidy for health coverage last year or too little. Those affected are being notified today by email or telephone—and are being asked to wait to file their taxes until after new 1095-A forms are sent in early March.

For the 5% of those affected who have already filed returns for 2014, more instructions are to come from the Treasury Department, officials said. The 800,000 represents about 20% of the total number of people who were sent 1095-A tax forms. Officials declined to say how the mistake occurred.

The administration would not estimate how many people it expects to take advantage of the new enrollment period. Millions of Americans who did not enroll in a plan are exempt from the requirement to buy coverage because their income is too little or they qualify for other exemptions. Officials said this special enrollment would be just for this year to account for people who did not hear or heed messages about the individual insurance mandate that was included in the health law approved by Congress in 2010.

So far, 11.4 million Americans have enrolled in private health insurance through Obamacare during the open enrollment period that ended on Sunday.

Separately, administration officials have said they will allow people who had trouble completing their enrollment by Feb. 15 to finish by Sunday Feb. 22. Officials estimated it would help fewer than 150,000 people.

Julie Appleby contributed to this story.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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