The state Franchise Tax Board (FTB) is now accepting 2018 state tax returns.
FTB encourages taxpayers to discuss individual tax situations with a professional tax preparer to help understand the impacts of federal tax law changes and relief after natural disasters.
Free filing help is available for many taxpayers with limited incomes, and is often available on military bases for service members. For a list of Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program locations throughout California, go to ftb.ca.gov and click on free filing assistance.
FTB also reminds taxpayers that unless a tax preparer is an attorney, CPA, or enrolled agent, the person must register with the California Tax Education Council (CTEC) and in accordance with state law.
Federal Tax Law Changes
The Federal H.R.1, Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will not affect how much Californians pay in state income tax for 2018 or the deductions that can be claimed on a state tax return, but it could make filing state tax returns more complicated for some people.
Taxpayers who take advantage of the new, higher standard deduction on their federal return will still be able to claim itemized deductions on their state return. Be sure to save supporting receipts and other documentation to support any state deductions claimed.
Taxpayers who did not adjust withholding during 2018 may notice a higher-than-expected federal tax bill. To prevent such a surprise in the future, immediately adjust withholding for tax year 2019. The IRS offers a handy withholding calculator to assist with planning.
State Tax Deduction for Losses From A Disaster
Disaster loss rules apply to victims in governor-declared or presidentially declared disaster areas, most notably in areas hit by wildfires. Taxpayers may claim a disaster loss in one of two ways: in the tax year that the disaster occurred, when filing a 2018 tax return this year; or in the tax year before the disaster occurred, by filing either an amended or original 2017 tax return. FTB can more quickly issue a refund for eligible losses claimed in the prior tax year.
Taxpayers claiming the disaster loss via e-file should follow the software instructions to enter disaster information. Paper filers should write the name of the disaster in red ink at the top of the state tax return to alert FTB to expedite the refund.
Upon request, FTB will also provide replacement state tax documents for free for those who lost them as a result of a disaster.
For a complete list of all disasters declared by the governor and additional information, visit ftb.ca.gov and search for Disaster Loss.
Expanded State Cash-Back Credit
This year, California’s expanded Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC) is estimated to be available to as many as three million families.
CalEITC is now available to those age 18 and over as long as they meet income limits and other requirements. Families earning $24,950 or less may be eligible for the credit if they have qualifying children. People earning $16,750 or less may be eligible if they do not have children.
CalEITC is refundable, meaning that taxpayers will receive cash back if the credit is greater than taxes owed. A family could receive hundreds or even thousands of dollars back between CalEITC and the companion federal EITC.
More details about CalEITC and the federal EITC are available at CalEITC4me.org.
The MyFTB service allows taxpayers to view their tax documents, check balances due, access tax calculators, send secure messages to FTB staff, and more.
FTB offers free electronic filing for state tax returns through CalFile, an easy-to-use tool available to more than 6.4 million taxpayers including CalEITC-eligible, self-employed individuals. CalFile allows taxpayers to file directly with FTB and provides instant confirmation. Taxpayers can find a list of other filing options at ftb.ca.gov.
Walk-in service is also available at five regional FTB field offices weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The field offices are in Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Diego, and Santa Ana.
Taxpayers can make payments using a debit card, check, cashier’s check, or money order. Payments are also accepted by MasterCard, Visa, American Express or Discover for a service fee of 2.3 percent.