How to file your taxes | Columbia County Sanctuary Movement CRM

How to file your taxes

Taxes are due April 15th, 2024

*CCSM cannot give tax or financial advice to individuals. We try to keep our site up-to-date with updates related to immigrants, however, we are not a tax preparation organization and may miss some updates to laws. Please consult a tax preparer for the most up-to-date information.

State and Federal taxes must be filed every year by anyone living in the United States who has earnings or other income that exceeds a certain amount.

Never send or submit expired documents to the IRS.

Beware of scams. If you are unsure of a source, contact CCSM so we can verify with you.


If you are ready to file your taxes, go to the "Where to Start" section.

For specific guidance on filing after receiving the Excluded Worker Fund or the Child Tax Credit, click here.


Here's a video from a tax workshop we did as part of the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition. It contains some, but not all, of the information presented below:


Table of Contents

Do I need to do my taxes?

What kind of income is taxable?

Where do I start?

I don't have a Social Security Number, can I still file taxes?

How can I file taxes if I don't have a Social Security Number?

What is an ITIN?

Working with a false Social Security Number

What if I have been working for many years but have not filed taxes before?

How long do I have to keep my records?

What if I don’t know my Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)?

I received the Excluded Worker Fund (EWF) or the Child Tax Credit last year. What should I do?

Do I have to file separate taxes for the State and Federal governments?

How can I save money on taxes?

Independent Contractor vs. Employee

What can I do if my employer is treating me as an independent contractor?

Contact information for the IRS


Do I need to do my taxes?

Yes, if not claimed as a dependent on someone else's tax form, you should do your taxes. Non-citizens are required to file taxes. If you are not claimed as a dependent, you are required to file taxes for yourself. With the exception of money earned from self-employment, very low-income people are not required to file a tax return if making under $12,000 a year.


What kind of income is taxable?

Most income is taxable, but needs-based public benefits such as vouchers or public assistance are not taxable. Income paid by cash is taxable. The Excluded Worker Fund and stimulus payments are subject to state and federal income tax (see the section on the Excluded Worker Fund here).


Where do I start? 

Please see the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) to access free tax preparation in your area. Some locations have tax assistance support in multiple languages; call beforehand to ensure they speak your language or contact CCSM for assistance in finding a tax preparer in your language. 

When doing your taxes, be sure to have a valid form of ID and your 1099 or W-2s nearby. 


Forms of ID include:

  • Passport (stand-alone document)
  • National identification card (must show photo, name, current address, date of birth, and expiration date)
  • U.S. driver's license
  • Civil birth certificate (required for dependents under 18 years of age)
  • Foreign driver's license 
  • U.S. state identification card
  • Foreign voter's registration card
  • U.S. military identification card
  • Foreign military identification card
  • Visa U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) photo identification
  • Medical records (dependents only - under 6)
  • School records (dependents only - under 14, under 18 if a student).


You can then upload your W-2s, 1099s, and other forms that demonstrate income. Find those forms by clicking here. A W-2 reports employees' annual wages and the amount of taxes withheld from their paychecks.

Full-time employees receive W-2 forms from their employers, while contractors can find the 1099 form on the IRS site. College students might get form 1098-T from their schools.  


Frequently Asked Questions


I don't have a Social Security Number (SSN), can I still file taxes? 

Immigrants regardless of their status can file using their Social Security Number or an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN).  By filing your taxes, not only are you complying with law, but you may be eligible for a tax refund and valuable tax credits, such as the Child Tax Credit. 

The IRS (Internal Revenue Service)’s job is to collect taxes to put into community needs like roads, schools, and fire safety. They are not an immigration enforcement agency. There is always a risk when putting your information on an official government document, but the IRS is prohibited from sharing your information with ICE or Immigration in the vast majority of circumstances. In fact,  filing taxes may help strengthen a future immigration case by demonstrating compliance with tax requirements, income history and maybe even physical presence in the United States.

Social Security Numbers never expire, regardless of if your work visa or work authorization expires. ITINs expire after 10 years, or after 3 years of not filing taxes, but as long as you renew your ITIN, you will always keep the same number.


How can I file taxes if I don't have a Social Security Number (SSN)? 

If you do not have a Social Security Number, you need an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number). If you have neither, you will need to apply for an ITIN first. You can learn more about how to apply for an ITIN on the IRS website, or with our ITIN guide. Apply early- it takes a few weeks for the government to send you back the ITIN Assignment letter.


What is an ITIN?

A Social Security Number is reserved for those authorized to work in the United States. An ITIN is for people who do not qualify for a SSN. An ITIN has 9 digits just like a Social Security Number, but it always starts with a “9”. It can also be used for dependents and spouses of the taxpayer.

Even if a dependent and/or spouse does not work, they can also be included in an application for an ITIN, and they can receive their own number.

Receiving an ITIN does not give:

  • Authorization to work in the U.S.
  • The right to claim certain credits
  • The right to Social Security benefits
  • A change of immigration status


An ITIN can be used for:

  • Opening an interest-bearing bank account
  • Obtaining a mortgage
  • Resolving an employment dispute


An ITIN will expire if a person fails to file a tax return for 3 consecutive years. It will also expire on a specific schedule, about every 10 years. The IRS will send a letter to everyone who must renew their ITIN.

If you have a pending ITIN application and received income from the Excluded Workers Fund, New York State will send you a temporary identification number to use on your state income taxes and forms. When you receive your ITIN, you must notify the state and use the ITIN on your tax return. You cannot use the temporary filing number on federal tax returns or other documents.

For more information about applying for an ITIN, visit our ITIN Guidance page.


Working with a false Social Security Number (SSN)

Many people work with a Social Security Number that does not belong to them or does not exist. The money earned under this SSN is reported to the IRS and the Social Security Administration. This can cause problems for the person for whom it belongs.

This can be fixed by:

  • Filing using your ITIN
  • The tax preparer then includes W-2 information with the wrong SSN
  • The IRS transfers the income from the SSN to your ITIN and reports the change to the Social Security Administration


What if I have been working for many years but have not filed taxes before? 

Every situation is different, but normally, we advise you to start with the last three years if you have records of how much you have earned. If it was paid in cash, you will probably owe the IRS and the State. There are penalties and interest, but there are many options for payment plans, or settlements for less than the full amount owed, or not paying. If you were paid as an employee with taxes taken out of your paycheck, you may be able to get a refund of a portion of what you paid.


How long do I have to keep my records?

Hold on to your tax records for 7 years. If you have the opportunity to apply for residency or citizenship, your tax records could help establish your proof of residency in the U.S.


What if I don’t know my Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)? 

If you cannot find your SSN, but you have one, contact the Social Security Administration here.

If you cannot find your ITIN, you will need to call the IRS ITIN Hotline at 1-800-908-9982. You will answer a series of questions to verify your identity and the IRS will provide you the number.You cannot file a federal tax return without a Social Security Number or ITIN.

All immigrants regardless of legal status can file their taxes using an ITIN, EIN (Employer Identification Number), or SSN.


I received the Excluded Worker Fund (EWF) or the Child Tax Credit last year. What should I do?

The Excluded Workers Fund 

The funds are subject to federal taxes. NY State is treating the benefits as the same as unemployment. You should have received a 1099-G from the NY Department of Labor at the address where you filed your EWF application. The information provided on this form must be included in your 2021 tax return. 

If you did not receive your 1099-G or disagree with any information on it, visit the DOL Customer Feedback Form. Select the option “I have an issue with my 1099-G tax form” and provide further details including your EWF Claim ID number. NYSDOL will review your inquiry and send you an amended 1099-G tax form or a letter of explanation.

State taxes are already withheld from the funds you received, but federal taxes were not. It is possible for a taxpayer to owe a little more in taxes for having received this money. If you can, try to save 10% of what you have received to use towards taxes. If not, don't worry. You may not owe more in taxes, and if you do owe, there are options if you can't pay the full amount.

Please go to the Department of Labor’s Excluded Worker Fund website for additional Questions and Answers about EWF and your taxes.


The Child Tax Credit

Previous years:

For 2021 only, the credit increased from $2,000 for each qualifying child to $3,000 for children between 6 and 17, and $3,600 for children who are 5 years old or younger. The rates returned to $2,000 for 2022.

Listed children must have a SSN. Parents may have an ITIN. 

Normally, a family must have taxable income (usually income from wages or their own work), but in 2021, people who received public benefits, or Social Security, or who have no income, may also qualify for this benefit. Therefore, many people who do not normally have to file a tax return may benefit from doing so for 2020 and 2021. For children who have an ITIN, not SSN, there is a $500 "other dependents" credit.


Do I have to file separate taxes for the state and federal governments?

You need to file separately for state and federal taxes, but if you use an e-file program, a lot of the information can be automatically copied for each.


How can I save money on my taxes?

Deductions are items you can subtract from your taxable income to lower the amount of taxes you owe. 

You might be able to make money back on some of the following deductions:

  • Child and dependent care tax credit
  • Student loan interest deduction
  • Earned income tax credit
  • Charitable donations deduction
  • Medical expenses deduction
  • Deduction for state and local taxes
  • Mortgage interest deduction
  • Self-employment expenses deduction

And more-- check with a qualified tax professional for what deductions you might be able to claim.

You can also make contributions to your Social Security and Medicare accounts automatically by filing taxes with your employer, or by filling out Form 1040 and Schedule SE to pay self-employment Social Security tax.


Independent Contractor vs. Employee  

The tax rights and responsibilities of employees are very different from those of self-employed individuals (also known as "independent contractors' '). 

Sometimes an employer (or " payer") may misclassify a worker as an independent contractor instead of an employee because he or she does not understand or wishes to avoid labor laws and tax responsibilities.

Misclassification is very common in these industries: Construction, Hospitality, Laborers, Handlers, Domestic workers, Retail, and small business employees. 

You are given a Form 1099-NEC (or a 1099-MISC for 2019 and earlier), which shows all or part of your income for the year, instead of a Form W-2.


What can I do if my employer is treating me as an independent contractor? 

Step #1: Make sure you should be classified as an employee and not an independent contractor. Ask the questions on the first page of this fact sheet or call the LSNY Helpline at (917) 661-4500.

Step #2: Ask your boss to pay you by check and to withhold your income taxes and FICA taxes. More importantly, ask for a W-2 form when it is time to file your taxes. If you are concerned about being fired, you should first talk to your co-workers or seek help from a labor or immigrant rights organization. Call The LSNY Helpline to get a referral to an appropriate group.

Step #3:If your boss refuses to give you a W-2 form, you can file a dispute with the IRS. You may require legal assistance to file your return. You can also ask the IRS to resolve the dispute by issuing a determination on your worker classification. Call an attorney before filing a payroll tax dispute on your own.


Contact information for the IRS

Click here to go to the official website for the IRS!

You may call 800-829-1040 with any Federal tax questions.