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Am I eligible for a tax refund even with no taxable income?

Yes, potentially. Even if the taxpayer does not have any taxable income, the taxpayer may still qualify for certain refundable tax credits. It is important to understand that refundable tax credits aren’t limited by the taxpayers taxable income.

As you can see in the example below, since the taxpayer had taxable income of $0, he/she would only be eligible for refundable tax credits.

Nonrefundable tax credits can only be applied to reduce a taxpayers tax liability to zero. Nonrefundable tax credits cannot result in a tax refund. So if the taxpayer has $0 of taxable income, he/she would not qualify for nonrefundable tax credits.

The visual below lists out common refundable tax credits that a taxpayer with no income might be eligible for. This would include the W-2 withholding credit, child tax credit, earned income credit, excess social security paid credit, and the american opportunity credit (this is not a full list of refundable credits.


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  • What is a refundable tax credit?

    A refundable tax credit is one of the two types of personal tax credits that individual taxpayers can qualify for. A refundable tax credit means that a taxpayer can get a refund, even if it is more than the taxpayers tax liability. As you can see in the example below, the taxpayers tax liability is $100, but a refundable tax credit of $150 would result in a tax refund of $50. A nonrefundable tax credit is different because the taxpayer only receives credit up to the amount of tax that they owe. In the example above, even though the taxpayer has tax credits of $150, they can only take $100 worth of credits because their tax liability is $100. Therefore, they would not have a refund or any taxes due. Below is a list of common refundable and nonrefundable personal tax credits:

  • What is a nonrefundable tax credit?

    A nonrefundable tax credit is one of the two types of personal tax credits that individual taxpayers can qualify for. A nonrefundable tax credit means you get a refund only up to the amount you owe. As you can see in the example below, even though the taxpayer has applicable credits of $150, their taxable income is only $100, so the amount of nonrefundable tax credits applicable would be $100. Refundable tax credits can result in a refund because the taxpayer can receive credit in excess of their tax liability. Common nonrefundable credits include the foreign tax credit, retirement savings credit, elderly & permanently disabled tax credit, lifetime learning credit, adoption credit, general business credit, etc. The visual below lists out a majority of the refundable and nonrefundable credits.