How to File Your Taxes If You Received Unemployment Benefits in 2020

In 2020, at least 30 million Americans received unemployment benefits during the past year, with many of those recipients receiving benefits for the first time.

As tax season approaches, many of those Americans are facing the prospect of filing their income taxes, which will include their received unemployment benefits. Knowing how to do this correctly will help you avoid a lot of trouble with the IRS. Let’s take a look.

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In this article

    Do you owe taxes on unemployment benefits?

    Yes, unemployment checks are taxable income. If you received unemployment benefits in 2020, it counts as part of your income, and thus you will owe income taxes on that amount. Your benefits may even raise you into a higher income tax bracket, though you shouldn’t worry too much about getting into a higher tax bracket.

    Some workers received additional unemployment benefits in 2020 due to provisions in federal and state laws as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Those additional benefits are also taxable income. If you received extra unemployment in 2020, it also counts as part of your income, and you will owe income taxes on that, too.

    People who file for unemployment have the option to have income taxes withheld from their unemployment checks, and many do. If you elected to do this, you have little to worry about.

    What if you didn’t elect to have income taxes withheld from your unemployment checks? Don’t panic. Although you’ll see a higher tax bill this year, if you were employed during much of the year, you may simply see a reduced tax return or a very small tax bill when you file.

    [ More: What to Do With Your Tax Return ]

    How to file taxes after receiving unemployment benefits

    How can you figure out how much you owe after receiving unemployment benefits? The solution is to prepare your taxes for filing as early as possible so that you can estimate what your tax bill will be.

    If you received unemployment compensation, you should receive Form 1099-G from your state, showing the amount you were paid and any federal income tax you chose to have withheld.

    First, if you’re filing by using tax software or using a tax preparation service, it’s easy. The software package will ask you if you received unemployment benefits this year, and if you say yes, it will ask you for numbers directly from your 1099-G form. Your tax preparer will ask you for a copy of your 1099-G. In either case, this is easily handled.

    1. You’ll fill out Form 1040 (your main income tax form) as usual, following the provided instructions.
    2. You will also have to fill out Schedule 1, which provides details on additional income like your unemployment income.
    3. You simply enter your unemployment compensation on line 7 of Schedule 1, and you find that number on Box 1 of your 1099-G form that you received in the mail.
    4. Finish filling out Schedule 1.
    5. Then, when you finish filling out your 1040, you take the number on line 22 of Schedule 1 and put that number on line 10a of your 1040. Then, just finish filling out your 1040 as normal.

    What if you had tax withheld from your unemployment check?

    1. The amount of tax that has been withheld for you appears on box 4 on your 1099-G form.
    2. You simply put that number on line 25-b of your 1040 form, and continue filling out your 1040 as normal.

    If you have to pay state income taxes in your state, you’ll follow similar steps for your state income tax forms.

    [ Next: Can You Pick Up a Side Gig While On Unemployment? ]

    What to do if you owe taxes on unemployment benefits

    After going through these steps, you may find that you owe taxes to the IRS. If you do, don’t panic. You have options.

    However, not paying that tax bill is not one of those options. When facing a tax bill, it may be tempting to just not pay it at all. That would be a big financial mistake.

    You should make every effort to pay as much of your tax bill as possible. Not paying your tax bill means that you’ll immediately face additional penalties for late payment, as well as interest that accrues on your unpaid taxes. If you continue to not file your taxes, the IRS may seek legal remedy against you.

    Start saving as soon as possible

    If the bill isn’t too big, you may be able to simply save up enough money between now and the April 15 due date to pay the bill by then. The most efficient way of doing this is to set up a savings plan for yourself where you automatically put aside a small amount each week from your checking to your savings account.

    Talk to the IRS and set up a payment plan

    If the amount seems impossible for you to cover, contact the IRS directly. Despite its reputation, the IRS actually works with individual taxpayers who are having difficulty paying their taxes. It offers extensions, waive fees and sometimes even compromise in difficult situations.

    Start by calling the IRS at 1–800–829–1040. Try to avoid doing this too close to the filing deadline of April 15, as the IRS tends to get very busy around that date. Call as early as possible. Discuss your situation with them and ask what options are available.

    Take out a personal loan

    Another option to consider if you cannot pay your taxes in full is a personal loan. You may be able to borrow money from family or friends to pay your tax bill.

    Many family members and friends may be wary to lend money to you. This has nothing to do with them not trusting you or concerns about your character, but rather a fear of damaging your relationship with them. One option is to consider collateral for that loan. You give them an item of value to hold. If you repay the loan in the timeframe that you promised, they give the item back to you; otherwise, they keep the item.

    [Read More: How to Borrow Money in a Financial Emergency]

    We welcome your feedback on this article. Contact us at inquiries@thesimpledollar.com with comments or questions.

    Trent Hamm

    Founder & Columnist

    Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

    Reviewed by

    • Courtney Mihocik
      Courtney Mihocik
      Loans Editor

      Courtney Mihocik is an editor at The Simple Dollar who specializes in personal loans, student loans, auto loans, and debt consolidation loans. She is a former writer and contributing editor to Interest.com, PersonalLoans.org, and elsewhere.