How to File Taxes for Inmates

by Angela M. Wheeland, studioD

If someone you love is serving time, that inmate is still responsible for paying taxes on any income she received during the year. Inmates typically don't earn income while they're locked up, but if they do, it's usually a fraction of the minimum wage. They can, however, receive income from other sources, such as wages they earned before entering the system and interest on bank accounts. Although most inmates won't earn enough income to be required to file taxes, if they earn more than $10,000 as of 2013, they have to file taxes. If that inmate is you, you can file taxes on your own or request assistance from prison officials.

Help From Outside the Jail

Step 1

Download Form 2848 from the Internal Revenue Service website. Form 2848 is the IRS power of attorney form, which gives you the right to handle the inmate's tax matters while she's incarcerated. Fill out the form and mail it to the inmate. Let the inmate know you need the form returned before April 15. If the inmate doesn't agree to give you power of attorney, you'll have to mail the forms and have the inmate sign the forms from behind bars.

Step 2

Download Form 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ and the corresponding instructions from the IRS website.

Step 3

Evaluate the inmate's previous living situation to determine whether she qualifies as a dependent. If the inmate is new to the system and lived in your home or another taxpayer's home, she might qualify as a dependent. She is a dependent if she lived in your home or another taxpayer's home for more than six months during the year and you or another person provided more than half her support. The inmate must also earn less than $6,100 or receive less than $1,000 in unearned income to qualify as a dependent.

Step 4

Check the box that corresponds with the inmate's filing status. If you or someone claimed her as a dependent, she can't file a joint return with another taxpayer or use the head of household filing status. The inmate will most likely file using the single filing status. Fill out the form using the inmate's W-2s and 1099s. An inmate can't claim the earned income credit unless she earned income before going to jail.

Step 5

Sign the inmate's name to the tax form and attach Form 2848, if applicable. Mail the tax forms to the IRS address listed on the form's instructions by April 15.

Completing Your Own Taxes From Inside

Step 1

Download Form 1040EZ, 1040A or 1040 and the matching instructions from the IRS website.

Step 2

Evaluate your previous living situation to determine whether you qualify as a dependent on another person's tax return. If you just entered the system and you lived in another taxpayer's home, you might qualify as a dependent. You are a dependent if you lived in another taxpayer's home for more than six months and received more than half your support from that person. If you meet these requirements and earned less than $6,100 or received less than $1,000 in unearned income, you probably qualify as someone's dependent. Contact the other taxpayer to find out whether he will claim you.

Step 3

Check the box that is appropriate for your filing status. If you will be claimed as a dependent on someone else's return, you can't claim head of household or married filing jointly. You'll have to use the single filing status. Fill out the forms using your 1099s or W-2s. Unless you earned money before you went to jail, you can't claim the earned income credit.

Step 4

Sign your tax return and mail the forms, including a copy of your W-2 or 1099 to the IRS address listed on your tax form's instructions. To avoid late fees and penalties, you must mail your forms by April 15.


  • If you are an inmate and don't have help from the outside, you can complete your taxes yourself or ask another prisoner for help. Most prisons offer some kind of tax assistance, such as access to an in-house legal or tax professional.

About the Author

Angela M. Wheeland specializes in topics related to taxation, technology, gaming and criminal law. She has contributed to several websites and serves as the lead content editor for a construction-related website. Wheeland holds an Associate of Arts in accounting and criminal justice. She has owned and operated her own income tax-preparation business since 2006.

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