To which (US) states should I send a tax return?
January 15, 2010 8:11 AM   Subscribe

To which of four states do I need to send a tax return this year?

The contenders:
  • Michigan: My "permanent address" is here, my driver's license is from here, and I vote here. But I only spent a few weeks in Michigan in 2009.
  • Massachusetts: I go to grad school and spent about 8 months here in 2009. I earned a bit of money from a part-time job and will receive a W-2 from it. I plan to leave the state when I graduate this May.
  • New York: I lived and worked here for about 2.5 months (in NYC, for city tax purposes). I'll get a W-2 from the employer.
  • California: I lived and worked here for about 1.5 months, for the same employer as in New York. I suspect I'll get a separate W-2, though (my pay stubs' cumulative pay started from zero when I moved from NY to CA).
I'm using Turbotax, but I don't know which states' forms to download. In the past, I've looked at Michigan's and Massachusetts' laws, determined that I was a domiciliary of Michigan, and just submitted my state return there. Is there an easy answer here?
posted by electric_counterpoint to Work & Money (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Each state has different rules about this stuff. For Mass. - don't know the specific rules, but usually just being in the state as a student does not trigger filing requirements (even if you work there too). BUT --- in order to get a refund of any of the taxes that were withheld, you need to file a return in each state.
posted by melissasaurus at 8:21 AM on January 15, 2010

IANA Tax Professional, but when I lived and worked in multiple states in the past, I filed in my domiciliary state, but I had to file a return with EACH of the states. Each state had a form called something like a "part time/non-resident" and for each state I had to file one of those. Those states then REFUNDED all the money that had been automatically deducted from my paycheck for state taxes, which I then paid to my domiciliary state -- which also had a form I filed for "income earned in other states" but I don't remember the name of that form.

I would start on Michigan's tax website looking for information for students or people living part-time out of state. That should help you decide if your main filing is in Michigan.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:21 AM on January 15, 2010

Given that you are dealing with at least six taxing jurisdictions (Michigan, MA, NYC, NYS, CA, and the federal government) I would not use Turbotax but rather retain the services of a qualified CPA. And by qualified CPA, I do not mean H&R Block.
posted by dfriedman at 8:24 AM on January 15, 2010

Easy answer: hire an accountant. I find that TurboTax does a poor job of reconciling multiple non-resident/part-year returns. In the end, I always break down and do it by hand when I have multiple states listed; TT is just too wonky for anything but the basics (in my opinion).

Slightly less easy answer: you're a 3L, and well capable of figuring this out yourself (as you have in the past). Time to look at those forms to see if you have to file in all four states. If you still want to roll the dice with TT, I'd check the results carefully.

Last year, I had a devil of a time with the stupid HC form as a part year MA resident; the program simply did not accept the fact that I only needed 6 months' coverage because I only lived there six months. Plus, I had moved up from NYC, which adds part-year residency in both the state and the City, so there's all sorts of prorating to do. I don't envy you.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:27 AM on January 15, 2010

Not legal/tax advice, etc.

Following up on my previous post (I think what I wrote was partially incorrect):

--fill out federal return
--figure out your home state (probably michigan if you haven't made any move to another state intended to be permanent)
--fill out returns for each of the states, leaving your home state last (use the non-resident form)
--Fill out home state return; there will likely be a line for a credit for taxes paid to other states (i.e. any taxes that aren't refunded by the other jurisdiction, and thus actually "paid" will be credited against the taxes you owe the home state -- at least this was the case for my bf who used to work in CT but lived in NYC)

you can use turbo tax, but not sure if it has all of these forms. all of it can be done on paper though with careful reading of instructions.
posted by melissasaurus at 8:31 AM on January 15, 2010

I would not use TurboTax for this. I got burned by TurboTax in 2008 because of the way they worded their questions--I moved within NYC, but their question was focused on my zip code. Answering the question correctly (No, I did not live in this zip code all year) kicked my return out as being a part-time resident of the city and state. Answering it incorrectly kicked it out since all the addresses included in the return did not have the same zip codes. I wound up not paying enough taxes since I filed as a part-time resident, getting audited, and having to pay additional taxes although luckily not penalties or fees, and I also got my filing fees refunded from TurboTax since it was clearly their software that caused the problem.

I can't even begin to imagine the problems your situation might cause with their software. Honestly, I'd do it by hand, if you're using the EZ forms.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:39 AM on January 15, 2010

I have done two states (one non-permanent resident, with the refund) and frankly it was a pain. I would not want to do four.

I think you're in CPA territory. Assuming you have all your W-2s, it might be a little cheaper if you get them done early rather than waiting until the peak of "tax season" in late March, early April.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:59 AM on January 15, 2010

Are your parents counting you as a dependent?
posted by decathecting at 12:08 PM on January 15, 2010

Yeah, it's complicated, but it's not impossible. No reason to pay for a CPA. If you are actually a 3L, as one of the previous comments stated....and, since your profile says you're in Cambridge, I'll make a wild guess that you're at should be able to figure it out. Since 3L is usually a laid back year, just spend some of your extra time doing your taxes. Or you could pay for a CPA, but think of all the beer that money could buy!
posted by melissasaurus at 1:41 PM on January 15, 2010

Michigan lawyer here. Michigan expects you to pay taxes on all your income, wherever earned, but it will be generous enough to give you a credit (may be partial, may be total) for taxes paid to other states.

For the other states, I do not try to comment.

I disagree with Melissa. Your situation is complicated and needs the attention of a CPA. I am a lawyer, and I think of myself as a smart guy. For my much simpler tax scenario, I pay a CPA to do my taxes.
posted by megatherium at 3:46 PM on January 15, 2010

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