IRS form 1040 with calculator

What is Tax Liability?

Taxes are a fact of life. If you work or have investments, you’ve probably heard the term tax liability. Your total tax liability is the money that you owe the U.S. government for income taxes, payable to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It’s different from sales tax in that it’s federal taxes on what you made, not state taxes on what you spent.

In this post, we will examine the issue of tax liability to help you understand what it means and what it doesn’t, should you decide to forego a tax preparation service this year and figure out your federal, state and local taxes on your own. 

Calculating Your Tax Liability and How Tax Liabilities Work

When you prepare your personal income tax return, you calculate your tax liability. If there is anything unpaid from prior years, that is added in, even if you have an installment plan with the IRS. See lines 37 and 38 of your IRS Form 1040 to find your tax liability. Line 37 is your total tax liability for that year, while line 38 is any penalty you incurred for late tax payments.

If you have already made payments to the IRS, the total will be on line 33. The difference between line 33 and line 24 will be on line 34 as an overpayment, which means you’ll get a refund, while line 37 as the tax liability you owe the IRS.

Your employer deducts a percentage of your wages in the form of payroll taxes based on the information you provided on your W-4 form at hiring. This is called withholding, and it’s sent directly to the IRS. Self-employed people or those who may have received an unexpected windfall may have made periodic estimated tax payments to the IRS throughout the year, so basically everyone who works pays taxes to the IRS over the course of the year.

When you file your federal income taxes each spring, you reconcile the amount you already paid the IRS with the amount you actually owe. You may have overpaid because you have several deductions to consider, or you may not have paid enough, meaning that you have an income tax liability.

What Factors Affect My Income Tax Liability?

Your income is the largest determinant of your taxes owed. The IRS calculates your taxes based on a percentage of your gross income, and the amount increases the more that you make.

But, the tax liability isn’t just the total money you’ve earned. Each filing individual is allowed to calculate deductions from their gross income, either a standard deduction or itemized that can include certain tax-exempt purchases or donations they made during the previous fiscal year. If you have a lot of deductions, your taxable income may be assessed at a lower bracket and therefore pay less income tax.

Tax Liability Includes Everything You Make

Tax liability isn’t just the amount of income taxes you owe. If you buy or sell property, you may be subject to a capital gains tax and pay taxes on your profit. And, if you invest in the stock market and receive dividends, you may also pay federal income tax on the profit from your investments.

An income tax deduction is different from a tax credit. Deductions deduct a certain amount from your taxable income and therefore reduce your tax liability. Tax credits, on the other hand, deduct the actual amount you owe the IRS. If you have a $1,000 tax credit, you can subtract $1,000 from your tax bill.

Key Takeaways

If you still have questions about your tax liability, TPI Group can help. We offer a full suite of tax preparation and financial accounting services that can help you minimize tax liability for both yourself and your business. Contact us today.