2020 Taxes: Your Simply Explained Tax Dictionary

Taxes, amiright? Can’t live with ‘em, can’t leave ‘em by the side of the road. Because that would be setting yourself up for identity theft. Is it even theft if you just left it there for anyone to find? Maybe more like identity gift.


With more complex tax regulations on the horizon, this is a great time to revisit the basics of taxes, so you have an understanding that puts you in control. When you have a foundation of knowledge, you’re better equipped to ensure your tax documents are correct, whether you submit them yourself or use a CPA or other third-party help. And while we are legally prevented from injecting more than the regulated fun limit, Kasasa’s always going to try.

So here we go. Your urban tax dictionary. Not licensed, sponsored, or approved by anyone. Hope it helps. (Seriously, we do hope it helps, though we should mention you should always consult a tax advisor, certified public accountant, or for the most up-to-date tax preparation advice.)


1040: Standard form used by U.S. taxpayers to file a personal return with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Work with your tax advisor to determine the right filing status for you. See Head of Household, Married, and Single, below.

1099: A type of “information return” that you will receive if you earned more than $10 in any of several categories that don’t count as wages, salaries, or tips. If you are an independent contractor or do a lot of freelance work, you’ll probably get some of these. 1099s come in the form of 1099-INT (interest income), 1099-DIV (dividend income), 1099-R (pension and IRA income), 1099-B (sales of stock), and 1099-S (sales of real estate).

401(k): Retirement savings account sponsored by an employer. Contributions to a 401(k) are made on a pre-tax basis, so you don’t pay taxes until money is withdrawn from the account.

Additional Child Tax Credit: If you have a kid and are eligible, you could get a deduction; some of it may even be refundable. This is the portion of your Child Tax Credit that is refundable. You may be able to claim this if your Child Tax Credit amount is greater than what you owe to the IRS.

Adjusted Gross Income: This number is your total, or gross, income minus any income adjustments to get the number your taxes will be calculated from. 

Amended Return: If you need to make any corrections to a tax return from a previous year (like if your filing status was incorrect), you’d file one of these.

Asset: Something of value that you own for which you expect to receive future benefits, such as a home or property.

Audit: Yes, it sounds scary, but it’s just when the IRS wants to take a closer look at your tax return to ensure that everything is accurate. The key to surviving this: Keep your receipts! See Receipts, below.

Capital Gain: When you profit from the sale of an investment or property (excluding your primary residence). The tax rate you pay depends on the gain and your income.

Capital Loss: When you sell an investment or property for less than the purchase price. You may be able to claim these losses depending on your income.

Charitable Donation: A gift that you (or a business) makes to a charity, non-profit, or foundation. You may be able to claim a deduction for these donations, but not every charity qualifies. Check the IRS site to see which charities fall under the IRS tax code for charitable organizations.

Child Tax Credit: If you have or had one or more children under age 17 or dependents living with you last year, you may be eligible for the Child Tax Credit.

Child and Dependent-Care Credit: If you had expenses related to the care of a dependent child under age 13 or other dependent, you may qualify to claim up to $3,000 for one or $6,000 for more than one child/dependent.

Deadline: Just a suggestion. (Just kidding, government!) April 15 every year unless it’s a weekend or holiday, and then it’s the next business day. This year’s deadline to submit your taxes is Wednesday, April 15th Wednesday, July 15th, thanks to an extension announced by the administration in an effort to bolster the economy at a critical time.

Deductions: Items or expenses subtracted from your total income to determine the amount of your income subject to be taxed.

Dependents: Someone (not the taxpayer) who allows the person paying taxes to claim dependent-related benefits. In order to be a dependent, the person must meet specific qualifications.

Depreciation: The gradual reduction in value of an asset over its lifetime. You may be able to list it as an expense on your return to decrease your amount of taxable income.

Distribution: Withdrawals from your retirement plan that may be subject to a tax penalty if you withdraw early. You’ll need to fill out a 1099-R if you took any distributions from your retirement plan.

Earned Income: Money you received for work you did, or from owning a business or farm. Certain non-wage benefits also qualify.

Earned Income Tax Credit: If your “Earned Income” (see above) is low to moderate, this benefit will reduce the tax you owe or increase your refund.

Energy Tax Credit: Certain home improvements or renewable energy solutions qualify you for this credit, but the rules are very specific, so it’s best to double check before you claim anything.

Extension: Too buried in paperwork to file your taxes? Fill out Form 4868 and the IRS will grant you a six-month extension. Watch out, you still have to pay “estimated taxes” by the April deadline.

FSA: Also known as a “Flexible Spending Account” — this is a special account that allows you to store money and pay for certain qualified health expenses without being charged taxes. Differs crucially from an HSA (see below); for example, contributions cannot be rolled over from year to year.

Filing: Simply submitting the relevant completed tax forms to the IRS, or state tax authority — either by U.S. Postal Service or electronically.

Gains: Increased value attributed to profit from the sale of an asset (i.e. capital gains) or other investment growth such as dividends and interest. All of these gains are taxed at different rates.

Gross Income: This is allllllll the money you made that year. Contrast with “net” which refers to the amount that remains after certain deductions or adjustments have been made.

HSA: Also known as a “Health Savings Account” — an account that allows you to store money and pay for qualified health expenses without being taxed on it. It is not available to everyone and has distinct advantages over an FSA (see above).

Head of Household: A distinction the IRS makes to identify the key person responsible for maintaining a dwelling with more than one person living in it. Carries certain benefits if applicable.

Indentured Servitude: The state of being legally obligated to hand over a portion of your hard-earned wages or labor to another entity, such those responsible for federal revenue collection, or your “cousin” Vinny the leg-breaker.

Interest: An “increase” assessed on a sum of money, based on a fixed or variable percentage. It can be good, like when you make money on your high interest checking balance (ahem Kasasa Cash!). Or it can be...less good, like earning interest on a loan, or in the case of the IRS, taxes you failed to pay on time (meaning the amount of money you owe increases until you pay it).

IRA: An IRA is an Individual Retirement Account that can be opened up by anyone, whether they're associated with an employer or not. There are two types of IRAs — a traditional and a Roth — which have a few differences, the main one being the time at which you’re taxed. You should receive a form 5498 if you contributed to your IRA the prior year.

Itemization, Itemized deductions: Deductions (see above) reduce your taxable income. There is a set amount that everyone receives, called the standard deduction. But if you think you have spent more than that, you can make a list of your expenses and claim that. This term refers to that list. Not sure which to file? Read more here.

Married: The ol’ ball in chain… err a classification for your filing status. This comes down to your marital status on the last day of the tax year; if you were married on the last day of the year, you were considered to be married for that entire tax year. In this case, you and your spouse can choose to file a joint return or file separately (see “Married Filing Separately”). For more details, review Filing Information from the IRS.

Married Filing Separately: An option you have when choosing how to file (if you’re married of course). In this case, you and your spouse would each file independent of one another on separate tax returns, making each person responsible for their individual tax liability only. See Filing Information from the IRS for more details.

Married with Children: TV show that ran on Fox Network from 1987–1997. As the name implies, this applies to people who are married… with children. Dependents (which children are considered) increase your chances of getting a decent refund back. So chalk this up as the ONLY time your children could actually help you make extra money.

Nanny Tax: What is this? Who would even need this? The nanny? The employer? Turns out, this applies to potentially any household employee you’ve employed. You may need to withhold (and possibly pay) state and federal taxes for household employees. For more details, see the Household Employer’s Tax Guide from the IRS.

Net Income: Your income after taxes, retirement contributions, and other deductions have been applied. Basically, the amount you take home after all the extra stuff has been pilfered accounted for from your earnings. This is different from (read: less than [sad face]) your gross income (see “Gross income” above).  

Out of Pocket: An expense that is paid for out of your own personal cash reserves. Examples include medical, travel, work-related, or other such expenses that aren’t covered by your insurance, employer, or anyone else at the time of payment.

Receipts: Save them! You need receipts for deductible expenses, such as unreimbursed medical expenses, charitable donations, job-search expenses, and qualified educator expenses.

Refund: Cha-ching coming your way! This is money that you overpaid to the government throughout the last year and is now owed back to you. Typically received via direct deposit to your account or a check that’s mailed to you. If you’re expecting a refund, you can check on the status of it here.

Retirement Account: Any account or money-saving vehicle that is utilized to set aside for your retirement, often including distinct tax advantages. The most common being Individual Retirement Accounts (see IRA for more details) and the 401(k) (see 401(k) for more details).

Return: The paper or digital form in which you submit your tax information to the IRS in order for them to assess your tax liability. (AKA the thing you fill out each year before the April deadline.) Often people use platforms like TurboTax and H&R Block or utilize a personal accountant to complete their return.

Single: Just another reminder of my relationship status. And also a filing classification in which the individual is considered unmarried and does not qualify for another filing status. How do you determine if you qualify as single? Chances are, if you’re single, you probably know it. But just in case: see Filing Information from the IRS for more details.

W-2: No, not an adorable Star Wars droid. If you’ve got a full-time job, this is the big document you need. It’s your annual salary information, as well as your tax withholdings from your paychecks, that your employer must provide to you by a certain deadline. You will use this information to fill out the “Income” portion of your tax return.

W-4: That form you fill out for your company that tells them how much to withhold from your paycheck for federal taxes. It takes into account your individual circumstances — things like your number of dependents, whether or not you’re head of household, and more. It helps ensure you don’t underpay, creating a large tax liability for yourself, or overpay throughout the course of the year.

Withholding: The amount of money that your employer withholds (or holds back) from your pay and applies toward the income taxes you owe the government throughout the year. If this is higher than what you owe for the year, you get money back! Everyone’s favorite number on their paycheck!


Tags: Taxes