How to file a Massachusetts state tax return

Boston Harbor was the site of the famous Boston Tea Party, which colonists staged to protest British taxation.Image: Boston Harbor was the site of the famous Boston Tea Party, which colonists staged to protest British taxation.

In a Nutshell

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Massachusetts has extended its filing and payment deadline for 2019 income taxes to July 15, 2020.  
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This article was fact-checked by our editors and a member of the Credit Karma product specialist team, led by Senior Manager of Operations Christina Taylor.

In school, you probably learned about the Boston Tea Party, which some residents of the then-colony of Massachusetts staged to protest British taxation.

But the commonwealth has come a long way since its Colonial days. Now if you live in the Bay State, you may have to pay income taxes to the commonwealth. The good news is that a flat tax rate and several state-level deductions and credits can help make the task easier.

What are the basics of Massachusetts state taxes?

Massachusetts charges several taxes, including a sales and use tax and estate tax. In addition, all full-time and part-year residents who earn more than $8,000 per year, as well as some nonresidents who earn income in the commonwealth, must file a Massachusetts state tax return.

If your earnings are lower than $8,000 and you want to claim any refundable credits, like the earned income tax credit, then you’ll need to file a state tax return.

Taxing body

The Massachusetts Department of Revenue, often referred to as the DOR, collects and manages state income tax in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

You can call the DOR’s tax help number at 1-617-887-6367 or 1-800-392-6089 (toll-free in Massachusetts) between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. EST Monday through Friday. You can also submit questions using an online contact form.

Filing and payment deadline

For 2019 state taxes, the commonwealth has extended the filing and payment deadline. Massachusetts residents now have until July 15, 2020 to file their state returns and pay any state tax they owe for the year.

You don’t need to do anything to get this extension. It’s automatic for all Massachusetts taxpayers.

While this year is a bit different, Tax Day in Massachusetts is usually the same day as the deadline for filing your federal income tax return — April 15. But if the 15th falls on a weekend or a holiday, the deadline for filing your Massachusetts state return is extended to the next business day.

Filing statuses

Massachusetts recognizes four of the five federal filing statuses for personal income tax returns: single, married filing jointly, married filing separately and head of household.

The commonwealth doesn’t offer the federal qualifying widow(er) status. So if you claim the qualifying widower status on your federal form, you probably qualify for the head-of-household status on your state tax return.

Massachusetts income tax rate

If you need to file a Massachusetts state tax return, you don’t have to worry about different tax brackets. The state has a flat tax rate of 5.05% on most classes of income. Massachusetts law will reduce the income tax rate incrementally when certain tax year revenue requirements are met until the rate reaches 5%.

Learn about federal income tax brackets

What are some Massachusetts deductions, exemptions and credits to know?

If you file a Massachusetts state tax return, you can claim a personal exemption, based on your filing status — regardless of whether you can claim a personal exemption on your federal return. This can help reduce the tax you owe.

Here are the personal exemption amounts for 2019.

  • $4,400 for single filers or those married filing separately
  • $6,800 for head of household
  • $8,800 for those married filing jointly
  • $1,000 for each dependent

Additionally, taxpayers who were 65 or older by Dec. 31, 2019, can claim an additional $700 for themselves and their spouses. Filers who are blind can take an additional $2,200 exemption for themselves and their spouses.

You may also be able to take the following exemptions:

  • Medical and dental expenses equal to the amount you took as an itemized deduction on your federal tax return
  • Total amount of fees you paid to a licensed adoption agency, regardless of whether you successfully completed the adoption

In addition, taxpayers can take certain deductions and credits if they qualify. Eligibility may be subject to caps and income limits.

Massachusetts state tax deductions

Massachusetts offers several state-level deductions. Deductions that you don’t have to itemize to take include the following:

  • Payments you (and your spouse, if filing jointly) made to Social Security, Medicare, railroad retirement, U.S. or Massachusetts retirement systems, as shown on your W-2 (limits apply)
  • Expenses related to caring for a child or disabled dependent or disabled spouse (deduction amount is limited)
  • If you rent your home, you may be able to deduct half of your rent for the year (up to a maximum limit)

Additionally, you may be able to itemize deductions on Schedule Y. Here are some of the deductions available for 2019.

  • Moving expenses
  • Contributions to a health savings account or medical savings account
  • Health insurance premiums if you’re self-employed
  • Interest on student loans
  • College tuition
  • Commuting costs if you have a weekly or monthly transit pass for certain types of public transportation and toll payments
  • Costs associated with donating certain organs, including travel, lodging and lost wages (up to a limit)
  • Certain gambling losses
  • Prepaid tuition or college savings program deduction

Massachusetts state tax credits

The state offers several tax credits to those who qualify, including the following:

  • Earned income tax credit: Like the federal EITC, the Massachusetts earned income credit is for people who have earned income less than a certain threshold. You must qualify for the federal credit in order to qualify for the state-level credit.
  • Limited income credit: Qualification for this credit and the amount you can receive is based on your Massachusetts adjusted gross income and filing status.
  • Credit for income tax paid to another jurisdiction: This credit can include situations such as taxes paid to another state. This credit doesn’t apply to city or local taxes.
  • Circuit breaker tax credit: For qualified taxpayers 65 or older who own or rent residential property in Massachusetts and use the property as their primary residence.

How can I file a Massachusetts state tax return?

You have multiple options for filing and paying your Massachusetts state income tax.

  • You can e-file and pay via the Massachusetts Department of Revenue’s MassTaxConnect. You’ll need to create an account.
  • If your income is less than $69,000 or less, you can e-file through one of the state’s FreeFile Alliance software providers.
  • You can mail a paper return. Download tax forms, including Form 1, the Massachusetts equivalent of the federal 1040 — through the Massachusetts DOR website.

Here’s where you can mail your paper return, relevant documents and any payment to.

  • If you used tax software and expect a refund: Massachusetts DOR, P.O. Box 7001, Boston, MA 02204.
  • If you used tax software and need to pay tax: Massachusetts DOR, P.O. Box 7002, Boston, MA 02204.
  • If you used a tax form from the DOR website or a DOR booklet and expect a refund: Massachusetts DOR, P.O. Box 7000, Boston, MA 02204.
  • If you used a tax form from the DOR website or a DOR booklet and need to pay tax: Massachusetts DOR, P.O. Box 7003, Boston, MA 02204. 

What if I owe and can’t pay?

If you can’t make your full tax payment by the annual deadline, you can set up a payment plan for up to 36 months at MassTaxConnect. Log in and choose “Request a Payment Plan” under the “I Want To” tab. However, paying your tax late may mean you face penalties and interest.

How can I track a Massachusetts tax refund?

Massachusetts offers a Where’s My Refund? tool to help you track your state refund online. You can also check your refund status by calling DOR’s automated service at 1-617-887-6367 or toll-free within Massachusetts at 1-800-392-6089.

Bottom line

Massachusetts residents have a long history of being proactive about taxes (and tax protests), so don’t wait until the last minute to file your Massachusetts state tax return. You can typically get your refund within six weeks if you file electronically. Paper returns can take up to 10 weeks to process.

Christina Taylor is senior manager of tax operations for Credit Karma. She has more than a dozen years of experience in tax, accounting and business operations. Christina founded her own accounting consultancy and managed it for more than six years. She codeveloped an online DIY tax-preparation product, serving as chief operating officer for seven years. She is the current treasurer of the National Association of Computerized Tax Processors and holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration/accounting from Baker College and an MBA from Meredith College. You can find her on LinkedIn.

About the author: Deb Hipp is a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. When she’s not writing about personal finance and news, she enjoys traveling to seas… Read more.