How to file a Pennsylvania state tax return

The Liberty Bell, a Pennsylvania landmark, in close up with Philadelphia's city hall in the distance behind it.Image: The Liberty Bell, a Pennsylvania landmark, in close up with Philadelphia's city hall in the distance behind it.

In a Nutshell

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania 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 CPA Janet Murphy, senior product specialist with Credit Karma. It has been updated for the 2019 tax year.

Filing your state taxes can seem intimidating at first, especially if you’re not a tax whiz (and few people are).

Luckily, if you live in Pennsylvania, this task is a bit easier.

The commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a flat personal income tax rate of 3.07%, which means there’s no messing around with complicated tax tables or charts. Since you can claim only a handful of tax credits and deductions, you don’t need to wade through a holy-book-size mountain of text to figure out what you can claim. This can greatly simplify the filing process so you can get your Pennsylvania state tax returns done quickly, without a big hassle.

The basics of Pennsylvania state tax

The Keystone State has a use tax, inheritance tax, sales tax and a transfer tax on real estate, along with county-level property taxes and various other taxes. In addition, all full-time Pennsylvania residents non-residents or part-year residents who earned or received more than $33 in gross taxable income must file state income tax returns.

Taxing body

The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue is the taxing body for the commonwealth. Call the department at 1-717-787-8201 with questions about individual income taxes, and 1-888-728-2937 for 24-hour automated information about your tax account.

You can also get help from one of the department’s district offices around the state from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time Monday through Friday.

Filing and payment deadline

For 2019 state taxes, the state has extended the filing and payment deadline. Pennsylvania residents now have until July 15, 2020 to file their state returns and pay any state tax they owe. As with the federal deadline extension, Pennsylvania won’t charge interest or apply penalties to unpaid balances between April 15 and July 15, 2020.

While this year is a little different, generally you must file and pay your Pennsylvania state income tax each year by April 15. If that falls on a holiday or a weekend, you’ll get a brief reprieve since taxes will then be due the next business day.

Filing statuses

Pennsylvania has five filing statuses. Three statuses are the same as on federal tax returns — single, married filing jointly and married filing separately. The other two are:

  • Deceased: If you die during the tax year, the person who wraps up your final tax details will need to file this last return in your name – unless they are your surviving spouse, in which case they may be able to file a joint return if they meet certain qualifications.
  • Final return: If you move out of the commonwealth permanently, you’ll need to file one last Pennsylvania state tax return, unless you receive income from sources in the state in succeeding years.

Pennsylvania income tax rate

The commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a flat tax rate of 3.07%. There aren’t any tiers for different income levels, which means calculating your income tax owed can be as simple as multiplying your taxable income by 0.0307.

Learn about federal tax brackets and income tax rates

Pennsylvania deductions and credits to know

Resident credit

Let’s say you live in Pennsylvania but work in another state. If that state taxes the income you earn there, you could be able to claim the amount of that tax (or a portion of it) as a credit toward your Pennsylvania state taxes.

Tax forgiveness credit

If your income is low, you may qualify for a tax credit of up to 100% of your tax liability, depending on your income level, filing status and the number of dependents you have.

Unreimbursed employee expenses

If you have a lot of eligible work-related expenses that aren’t covered or reimbursed by your employer and you have documents of proof, you may be able to claim the expenses as a deduction on your state income taxes. For example, if you’re required to use your personal vehicle for work or your employer requires you to have a specific uniform and didn’t supply it or reimburse you, you can deduct those costs from your income.

529 plan contributions

If you saved for education expenses for yourself, your children or someone else in a 529 plan, you can deduct up to $15,000 for each beneficiary and ease your tax burden.

Health savings account contributions

If you have an HSA, you may be able to deduct contributions made to these accounts to the same extent that you can on your federal tax return. For 2018, that means you can contribute (and deduct from your federal and state taxes) up to $3,450 for individuals and $6,900 for families.

ABLE account contributions

If you’re disabled or want to help a friend or family member with disabilities, you may be able to  deduct up to $15,000 per year if you stow those funds in an eligible PA ABLE savings account. Any distributions, including earnings, from interest are also nontaxable, as long as the funds are used for qualifying expenses of the designated beneficiary.

How to file your Pennsylvania state tax

You have a few options for filing your state income tax returns.

First, you can go the old-school route by filling out a paper copy of Form PA-40, which you can download from the Department of Revenue’s website or request by calling 1-800-362-2050. If sending a payment, mail the payment, tax forms and any supporting documents by the deadline to this address: PA Department of Revenue, Payment Enclosed,1 Revenue Place, Harrisburg, PA 17129-0001

If you want to request a refund or don’t have a payment or refund, you’ll need to mail your documents to other addresses.

Second, qualifying taxpayers can use the following free services:

  • PA Free File allows qualifying taxpayers to file both federal and state taxes in one place.
  • Padirectfile allows you to file just your state tax return if you’ve already taken care of your federal tax return.

The department has a robust database of FAQs for general or specific questions and an Office of Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate to resolve any lingering concerns.

If you owe and can’t pay

If you owe taxes and can’t pay before the due date, don’t fret. The Department of Revenue allows you to set up a payment plan by calling its Collections Unit at 1-717-783-3000. However, you’ll incur a late payment penalty and interest on the amount due, which will continue to add up until you pay off the balance. You should pay as much as you’re able by the due date in order to minimize interest and penalties on the unpaid balance.

You can make your tax payments by check, money order, debit card or credit card. Fees will be charged for some payment options.

Tracking your Pennsylvania tax refund

You can check your refund status online on the “Where’s my Refund” page. You also can call:

  • The automated 1-888-728-2937 information line
  • The Taxpayer Service & Information Center at 1-717-787-8201
  • One of the district offices

Bottom line

Filing your state income tax shouldn’t be a huge chore. Thankfully, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania gives you options to DIY cheaply.

Here’s a quick pro tip: The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue processes returns in the order that they’re received. So, if you want to bump up the time to get your refund, file your taxes as early as possible. You’ll get it out of the way sooner, instead of fretting about it for months. After all, you’ve got better uses for your time and money.

A senior product specialist with Credit Karma, Janet Murphy is a CPA with more than a decade in the tax industry. She’s worked as a tax analyst, tax product development manager and tax accountant. She has accounting degrees and certifications from Clemson University and the U.S. Career Institute. You can find her on LinkedIn.

About the author: Lindsay VanSomeren is a freelance writer living in Kirkland, Washington. She has been a professional dogsled racer, a wildlife researcher, and a participant in the National Spelling Bee. She writes for websites such a… Read more.