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10 Tax Tips for People Working and Living in Different States

businessman on executive jet
If that executive jet takes you to work in a different state from where you live, you may need to file taxes in both. Bob Thomas/Getty Images

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If your morning commute takes you from kitchen to couch, consider it a win. After all, what could be better than skipping roadway hassles and diving straight into your workday? It took years to convince your employer that you'd make an ideal telecommuter. Now you are enjoying the fruits of your labor, a perfect blend of working at home and traveling to consult with clients in other states.

It's all going according to plan — until tax time arrives. Suddenly, you're faced with paying taxes in your state of residence and the states in which you work. Or are you? The Internet of Everything is abuzz with questionable tax advice for people working in one state and living in another, including a few dubious suggestions that you're pretty sure could land you in hot water.

To make matters more complicated, the rules and regulations covering personal income tax vary from state to state. If you commute across state lines to get the job done, it can have specific and surprising consequences on your personal income taxes. These 10 tax tips can help you navigate the way.

10: Understand Residency, Nonresidency and Your State Taxes

If you're living and working in two different states, you'll need a firm understanding of key tax-related definitions. The distinctions between residency and non-residency — and, more importantly, how they affect your taxes — vary from state to state. You'll want to investigate the tax rules and regulations that apply to the states in which you live and work.

It may seem obvious, but it's worth mentioning that the state in which you reside is considered your state of residency. In general, you'll pay state taxes on all the personal income you earn in your home state (unless you live in a state without personal income taxation).

If you work in a state but don't live there, you are considered a nonresident of that state. So, who gets to tax you? It's a little complicated. It used to be that both states might try to take a bite of the apple, but in 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed such double taxation, and barred two states from taxing the same earnings. That means that if you live in Maryland but actually earn your money and pay taxes on it in Pennsylvania, Maryland can't tax you for that same income. Instead, the state has to issue a tax credit for the amount that you've paid to Pennsylvania [source: Wolf]. Essentially, the state where you actually work gets precedence, unless the two jurisdictions have an agreement to allow you to pay taxes where you live [source: Turque].

9: See If Reciprocity Applies

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have reciprocity agreements with neighboring states, which means that if you work in D.C. but live in Virginia, you don't have to pay taxes in DC or even file a return. All you've got to do is document your residency to your employer, so that he or she will withhold taxes for your home state, but not for the two states [source: Moreno].

In addition to the District, the states with reciprocity agreements with neighboring states are New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Arizona, and the District of Columbia. [source: Moreno].

In the remainder of the country, you may have to spend some time and money file a nonresident state tax return in both places, but you can take a tax credit for whatever amount of tax you may in the state where you work [source: Moreno].

Some states have an earned-dollar threshold that must be met; others have a time threshold. In Massachusetts, for example, nonresidents are required to file state taxes if the income they earn in the state exceeds $8,000 or reaches a certain portion of their overall income. In Kansas, nonresidents are subject to tax withholding from the first day they travel to the state for work [source: Massachusetts Department of Revenue].

8: Check to see if you're covered by the "First Day" Rule

A blast of chilled air finds its way into the jet bridge, offering a greeting as bracing as it is refreshing. You deplane and check emails on your smartphone while walking through the Denver International Airport. It may not look like you're clocked in, but you are mentally preparing for a business meeting. And even though you don't live in Colorado, today you'll be part of its workforce — if only for about 24 hours.

You may not realize it right now, but you'll soon join Coloradans in paying income tax, too. That's because Colorado, like nearly two dozen other states in America, operates under a "first day" rule. This means nonresident workers will owe Colorado state taxes even if their work there is temporary. Once you set foot on "first day" soil for work, you'll pay the price come April 15.

In addition to Colorado, there are "first day" personal income tax regulations in Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Vermont. If you travel for work, it's a good idea to brush up on state tax code or consult a knowledgeable tax professional [sources: Mobile Workforce Coalition, Povich].

7: Understand the State Waiting Period

There are great variations among states when it comes to requiring nonresidents to pay taxes. In addition to the "first day" rule, a tax regulation that requires temporary workers to pay taxes on income earned while in those states, some states have a waiting period. This waiting period allows nonresidents to earn income in the state for a specific period of time before subjecting that income to taxation.

For example, in some states, you can be a nonresident who works in-state for two to 60 days (it varies by state) before becoming liable for nonresident income tax. Alternatively, a handful of states — California, Idaho, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Wisconsin have earned income thresholds instead of waiting periods. Georgia has a combination, in which you must have taxes withheld if you've worked for more than 23 days or else made $5,000 or 5 percent or more of your total income in Georgia [sources: Mobile Workforce Coalition, Povich].

Arizona, Hawaii and Illinois don't take out tax at all if you're a visiting worker (Illinois begins that policy after tax year 2020 or in 2021) [source: Mobile Workforce Coalition]. There are other states in which personal income tax is not withheld for residents or nonresidents. Despite this lack of income tax, you may still need to file a tax return in those states if you live or temporarily work there.

6: Working in a Tax-free State Is Still Taxing

There are seven U.S. states that do not withhold income tax: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming [source: Mobile Workforce Coalition]. Two other states — New Hampshire and Tennessee — tax interest and dividend income, but not earnings [source: Dzombak].

Still, that doesn't mean you won't pay taxes on the income you earn while working in these nine states. If you work in one or more of these income tax-free states — but live in a state that does withhold income tax — you'll still need to pay taxes on the money you earned in the tax-free state. You'll claim these earnings on the tax return you file in your resident state. For example, Lois lives in New Mexico but earned an income of $25,000 while working in Texas. Lois won't owe any state income taxes in Texas, because Texas is one of the nine states in the U.S. that doesn't require its workers to pay personal income tax. However, because Lois lives in New Mexico — and New Mexico is a state that withholds personal income tax — she will need to report her Texas income on the taxes she files in New Mexico [source: Moreno].

5: State Income Tax Isn't the Same as Federal

When it comes to paying personal income tax, it's rarely as simple as "one and done." Especially for people who live in one state and work in another. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that if you file federal taxes, you've covered all the bases. State income taxes follow entirely different rules and regulations. What's more, these rules and regulations vary by state. People who live in one state and work in another could find themselves filing tax returns in multiple states. In fact, there are accounts of road warriors who work in as many as 20 or 30 states, each with different rules for reporting income for taxes [sources: Moreno, Povich].

This presents a significant record-keeping problem not only for workers, but also for the companies that employ them. As a result, some multi-state companies, as well as tax professionals, are turning to software developers for programs that can track interstate taxation among employees. However, the complexities — and ever-changing nature of the tax code — make it a monumental task.

For example, some regulations tax nonresident workers who enter the state for one day, which poses issues for workers who might do business on a smartphone during a lengthy layover or attend a conference at which work is discussed [source: Povich].

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