For Nontraditional Families, The Tax Code Can Be Especially Confusing Tax Day falls three days later than usual this year, on April 18. Some families may need that extra time. Experts say changing family demographics are making filing taxes more complicated.

For Nontraditional Families, The Tax Code Can Be Especially Confusing

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Millions of people have a bit more than a week to finish their taxes. Most tax returns have grown more complicated for many American families. Much of the tax code was designed with old-style traditional families in mind, which makes tax time more complex for the increasing numbers of people whose families do not fit that mold. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Today about 40 percent of children are born to mothers who aren't married. But they aren't all single parents. A growing percentage of babies born out of wedlock have parents who live together. More families, in other words, don't fit the traditional structure of family - of two married parents and biological children. That is certainly the case for Trevor Franklin.

Hi, I'm Yuki.


NOGUCHI: Hi, nice to meet you, Trevor.

FRANKLIN: You, too.

NOGUCHI: Hi, guys.

Franklin lives in a small apartment in Washington, D.C. with his fiancee and four children aged 1 to 14 - not all of whom are his biological kids.

FRANKLIN: T.J. is mine. He's biological. Malik and Morgan are my step-kids.

NOGUCHI: His fiancee is on bed rest with a fifth child. Franklin, who works in a warehouse, says in the past he and his fiancee were able to file their taxes without issue. This year the IRS rejected both their returns. He says it could be because he and his fiancée aren't married, don't share a last name or because the kids have different fathers.

FRANKLIN: It is hard for a blended family when you're not, you know, married as of yet to try to claim taxes and get the money for supporting your kids over the year.

NOGUCHI: After getting an audit letter from the IRS, Franklin sought help at a tax clinic. And he and his fiancee plan to file their returns over again. This time they will divvy up the children. He will file for their child together. And she will claim hers instead of him claiming all of them as he had in the past.

How many hours have you spent on this?

FRANKLIN: That's about eight hours then probably like another two or three hours, so probably like 10, 12 hours altogether.

ELAINE MAAG: Taxes for families can be complicated because their lives are complicated, as well.

NOGUCHI: Elaine Maag is a researcher at the Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute. She says the stakes are often higher these days for lower-income families like Franklin's.

MAAG: It used to be that the majority of assistance for families was delivered through the traditional safety net - through welfare, through food stamps. That's changed. And now a substantial share of assistance is delivered through the tax code.

NOGUCHI: Tax benefits for people with children take a number of forms - through a simple exemption, a $1,000 child credit or, for unmarried parents, filing as a head of household. In addition, there is the earned income tax credit, which also increases with the number of dependents.

Alan Viard is a resident scholar who studies the tax system at the American Enterprise Institute. He says part of the problem is each tax benefit has different rules.

ALAN VIARD: So it's been a real challenge for Congress, for the IRS and for the taxpayers who claim these benefits to sort through the rules for claiming tax benefits for children.

NOGUCHI: Some of the tax code's benefits are tied to who financially supports the children. Some are linked to where the children live most of the time. Audit rates are higher for earned income tax benefits because they're more often filed incorrectly, Viard says.

VIARD: Those improper payments may not be any type of deliberate wrongdoing but simply reflect tax payers, you know, struggling to deal with a complicated set of rules.

NOGUCHI: There isn't an easy solution to the problem, he says. And with demographics continuing to shift away from traditional families, the complexity is only likely to grow. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.

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