Will you have to pay a tax penalty for not having health insurance? How much is the health insurance penalty? Will it be cheaper to go without health insurance and pay the penalty, or to buy health insurance?
One of the more controversial parts of the Affordable Care Act is the individual mandate which requires Americans to have health insurance. Although a small number of Americans are exempt from the requirement to have health insurance coverage, the rest of us face a penalty, the shared responsibility payment, if we're uninsured.
Each state has a Health Insurance Exchange to help people find insurance, and subsidies are available to help low income people afford health insurance. But, if you’re accustomed to going without insurance and don’t qualify for a subsidy, you have to squeeze this new expense out of your budget or pay the individual mandate penalty.
If you’re thinking about going without health insurance in hopes of saving money, the cost of the penalty will eat into your savings. Knowing the amount of your penalty can help you budget for it.
If you're trying to calculate the penalty for a family rather than an individual, learn how here.
Calculating the Health Insurance Penalty
First, take a look at the Individual Mandate Penalty Table below. Then, read on to learn how to use it correctly so you don't pay too much.
Individual Mandate Penalty Table
|Year 2014||Year 2015||Year 2016||After 2016|
|income based penalty||1% of income above filing threshold||2% of income above filing threshold||2.5% of income above filing threshold||2.5% of income above filing threshold|
|minimum penalty amount||$95||$325||$695||$695 + inflation adjustment|
The penalty you’ll pay is either a fixed minimum amount, or a percentage of your income. Using the table, calculate the penalty as a percentage of your income first. Then, compare that to the minimum health insurance penalty for that year. Your individual mandate penalty will be the larger of the two.
Tip: Don't pay the government too much. Only pay the health insurance penalty on the portion of your income that's above the filing threshold. Subtract the filing threshold from your income before you calculate the penalty. (You’ll see examples of this below.)
- Tip: The filing threshold is the amount of income that requires you to file a tax return. People with incomes below the filing threshold don’t have to file an income tax return; those with incomes above the threshold must file.
You can estimate the filing threshold using the 2014 filing threshold figures of $10,150 for single filers and $20,300 for married couples filing jointly. Or, you can get the actual filing threshold for the year in question from publication 501 at the IRS forms and publications page.
Situations That Might Decrease Your Penalty
- Couldn’t find affordable health insurance?
If you can't find health insurance that costs you less than 8% of your income, you may be exempt from the penalty. (The government can increase that 8% figure in the future if the cost of health insurance increases faster than average incomes increase.)
- Did you have health insurance for part of the year?
Only pay the penalty for the months you went without health insurance. For example, if you went without health insurance for seven months of the year, you would only pay seven-twelfths of the yearly health insurance penalty.
- Do you have a large penalty?
The penalty amount is capped at the national average cost of a bronze-tier health insurance plan for that year. This amount changes every year, so the IRS announces each year's new average figure several months before people start preparing their tax returns. For 2014, the amount is $204 per month or $2,448 per year.
Stan is a single 24 year old tax filer who made $45,000 in 2015 and was uninsured all year. Although his employer offered health insurance costing $280 per month, Stan felt he couldn't afford the $280 each month, so chose to go without insurance. We'll estimate using the 2014 filing threshold amount of $10,150, and the 2014 national average cost of a bronze-tier health plan of $2,448 per year, although Stan would use the 2015 amounts if they were available. Here are Stan’s estimated calculations:
$45,000 - $10,150 = $34,850
Stan’s income - filing threshold for single filers = portion of Stan’s income used to calculate the penalty.
$34,850 X 0.02 = $679
The portion of Stan’s income used to calculate the penalty X the penalty percentage for 2015 which is 2% or 0.02 = Stan’s percentage-of-income penalty.
Check the table. Compare the minimum penalty for 2015 with the percentage-of-income penalty you just calculated, and Stan’s individual mandate penalty will be the bigger of the two.
Since $697 is larger than the minimum health insurance penalty of $325 for 2015, Stan will have to pay a penalty of $697 when he files his taxes on April 15, 2016.
Stan's penalty is less than the national average cost of a bronze-tier health insurance plan, $2,448, so that penalty cap doesn't affect Stan's penalty amount. Stan’s employer offered health insurance that would have cost Stan less than 8% of his income, so Stan isn’t exempt from paying the penalty.
- Tip: If you can’t remember how to work with percentage calculations, here’s a percentage calculator.
Mary is a single 45 year old who was uninsured for eight months in 2016. The rest of 2016, she had health insurance. She earned $75,000. We'll use the 2014 filing threshold figure and the 2014 national average cost of a bronze-tier health plan to estimate Mary’s penalty, but Mary will use the 2016 figures when she prepares her taxes. Here are the calculations:
$75,000 - $10,150 = $64,850
Mary’s income in 2016 - filing threshold for single filers = portion of Mary’s income used to calculate the penalty.
$64,850 X 0.025 = $1,621.25
The portion of Mary’s income used to calculate the penalty X the penalty percentage for 2016 which is 2.5% or 0.025 = Mary’s percentage-of-income penalty.
Check the table and choose the larger of the two penalties. The minimum penalty for 2016 is $695. Since that's less than Mary’s percentage-of-income penalty of $1,621.25, Mary has to choose the larger percentage-of-income penalty.
(8/12) X $1,621.25= $1,080.83
Mary only has to pay eight-twelfths of the penalty ($1,080.83) since she was only uninsured for 8 months.
Make sure Mary doesn't pay too much. The penalty is capped at the national average cost of a bronze-tier health plan.. We'll estimate using the 2014 national average for a bronze-tier plan, $204 per month:
$204 X 8 months = $1,632.
Mary's penalty is capped at the national average cost of 8 months of bronze-tier health insurance. Since Mary's percentage-of-income penalty for 8 months, $1,080.83 is less than the 8-month cap of $1,632, the cap won't lower her penalty amount.
Mary will have to pay an individual mandate penalty of $1080.83 when she files her taxes.
If either Mary or Stan had calculated penalty amounts that were bigger than the national average cost of a bronze-tier health plan, their penalty would have maxed out at the national average cost of a bronze-tier health plan.
Congressional Research Service report: Individual Mandate and Related Information Requirements Under the PPACA