I'm currently filling out my Massachusetts tax return for 2016.

Background: When it comes to US federal income tax I'm a non-resident alien and I was at a university in Massachusetts on a J-1 visa for the academic year 2015/2016. I moved to Massachusetts in September 2015 and left the state in May 2016.

Now, I am really confused as to whether I am considered a non-resident or both a non-resident and part-year resident for the Massachusetts tax return. Let me quote page 3 of the instructions for form 1-NR/PY and outline my line of reasoning:

You are a full-year Resident if your legal residence (domicile) was in Massachusetts for the entire taxable year or if you maintained a permanent place of abode in Massachusetts and during the year spent more than 183 days, in the aggregate, in the state.

(Emphasis as in the document)

Ok, I was in Massachusetts for less than 183 days in 2016, so I'm not a resident.

You are a Nonresident if you are not a resident of Massachusetts as defined above but received Massachusetts source income (e.g. from a job in Massachusetts).

Ok, so I am definitely a non-resident.

You are a Part-Year Resident if, during the taxable year, you moved to Massachusetts or established a permanent place of abode here and became a resident, or you terminated your status as a Massachusetts resident to establish a residence outside the state.

Ok, so since I moved away in May 2016 and – by the definition of "resident" above – wasn't a resident before (neither in 2015 nor was I present in MA for 183 days or more in 2016 before I moved away), I am not a part-year resident.

Or am I? There seems to be some ambiguity involving the terms "resident" and "full-year resident" – sometimes they seem to mean the same, sometimes they don't. For instance, the checklist below the above definitions asks the following to find out whether one is a part-year resident:

Were you a Massachusetts resident for part of the 2016 tax year? [ ] Yes [ ] No

However, the only definition of resident is the one I quoted above. There, one finds the adjective "full-year" in front of the term "resident" and this adjective is explicitly not capitalized and not part of the emphasis. So, if I understand correctly it just serves to explain the term "resident" and thus full-year resident = resident = a person that was present in MA for at least 183 days. This interpretation is also supported by the definition of "non-resident" above and the latter clearly states that the opposite of "resident" is "non-resident" and one is always either a resident or a non-resident.

So, if resident = full-year resident, how could one be a resident for part of the year then? Do they mean people who were residents, i.e. present for more than 183 days but not for the entire year of 2016 in the sense that they moved away or moved to MA at some point during the year? I was going with this definition until I saw the following remark on page 2 of the instructions for Schedule HC (one of those schedules where I still don't know whether I have to fill them out or not):

Part-year residents are not required to file Schedule HC if they were residents of Massachusetts for less than three full months.

Wait, so one can also be a resident, in particular a part-year resident, if one stayed for less than 183 days? This seems to contradict the earlier definition of "resident". On the other hand, this new version is supported by the fact that, according to the instructions, one can be a non-resident and a part-year resident at the same time and since we established earlier that one is always either a (full-year) resident or a non-resident, it means that "part-year residents" and "(full-year) residents" are disjoint sets of people. This is further supported by the fact that there are separate forms for (full-year) residents and part-year resident.

Conclusion: Is "resident" in "part-year resident" to be understood in a more colloquial sense after all? That is, does it include everyone who had a "place of abode" in MA for any amount of time during the tax year? Or anyone who was a resident during the previous tax year? What is the exact definition of "part-year resident"?

I am really confused at this point and would greatly appreciate any help in clearing this up!

PS: It's probably obvious by now but I was in Massachusetts to study math, so logic issues tend to get to me. :)

  • 1
    You lived there part of the year, you're a part-year resident. I don't follow the issue. – Hart CO Apr 13 '17 at 18:46
  • This would have been my understanding before reading the instructions, as well. However, they define a resident to be someone who was present in MA for at least 183 days and part-year resident to be someone who arrived in/left MA at some point during the year and became/was a resident. So in this sense I'm not a part-year resident because I wasn't a resident before I left. – balu Apr 13 '17 at 18:56
  • No, they define a full-year resident as one who was there for at least 183 days. Resident is defined without the duration part: "legal residence (domicile) was in Massachusetts or if you maintained a permanent place of abode in Massachusetts" – Hart CO Apr 13 '17 at 18:58
  • 1
    The distinction they are drawing between 'full-year resident' and 'part-year resident' does not apply to you, as someone who lived there only part of the year. Someone who owns houses in both Massachusetts and Florida, and spends the 150 coldest days of the year in Florida and 215 days in Massachusetts cannot claim part-year resident status. – user4556274 Apr 13 '17 at 19:01
  • Thank you for all your comments! I just came across mass.gov/dor/businesses/help-and-resources/legal-library/tirs/… which supports your point of view and precisely defines the term "resident" in a general setting. – balu Apr 13 '17 at 19:13

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