Tax Basics

Wait A Minute… Do I Need to File a Tax Return?

January 1, 2015 : H&R Block

You may wonder – Do I have to file taxes? Determining whether or not you need to file a return can be complicated. In fact, having an income does not automatically mean you have to file a tax return. Read on to learn more…

Regular Employment

Here’s where it is simple. If you have regular employment – meaning you work for another person or business and receive a W-2 – and no one else can claim you on a federal tax return, you can use this chart to determine whether you need to file a return. Here’s how:

  1. Find your filing status and age bracket.
  2. If your gross income is below the number on the right, you are not required to file a tax return. If it is more than that number, you do need to.
Filing Thresholds for 2015
Filing Status Age Gross Income
Single Under age 65 $10,350
Single At least age 65 $11,900
Married Filing Jointly Both under age 65 $20,700
Married Filing Jointly One spouse at least age 65 $21,950
Married Filing Jointly Both at least age 65 $23,200
Qualifying Widow(er) Under age 65 $16,650
Qualifying Widow(er) At least age 65 $17,900
Head of Household Under age 65 $13,350
Head of Household At least age 65 $14,900
Married Filing Separately Any $4,050

Self-Employed

The rules are different if you work for yourself or if you work as a contractor (meaning you get a 1099 instead of a W-2). You must file a tax return if your net earnings from self-employment were $400 or more. So consider this: you may be 36 years old, single and make less than $9,000 per year in regular employment income, but if you have a side business that nets you more than $400, you will need to file a federal tax return.

You Owe the Government

Even if you don’t meet any of the income criteria, you may need to file if you owe a special recapture tax to the government. Among other things, that would include:

  • Repaying the homebuyer’s tax credit
  • Taxes on tips you didn’t report to your employer
  • Household employment taxes, such as for a nanny, although you may not need to file a full tax return

Tax-Favored Accounts

You will need to file a federal return if you received distributions from your Health Savings Account, Archer MSA (Medical Savings Account) or Medicare Advantage MSA. If you took an early distribution from a qualified retirement plan or made excess contributions, you may also need to file to pay this tax, but may not be required to file a full return.

Special Cases

You will also need to file if you had wages of $108.28 or more from a church or qualified religious organization that is exempt from payroll taxes.

Dependency

One of the most complicated issues to sort through when it comes to whether you need to file a return is the issue of dependency. Let’s say you are a college student and receive the majority of your financial support from your parents. Just because they claim you as a dependent on their tax return doesn’t mean you are automatically off the hook.

If you are under age 65, are not blind and are claimed as a dependent on another taxpayer’s return, you will need to file if:

  • Your unearned income (money from dividends or interest) is more than $1,050
  • Your earned income (like wages) is more than $6,300
  • Your gross income is more than the larger of 1) $1,050 or 2) earned income up to $6,300

The criteria is different if you are blind or over the age of 65.

If you meet any of the above criteria, you will need to file your own federal tax return. If your parents still claim you as a dependent when you file a return, it means you will not be able to claim your personal exemption. In 2016, the personal exemption is worth up to $4,050. The personal exemption reduces your income before taxes are applied. You will also need to take the dependent standard deduction instead of the standard deduction. In 2014, the dependent standard deduction is $1,000 or earned income plus $350, which ever is greater – up to $6,300.

Related: Help for determining who can be claimed as a dependent.

Hopefully this post answers the burning question: “Do I need to file a tax return”. You can check whether you need to file with the IRS, or you can make an appointment to talk with one of H&R Block’s tax professionals.

Editor’s Note: This post was updated on February 5, 2016, with 2015 filing thresholds.

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