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Do I Need to File a Tax Return?

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Source: 401(K) 2012, Flickr.

Whether or not you are required to file a federal income tax return depends on several things:

  • your filing status,  
  • your age,
  • your income,
  • your dependency status, and
  • whether you meet a few other special requirements.

Consult the charts below to find out if you are required to file a tax return, then read on to find out why you may want to file a tax return even if you don’t have to.

Minimum Income Requirements to File a Federal Income Tax Return

The minimum income required to file or e-file a tax return for Tax Year 2013 depends on your income, age, and filing status. The minimum income levels for the various filing statuses are listed in the table below. If you earned below the minimum income for your filing status, you may not be required to file a Federal Tax Return. However, there are reasons why you may still want to file.

Filing StatusAgeMinimum Income Requirement
SingleUnder 65$10,000
65 or older$11,500
Head of HouseholdUnder 65$12,850
65 or older$14,350
Married Filing JointlyUnder 65 (both spouses)$20,000
65 or older (one spouse)$21,200
65 or older (both spouses)$22,400
Married Filing SeparatelyAny age$3,900
Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent ChildrenUnder 65$16,100
65 or older$17,300

Learn more about selecting a filing status.

Marriage StatusAgeMinimum   Income Requirement
SingleUnder   65 (and not blind)More   than $6,100 earned (or more than $1,000 unearned*)
65   or older OR blindMore   than $7,600 earned (or more than $2,500 unearned)
65   or older AND blindMore   than $9,100 earned (or more than $4,000 unearned)
Married**Under   65 (and not blind)More   than $6,100 earned (or more than $1,000 unearned)
65   or older OR blindMore   than $7,300 earned (or more than $2,200 unearned)
65   or older AND blindMore   than $8,500 earned (or more than $3,400 unearned)




Find out what income is taxable. Requirements for Dependents to File a Federal Income Tax Return

If you are claimed as a dependent on another person’s tax return, you may still be required to file an income tax return of your own. The requirements vary by marriage status and age. The minimum income requirements for dependents are listed in the table below.

* Income that you did not earned by working, such as investment income or gifts.

** You must file a return if your spouse files a separate return and itemizes deductions and your total income is $5 or more.

If you are Under Sixteen and This is Your First Time Filing a Tax Return

If you are under age 16 and you have never filed a tax return, you cannot e-file your first year.  You can prepare your return on, print it, and mail it to the IRS to file it.

You will be able to e-file your return the next year.

Special Cases that Require You to File a Tax Return

Regardless of your gross income, you are generally required to file an income tax return if any of the following are true:

  • You owe Alternative Minimum Tax
  • You owe household employment taxes
  • You owe additional taxes on a retirement plan (an individual retirement arrangement (IRA) or other tax-favored account) or health savings account
  • You must repay the 2008 Homebuyer Credit (or any other recapture taxes)
  • You owe Social Security and Medicare taxes on unreported tip income
  • You had net self-employment income of $400 or more
  • You earned $108.28 or more from a tax-exempt church or church-controlled organization
  • You received distributions from an MSA or Health Savings Account

You May Want to File a Tax Return… (Even if You Are Not Required To)

There are several reasons why you may want to file or e-file a tax return even if you do not meet the minimum income requirements:

  • If you had taxes withheld from your pay, you must file a tax return to receive a tax refund.
  • If you qualify, you must file a return to receive the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit.
  • If you are claiming education credits, you must file to be refunded the American Opportunity Credit.
  • If you have a qualifying child but owe no tax, you can file to be refunded the Additional Child Tax Credit.
  • If you qualify, you must file to claim the refundable Health Coverage Tax Credit.
  • If you adopted a qualifying child, you must file to claim the Adoption Tax Credit.
  • If you overpaid estimated tax or applied a prior year overpayment to this year, you must file to receive the refund.

Taxable Income vs. Non-Taxable Income

Whether or not you are required to file a tax return depends on the type(s) of income that you have. There are many kinds of taxable income, as well as many types of non-taxable income. Your gross income generally includes income from all sources, in whatever form it takes. Below are examples of taxable and non-taxable income you may need to consider.

Examples of Taxable Income

  • Wages and salaries
  • Tips and gratuities
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Canceled/forgiven debt
  • Self-employment income

Examples of Non-Taxable Income

  • Child support
  • Insurance proceeds (accident, casualty, health, life)
  • Meals and lodging for the convenience of employer
  • Veterans’ benefits
  • Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)

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