Do I Need to File a Federal Tax Return?

Not everyone is required to file a federal tax return. Whether you need to file or not is dependent upon various factors.  Some factors include  age, filing status and income.

Minimum Income Requirements – If your income was below the minimum income for your filing status, you may not be required to file a return.  (However, as typical with tax law, there are exceptions to this rule.  See ‘exceptions’ below).  Following are the minimum income requirement thresholds based on filing status for the year 2016 (2017 information is not available at this time)

Filing Status

Age

Minimum Income

Single Under 65 $10,350
Single 65 or older 11,900
Married Filing Jointly Under 65 20,700
Married Filing Jointly One spouse is 65 or older 21,950
Married Filing Jointly Both spouses are 65 or older 23,200
Married Filing Separately Any age 4,050
Head of Household Under 65 13,350
Head of Household 65 or older 14,900
Qualifying Widow(er) with dependent child Under 65 16,650
Qualifying Widow(er) with dependent child 65 or older 17,900

Dependents – A dependent is required to file a return if any of the following is true:

  • unearned income was greater than $1,050.
  • earned income was greater than $6,300
  • gross income was more than the larger of:
    • $1,050
    • his/her earned income (up to $5,950) plus $350

 

If your dependent is 65 or older, the figures are:

  • unearned income was greater than $2,600 ($4,150 if 65 or older and blind)
  • earned income was greater than $7,850 ($9,400 if 65 or older and blind)
  • gross income was more than the larger of:
    • $2,600 ($4,150 if 65 or older and blind)
    • his/her earned income (up to $5,950) plus $1,900 ($3,450 if 65 or older and blind)

The IRS provides a table with the above information.

Exceptions

Even if you fall below the minimum income thresholds above, you may be required to file a tax return.  The most important reason is to request a refund if the tax withheld from your paycheck or the estimated federal tax payments you made exceed your tax liability.  The only way to receive a tax refund is to file a return.  Following are some additional exceptions:

  • Self-employment income – if you had net self-employment of $400 or more, you must file a return.
  • Unemployment Income – if you received unemployment income, you must file a return.
  • Health Savings Account or Medical Savings Account – if you received distributions from either of these types of accounts, you must file a tax return.
  • Premium tax credit – if you enrolled in health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace and received a premium tax credit, you are required to file a tax return. You will need form 1095-A Health Insurance Marketplace Statement before filing your return.
  • Earned Income Tax Credit – If you earned less than the amounts below, you may be entitled to the Earned Income Tax Credit.

 

If filing… Qualifying Children Claimed
Zero One Two Three or more
Single, Head of Household or Widowed $15,010 $39,617 $45,007 $48,340
Married Filing Jointly $20,600 $45,207 $50,597 $53,930

In addition, there are various credits for which you may qualify (education credits and child tax credit, for instance). You need to file a return in order to receive these credits.

If you are still uncertain if a federal tax return is required, use this IRS interactive tool.