Filing your return: Do I have to file?
If you're still under your parents' roof, for example,
you may be a financial asset to them, helping them to pocket some
more of their hard-earned money as they claim you as a dependent.
But if you're single, working full-time and don't own a house, unfortunately,
you may have to fork over some cash to Uncle Sam.
The first step is to determine if you must file a
return. Generally, the IRS expects a return from an individual based
upon these three factors:
- Your filing status.
- Your age.
- Your income.
There are five basic filing status choices: single, married filing
a joint return with your spouse, married but each of you filing
a separate return, head of household, or qualifying widow or widower.
The single designation also applies to divorced and legally separated
taxpayers. There are special filing rules for widows or widowers
who support a child.
Whatever filing status fits your situation, remember
that you select it based upon your status on Dec. 31 of the tax
year. If you were single on Dec. 31 and married on Jan. 1, for filing
purposes, the IRS considers you a single taxpayer.
Next, the IRS looks at your age. In most cases, any taxpayer who
has income must file a return.
But there are special considerations for children
younger than 14 who have investment income.
And individuals age 65 or older at the end of a tax
year are allowed to earn more income than younger taxpayers before
they have to file.
And speaking of income, we get to the main reason behind our tax
system. For filing purposes, the IRS considers your gross
income; that is, all income you received in the form of money (both
wages and self-employment payments), goods, property and services.
If you make over a certain level of gross income,
you will have to file a tax return. Just how much money it takes
to reach that filing-amount level is adjusted each year by the IRS.
The amounts also depend upon the age and filing status data outlined
Basically, married couples filing jointly can earn
more money than single filers before they have to filed a tax return.
Because each taxpayer is unique, you may find that
your filing situation doesn't fit easily into the standard categories
of who has to file. In that case, check out the IRS
FAQ page on filing requirements.
Filing when you don't have to
The good news after reading all of this: You only need to file one
federal income tax return for the year, regardless of how many
jobs you had, how many W-2 forms you received or how many states
you lived in during the year.
And even if you don't make enough money for the IRS
to demand a return, it sometimes pays to send one in.
This is the case for individuals who may be eligible
for certain tax credits that could mean money back from the IRS.
The same is true if you had a job, didn't meet the earnings filing
threshold, but your employer withheld payroll taxes.
The only way you can get the money, whether from credits
or overpaid withholding, is to file a tax return.