Which tax return form should you use?

Most people hate filling out tax forms almost as much as they hate forking over dough to Uncle Sam.

That's why you should use the simplest tax return you can, especially if you're still filling out your forms by hand. Watch "Free tax help".

But choose carefully. While all the personal income tax forms -- 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ -- are designed to get the appropriate amount of your money to the Internal Revenue Service, the differences in these returns could cost you if you're not paying attention.

The EZ is the shortest and simplest form, the 1040A is a bit more complex and the long 1040 is the most detailed and potentially difficult. But even though your tax life is simple and straightforward, it might be worth your while to investigate the other two forms. Why? Generally, the longer the form, the more opportunities for tax breaks.

How the EZ could cost you

Take the case of Joe P. Taxpayer. Joe finished college last year and got his first full-time job making $35,000. He's single, renting and has no investment income. A perfect 1040EZ filer, right? Sure, if you're Uncle Sam, because Joe will overpay his taxes by using the short form.

Why? The 1040EZ doesn't offer Joe some valuable tax breaks found on the other two returns.

Joe has a student loan. By filing the 1040A he can subtract from his income up to $2,500 interest he paid on that debt. He can't do that with the shortest form. Joe also started planning for his retirement by putting $3,000 into a traditional IRA. Because his new employer doesn't offer a company retirement plan, Joe's deductible IRA contribution can reduce his taxable income further, but only if he files the longer form.

By choosing the 1040A over the 1040EZ, suddenly Joe owes taxes on just $29,500 instead of on his full $35,000 salary. And he's dropped into a lower tax bracket -- the 15-percent one instead of the 25-percent tier -- even before he reduces his taxable income further by taking the personal exemption that every taxpayer is allowed and his standard deduction amount.

So the choice of the 1040A over the 1040EZ saved Joe a bundle. And there are even more tax-saving opportunities found on the long form 1040. They might not apply to Joe, but they could cut your tax bill -- if you take the time to look over each of the forms. Here are the basic guidelines for the three individual tax returns.

Form 1040EZ

The simplest IRS form is the Form 1040EZ. And when the IRS doubled the earning limit on filers who used it a couple of years ago, the EZ is now available to even more taxpayers. You can file the 1040EZ return if:
  • Your filing status is single or married filing jointly.
  • You're younger than 65; your spouse also must meet the age requirements if you file a joint return. If you or your spouse's 65th birthday is Jan. 1, then for filing purposes you are considered to have turned 65 last year and therefore cannot file this form.
  • You (or your spouse if filing jointly) were not legally blind during the last tax year.
  • You have no dependents.
  • Your interest income is less than $1,500.
  • Your income, or combined incomes for joint filers, is less than $100,000.





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