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Bankrate's 2009 Tax Guide
Tips & tools
A tax tip a day plus an array of tax tools, terms and training will help you through filing and beyond.
Daily tax tip
Who has to file taxes?

Believe it or not, some people make it through tax-filing season without any hassle. That's because the Internal Revenue Service doesn't require a return from them.

In this tax tip:

Unfortunately, most of us aren't that lucky. So just who has to file a tax return?

File a return
Three things must be considered when determining whether you have to file a return: your age, your filing status and your income. Generally, once you reach a certain income level, the law requires you to file. The amounts are adjusted annually for inflation.

For 2008 tax returns, individuals younger than age 65 must file if they make at least:

  • $8,950 as single filers.
  • $11,500 as head of household filers.
  • $17,900 as married couples filing jointly and both husband and wife are younger than 65.

The earnings threshold amounts go up a bit for older (65-plus) individuals:

  • $10,300 for single filers.
  • $12,850 for head of household filers.
  • $18,950 for married couples filing jointly where one spouse is age 65 or older.
  • $20,000 for married couples filing jointly where both partners are 65 or older.

The earnings target is the same -- $3,500 -- for married couples filing separately, regardless of age.

Special circumstances
Speaking of age, the IRS has a filing gift for you if your 65th birthday was Jan. 1.

In most situations, your age for tax purposes depends on how old you were on the last day of the year. But when it comes to determining whether you have to file a return, the IRS says if you turned 65 on New Year's Day 2009, you are considered to be 65 at the end of 2008. That one-day grace period allows you to use the higher income thresholds to determine whether you must file a return this year. And that means you can have earned hundreds more last year and still not have to send in a return this April.

There also are separate income thresholds for taxpayers who have special filing considerations.

In some cases, widows or widowers younger than 65 who care for a dependent child can make up to $14,400 and not have to file a return. Individuals age 65 and older in this situation can earn up to $15,450. In the year a husband or wife dies, the surviving spouse still files a joint return (married filing jointly status). Then, if caring for a dependent child, he or she can use this status (rather than head of household with its lower earning limits) for two subsequent years as long as he or she does not remarry.

-- Updated: Jan. 6, 2009
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