Do you have to file taxes? The answer depends on your age, income and filing status


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Tax season opens Jan. 29, 2019. That’s when the IRS starts accepting returns. Some people don’t need to file taxes every year. Those whose earnings don’t meet certain thresholds get a reprieve from filing.

You must consider three factors when determining whether you need to file a tax return: your age, your filing status and your income. Once you reach a certain income level, the law usually requires you to file taxes. The amounts are adjusted annually for inflation.

If your gross income for 2018 is above the thresholds for your age and filing status, you must file a federal tax return next year. See the table below.

Tax-filing earnings thresholds for 2019 taxes
Filing status Younger than 65 65 or older
Single $10,400 $11,950
Head of household $13,400 $14,950
Married filing jointly $20,800 (both spouses) $22,050 (one spouse)

$23,300 (both spouses)

Qualifying widow/widower with dependent child $16,750 $18,000
Married filing separately $4,050 $4,050

Affordable care act premium credit claim

If you got health care coverage as required by the Affordable Care Act, also known as ACA or Obamacare, you might need to file a return.

This is the case if you qualified for federal help in buying your health care coverage through the health insurance marketplace or exchange. If advance payments of the ACA premium tax credit were made for you, your spouse, or a dependent who obtained such marketplace medical coverage, that amount must be reported by filing a Form 1040 tax return and Form 8962, Premium Tax Credit.

This will ensure that you got the appropriate tax credit in advance. If you received too much premium help, you’ll have to repay it when you file your return. If you did not get enough, you can collect the extra when you file.

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IRS rules regarding your age

As the table above indicates, individuals younger than age 65 must file if they make certain amounts. The earnings threshold amounts go up a bit for individuals 65 and up.

Regardless of age, the earnings target is the same for married couples who file separate tax returns.

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 that if you turned 65 on New Year’s Day, you are considered to be 65 at the end of the previous tax year. The one-day grace period allows you to use the higher income thresholds to determine whether you must file a tax return.

Dependents and filing

The IRS also has different rules for dependents who earn money. Generally, a dependent must file a return and pay any taxes due. But the amounts that trigger the filing depend on the type of income — either earned and unearned.

  • Earned income. Generally characterized as a salary, wages or tips. It also includes taxable scholarships and fellowship grants.
  • Unearned income. Includes investment interest or dividends, capital gains, unemployment benefits and some trust distributions.

The amount of each type of income that triggers a young dependent’s filing requirement is adjusted each year for inflation and is calculated using a formula that factors in the annual standard deduction amount.

Older individuals and persons of any age who are blind also must make some extra calculations to determine whether they need to file a Form 1040.

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Self-employment earnings

Don’t forget about self-employment earnings, whether you’re a teenager running a neighborhood lawn service or an adult with a 10-person manufacturing operation. This money counts toward determining whether you have to file a return, regardless of whether it was your sole source of income or an occasional side job.

If your annual gross self-employment income is at least as much as the income level for your filing status, you have to send in a Form 1040 and Schedule C or Schedule C-EZ reporting your earnings.

You also must file a Schedule SE to pay self-employment tax if your net earnings from self-employment exceed $400.

When it pays to file

For those few who don’t legally have to file, it pays sometimes to send in a return anyway.

This is the case for individuals who don’t earn much but might be eligible for the earned income tax credit. This benefit is available to qualified individuals even if they owe no tax, meaning they would get money back from the federal government. Many people think the credit is available only to parents. It’s not. But the credit amount is greater for eligible low-wage taxpayers with children.

Plus, the IRS says that most individual taxpayers are due a tax refund. But those taxpayers must send in a Form 1040, Form 1040A or Form 1040EZ to get that cash.

You can check out the filing requirements section of IRS Publication 17 for more details.

The deadline for filing for the 2018 tax year is Tuesday, April 17, 2019. If you’re still not sure whether you must file a tax return, ask a tax professional, call the IRS at (800) 829-1040  or make an appointment at your nearest IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center.