Is Your Income Below the Amount that Requires You to File a Tax Return?

Whether or not you need to file a tax return depends on your income for the year and filing status.

If you're a citizen or resident of the United States whether you must file a federal income tax return for the year depends on your filing status and gross income for the year. Gross income means your income from all sources whether in the form of money, goods, property, or services. However, you don't needs to count Social Security income unless your total income including Social Security exceeds certain levels. Nor need you include tax exempt income such as tax exempt retirement income. However, you do include all the profit you earned from selling your main home, even if all or part of it is exempt from tax.

Individuals

All adult individuals who are not claimed as dependents by someone else must file a return if their gross income for the year exceeds specified levels. These amounts are adjusted each year for inflation. For example, if you're single, you must file a return for 2016 if your gross income is at least $10,350; $11,900 if you are 65 or older. If you were married filing jointly, you have to file a return if your gross income is at least $20,700; $21,950 if one spouse was 65 or older, $23,200 if both spouses were 65 or older. Check the IRS website for current annual filing thresholds.

Children and Other Dependents

A child or other dependent must file an income tax return (2016) if his or her:

  • unearned income for the year was more than $1,050

  • earned income was more than $6,300, or

  • gross income (earned and unearned income) was more than the larger of $1,050 or earned income (up to $6,300) plus $350.

"Unearned income" means income earned from investments, such as interest or dividends. Earned income means income earned from working.

If a child’s only income is interest and dividends, and the child was under age 19 at the end of the year or was a full-time student under age 24 at the end of the year, and certain other conditions are met, a parent can elect to include the child’s income on the parent’s return. If this election is made, the child does not have to file a return.

Generally, a child is responsible for filing his or her own tax return and for paying any tax on the return. But if a dependent child who must file an income tax return cannot file it for any reason, such as age, then a parent, guardian, or other legally responsible person must file it for the child. If the child cannot sign the return, the parent or guardian must sign the child’s name followed by the words “By (your signature), parent for minor child.”

Self-Employed Individuals

The IRS really wants self-employed people to file tax returns, so the rules are stricter for them. If you're self-employed, you must file a return if your net earnings from self-employment are $400 or more.

When You Should File Even Though It's Not Required

Even if you do not have to file, you should file a federal income tax return to get money back from the IRS. This could be because you had federal income tax withheld or made estimated tax payments during the year or you qualify for a tax credit--for example, you qualify for the:
  • earned income credit
  • additional child tax credit
  • health coverage tax credit
  • refundable credit for prior year minimum tax
  • first-time homebuyer credit
  • American opportunity credit, or
  • adoption credit.

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