Can I File My First Tax Return if I've Never Had a Job?

by Sarah Brumley
If you're self-employed and earn $400 or more, you're supposed to file a return.

You don't have to have a job to make money. If you're not on anyone's payroll and you make more than $400 a year through self-employment such as tutoring or blogging, you not only can file taxes, but you're supposed to -- or your parents are supposed to file on your behalf. When the income is reported, you owe employment taxes on it.

Employment Taxes Start With Your First Dollar Earned

If you're self-employed, you're supposed to file a tax return if you make $400 or more in net earnings during the calendar year. Net earnings represent the amount of money left over after you subtract your costs. If you sell a painting, for instance, you subtract the cost of the canvas and paint. You pay 15.3 percent in self-employment taxes -- the equivalent of Social Security and Medicare taxes for employees and employers -- on every dollar of your income.

Earnings Are Not Money From Mom

Earnings don't include your allowance or pay for mowing your own front lawn. The Internal Revenue Service considers payments for family chores as gifts, not income. Gifts are tax-exempt up to $14,000 a year. When you're mowing other people's lawns or baby-sitting a neighbor's child, the pay is income. You're supposed to report such earnings, even those paid in cash. You pay all your employment taxes unless someone outside your family pays you more than $1,800 during the year or $1,000 during a single quarter. In that case, the IRS says, you are that person's employee, and they pay half your employment taxes.

Earned and Unearned Income

Earnings also include payments that aren't cash -- for example, when someone gives you his old Beatles albums for painting his porch. You're supposed to estimate the dollar value of the albums for your tax return. Tax laws are complex. Figuring what taxes you need to pay is more complicated if you're a dependent and more than $1,000 of your income was "unearned," meaning investment income.

The Earned Income Tax Credit

You may have heard of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is a refundable tax credit for low-income individuals. However, if your parents can claim you as a dependent, whether or not they actually do, you aren't eligible. Still, it won't hurt to file a tax return, even if you aren't required to do so. The application form for financial aid from the Department of Education asks for information that appears on your tax return. You won't need to estimate your answers when you can refer to the real thing.

About the Author

Sarah Brumley has written extensively on business and health-industry topics since 1995. Her work has appeared in publications ranging from Funk & Wagnall's yearbooks to "Medical Economics," a magazine for physicians. She holds a master's degree in finance from New York University.

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