Do People Over 65 Have to File an Income Tax Return?

by William Adkins ; Updated August 10, 2018

The Internal Revenue Service requires anyone who owes taxes to file a return as well as anyone who makes over a certain amount of earned income annually. Income tax after age 70 may decrease as your income decreases, but the requirement to pay taxes is still there. The way you file your return may change as you age, because your income sources will change.

No Tax Exemption for Age 65 and Over

While there is no age 65 tax credit, you will only have to file a return if your gross income is less than the annual limit set by the IRS. Filing status determines which limit applies, so the limits will be different if you're single rather than married. Of course, if you are due a refund because you had payroll taxes deducted or are entitled to a tax credit, you'll want to file anyway. The limit amounts change yearly because of inflation, and with the new tax law in effect for 2018, your age no longer matters.

Some Taxpayers Must File a Return Even If Below Income Requirements

You must file a tax return in some circumstances even if you don't meet the income threshold. If you're over 65 and take taxable distributions from a retirement account, such as a traditional IRA, you must file a return. Filing also is required if you received advance premium credit for health insurance bought via a Health Insurance Marketplace, or if you had self-employment income of $400 or more. You'll need to submit a return to the IRS when you owe alternative minimum tax or unpaid income tax, Social Security tax or Medicare tax.

For many over 65, Social Security benefits aren't taxable and don't count as income for tax filing purposes. However, if you have enough income from other sources, part of your Social Security benefits may be taxable and you will have to report the taxable portion to the IRS. To check if this rule applies to you, divide your annual Social Security benefit in half. Add the result to other income. If you file as single and the total tops $25,000, some Social Security benefits might be taxable. For couples filing jointly, the threshold is $34,000.

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2018 Filing Requirements

Beginning with the 2018 tax year, the filing requirements are simplified. If you're single and your earned income and adjusted gross income both exceed $12,000 (the standard deduction), you must file a tax return. This is true no matter how old you are. If you're married and file a joint tax return, and you live in the same house as your spouse, you must file that joint tax return if your combined earned income and AGI each exceed $24,000, regardless of age.

2017 Filing Requirements

For the 2017 tax year, which is unaffected by the new tax law, your age does change your filing requirements. For 2017 if you're 65 or older, you must file a return if your income exceeds the following amounts:

  • Single filing status: $11,950
  • Married filing joint return, spouse under 65: $22,050
  • Married filing joint return, spouse is 65 or older: $23,300
  • Married filing separately: $4,050
  • Head of household: $14,950
  • Widow or widower: $18,000

Other Times You Must File

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Some Ways to Cut Taxes

Seniors with limited incomes may qualify for the elderly or disabled tax credit. Here are some additional tax breaks people age 65 and older often qualify for:

  • Medical and dental costs: Qualified out-of-pocket medical expenses in excess of 10 percent of your adjusted gross income are deductible if you are 65 or older.
  • Tax-exempt profits from sale of a home: As long as you've lived in a home for two of the last five years, the first $500,000 in profit from sale of the property is tax-exempt for married couples filing a joint return. The exemption for singles is $250,000.
  • Roth IRA distributions: Unlike distributions from traditional IRAs, qualified withdrawals from a Roth IRA are tax free.

About the Author

Based in Atlanta, Georgia, W D Adkins has been writing professionally since 2008. He writes about business, personal finance and careers. Adkins holds master's degrees in history and sociology from Georgia State University. He became a member of the Society of Professional Journalists in 2009.

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