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

by W D Adkins ; Updated July 27, 2017

The Internal Revenue Service requires anyone who owes taxes to file a return. You get some tax breaks when when you turn 65, but your obligation to pay taxes don't go away. Sadly, there's no age limit on that.

Filing after 65

A taxpayer usually don't have to file if her gross income is less than the annual limit set by the IRS. Filing status determines which limit applies. 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. For instance, these were the thresholds if you were 65 or older in 2014:

  • Single filing status: $11,700
  • Married filing joint return, spouse under 65: $21,500
  • Married filing joint return, spouse is 65 or older: $22,700
  • Married filing separately: $3,950
  • Head of household: $14,600
  • Widow or widower: $17,550

Other Times You Must File

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.

Social Security and Taxes

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.

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 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income are deductible if you are 65 or older. The threshold increases to 10 percent in 2017.
  • 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.