Do I Need to File Taxes If I Didn't Work?

by Craig Berman
Elderly couple going through tax paperwork at home.

The Internal Revenue Service doesn’t require you to file a tax return if your income falls below the minimum threshold it announces each year. That may seem like a good deal, since doing your taxes isn’t something most look forward to. However, you’re allowed to file a return even if you’re showing no income at all, and it may benefit you financially to do so.

Income and Filing Status

IRS filing requirements are determined by income and filing status. Income requirements change every year. As of the 2014 tax year, single taxpayers under 65 were required to file if they had a gross income of $10,150 or higher. Married couples filing jointly had a gross income threshold of $20,300, while married couples filing separately were forced to file with just $3,950. Anyone filing as head of household must do so if he earned at least $13,050. You’ll also need to file if you’re self-employed and earned more than $400.

Unemployment and Other Income

If you collected unemployment benefits while you weren’t working, you’ll likely have to file a return. The IRS treats unemployment insurance like wages, and your tax burden is the same as it would be if the money was being paid by an employer. You’ll receive a 1099-G at the end of the year that indicates how much you were paid and any taxes withheld. Filing a return allows you to get a refund on the withheld amount, or pay what you owe if you didn’t have taxes taken out. In addition, in some cases, you have to file a tax return even if none of your income came from a job. If you took an early distribution from an IRA or 401(k) plan, you may have to pay taxes on those funds. The same holds true if you sold your home.

When Credit is Due

Regardless of your income, you need to file a return to get any refund you’re entitled to. If you didn’t work but had federal taxes withheld from your pension benefits, filing a return could earn you a refund. In addition, you may be eligible for tax credits even without earned income, in which case filing a return likely gets you a refund. For example, the first-time homebuyer’s credit can be refunded with your return if you file.

When Not to Bother

If you have no income and don't qualify for any tax credits, it may not be worth your while to file a return. There's no legal obligation to file if you don't owe any money, and no need to prove to the IRS that you didn't receive any income. Moreover, you may have difficulty e-filing a return that indicates zero income without getting an error message.

Photo Credits

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