If you're under 18, you may need to file a tax return even if your parents or someone else claims you as a dependent on their taxes. It all comes down to how much money you make. You'll have to prepare a return if you earn more than $6,100 at a job or $1,000 on investments or interest. However, if you earn less, you still should file a return if your employer paid federal taxes on your behalf, as you may qualify for a refund.
Dependent on Others
The Internal Revenue Service allows parents and guardians to claim an exemption on their taxes for the costs associated with providing financial support for dependents. You may qualify as a dependent if you live with a parent or guardian for more than half of the year and they provide more than half of your financial support. Your dependency status continues until you turn 19 -- or 24 if you go to school full-time.
It really doesn't matter how adults earn money, the IRS treats earned and unearned income -- investment income -- the same. However, as a minor, income from a job is treated differently than income generated by accounts that produce interest and dividends. If you get paid an hourly wage or salary, you've earned income in the eyes of the IRS and will pay taxes -- no matter your age -- if you reach $6,100 in earnings.
Some bank accounts and other investments, like bonds, pay you a percentage of your account balance in the form of interest. On the other hand, some companies pay dividends -- a piece of their earnings based on the number of shares of stock you own. If you own these types of accounts or stock, you'll have to file a return unless your parents report the unearned income on their tax returns. Typically, it makes more sense for you to do so, since your taxes likely will be lower.
Filling Your Taxes
If you determine you need to file taxes, complete Form 1040 or Form 1040EZ, a quicker, simpler version of the 1040 for taxpayers without dependents. Both come with an instruction booklet that gives you step-by-step instructions for filling out the forms. IRS.gov also provides printable forms and e-filing options. You’ll also use the W-2, sent to you by your employer. If necessary, reference any 1099-INTs and 1099-DIVs for your unearned income.
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