Form 1040: What You Need to Know

Form 1040: What You Need to Know
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You'll likely use IRS Form 1040 when it comes time to file your federal income tax return. This important tax form has changed a few times so the exact lines don't necessarily relate to the same information from one tax year to the next. There are several additional forms you may have to work with as well depending on your tax situation. A few taxpayers don't have to file a return at all.

This guide pertains to the 2021 Form 1040 that you'll file in tax season 2022. Learn all about the form so you feel better prepared for tax season.

1040 Tax Form Introduction

Form 1040 serves as the primary income tax form that most taxpayers use for federal income tax filing if they're U.S. permanent residents or citizens. There are various versions of the form.

Most nonresidents use a special version, Form 1040-NR. U.S. citizens and permanent residents age ​65 and older​ can file Form 1040-SR instead of the regular Form 1040. You'd use Form 1040-X if you need to amend a tax return to make corrections,

Although these forms have different names and are dedicated to certain taxpayers, they all serve the same purpose: They allow you to report all your income, gains and losses for the year and claim relevant deductions and credits that fit your situation. You'll know whether you owe money to the IRS or the IRS owes you a refund after you complete the form.

You can obtain the various 1040 forms and their detailed instructions from the IRS website, or you can use tax-filing software or a provider to make your work easier and automate some of the process. You must submit your 2021 Form 1040 and any additional forms and documents to the IRS by ​April 18, 2022​, although you can request a ​six month​ extension if you need it.

Although these forms have different names, the contents of the main forms for original income tax filing have the same purpose: They allow you to report all your income, gains and losses from the year then claim relevant deductions and credits that fit your situation.

Who Must File Form 1040?

Determining whether you have to file a tax return involves checking your gross income for the year and comparing it to the filing thresholds the IRS has set according to the tax year's standard deduction.

The standard deduction is a set amount you can deduct from your taxable income if you decide not to deal with itemized deductions. It's based on filing status. Gross income refers to the total amount of your income without subtracting anything for deductions or adjustments to income.

Depending on your age and filing status, you might have to file if you have gross income of as little as ​$5.​ This is the case for taxpayers who are married and who elect to file separate returns. A single taxpayer ​under 65​ must file with ​$12,550​ in gross income for the 2021 tax year (​$14,250​ if age ​65 or older​), while someone who qualifies as head of household would file when they earn ​$18,800​ (​$20,500​ if age ​65 or older​). Married couples filing jointly must file with gross incomes of ​$25,100​ if they're ​under 65​, ​$26,450​ if one of them is ​over 65​ or ​$27,800​ if both are ​65​. A qualifying widow or widower would file with ​$25,100​ in gross income if they're ​under 65​ or ​$26,450​ if they're ​at least 65​.

Some taxpayers have to file regardless of their income if they received certain advanced tax credits. The IRS has a questionnaire available on its website that you can fill out to get a clear answer as to whether you must file given your personal situation.

Understanding Form 1040 Contents

The 2021 Form 1040 is two pages of boxes where you can fill in various numbers, all of them clearly labeled. Some of the types of information you can expect to provide include:

  • Basic personal information​: The new Form 1040 starts out asking for your filing status for the year. It then requests the names, Social Security numbers and addresses of both parties filing the return if you're filing a joint married return. There's a question asking if you have completed any transactions with virtual currencies and another asking if you want to contribute ​$3​ toward the next presidential election campaign.
  • Standard deduction eligibility​: Form 1040 next asks questions about your dependency status and age and asks if you're blind to determine whether you qualify for the standard deduction. You'll tell the IRS later on the form if you want to take the standard deduction or itemize. The IRS provides a worksheet that can help you make that decision.
  • Dependents​: The IRS offers credits for qualified dependents that you support. Form 1040 asks you to list their names, relationship to you, and Social Security numbers. You must indicate whether you're claiming the child tax credit or the credit for other dependents for any of them.
  • Income​: ​Lines 1 through 11​ on the 2021 Form 1040 all deal with tallying up your income. There are boxes to enter income from your W-2 and 1099 forms. It asks about wages and tips, interest and dividend income, pensions, retirement account distributions, capital gains, Social Security benefits, business income and additional income you might get from real estate sales, gambling or unemployment payments.
  • Deductions​: There are lines for various deductions on Form 1040, and you might have to complete additional documents that make adjustments to your income for things like business expenses, retirement plan deductions, college tuition and student loan interest. There are instructions and worksheets for the various deductions in the guide provided by the IRS. Deductions directly reduce the income amount that the IRS uses to calculate taxes. You end up with your adjusted gross income (AGI) on ​line 11​ and your final taxable income on ​line 15​ of Form 1040.
  • Tax credits​: The second page of Form 1040 addresses various tax credits that directly reduce the taxes owed. Some of these include the child tax credit, earned income credit, recovery rebate credit and American opportunity credit. Determining the credit amount and eligibility often requires completing some supplemental forms and carrying the amount back over to Form 1040.
  • Tax liability or refund​: Report all the taxes you paid individually or had withheld from various types of earnings on the second page of Form 1040. The form uses this information along with your total tax due to determine whether you can expect a tax refund or you must make a payment. You can input bank account information to receive a direct deposit for your refund, and you can make tax payments online or by mail.

Common Form 1040 Supplements

You may come across many tax schedules and supplemental forms you have to fill out and include with your Form 1040 filing. Some of the most common ones include:

  • Schedule 1​: Use this to report additional income sources like business and unemployment, and to account for certain expenses you can deduct. penalties and deductions.
  • Schedule 2​: This addresses additional taxes owed, such as the self-employment tax, household employment taxes, alternative minimum tax and any excess credit you received for your health insurance premiums through the exchange.
  • Schedule 3​: Fill this out to report nonrefundable and refundable tax credits.
  • Schedule B​: Report the information on this form if you received taxable dividends or interest ​over $1,500​ or that fall under some certain IRS criteria.
  • Schedule C​: Sole proprietors use this form to input their income and expenses and determine their business's net profit.
  • Schedule D​: The information will go here if you've incurred any capital losses or gains during the tax year.
  • Schedule E​: This form handles supplemental income like rental, trust, royalty and partnership income.
  • Schedule SE​: You can determine your self-employment tax amount using this form.
  • Schedule 8812​: This handles the additional child tax credit if you're eligible.
  • Form 2441​: Use this to report child and dependent care expenses and account for taxable benefits, too.
  • Form 8962​: Use this form to reconcile the credit you're owed with the advanced tax credit you received if you bought health insurance coverage through the Exchange. You'll either get a refund or you'll have to pay back what you owe.
  • Schedule EIC​: This form requests information about qualifying children for whom you're receiving the earned income credit.

What You Need for Form 1040

Begin by gathering important information and documents for when you're ready to complete and file your return.

A lot of the information you'll need comes from various forms that you receive in the mail early in the year. You should receive Form W-2 from any employer for whom you worked during the year. You'll often receive 1099 forms for other income sources, such as 1099-NEC for independent contract work, 1099-INT for interest income and 1099-MISC for miscellaneous sources of income.

You'll need documentation handy for any deductions and credits you might claim. You should receive forms related to retirement accounts, student loans and tuition paid and have receipts for things like medical bills, child care costs, charity donations, business expenses and other potential deductions and credits. You should have the dates and amounts so you can account for any estimated payments you made to the IRS over the course of the year.

Completing Your 1040 Tax Return

Whether you have a professional tax preparer handle your taxes or you take the do-it-yourself approach, consider looking through the 1040 instructions first to better understand how your wages are taxed, what deductions and credits exist, which filing status you should use, what determines whether you need to file a tax return and how to use the various supplemental forms. You can also consult Publication 501 for more filing information. Doing this extra work will help you better understand the questions your tax preparer, tax filing software or tax forms ask you.

Each supplemental form includes instructions from the IRS and possibly some worksheets to make your calculations easier. The IRS offers line-by-line help for various forms if you're doing them by hand using the Free File Fillable Forms. Using tax software can make the process much easier if you're preparing your return yourself because these programs usually offer explanations with each question and ways to get support if you feel stuck.

Filing and Tracking Your Return

The IRS started accepting tax returns for filing on ​Jan. 24, 2022​. You can easily e-file your return and all its attached documents by using tax preparation software. E-filing helps speed up any tax refund you're expecting. The IRS notes that using this method usually gets your refund to you within ​21 days​ unless your return has an issue that slows the process down.

Otherwise, you can send in a paper copy of Form 1040 and supplemental documents by mail. The Form 1040 instructions include a chart that shows regions and mailing addresses. The addresses vary based on whether you're sending a money order or check for taxes owed and the state in which you reside. You might have to wait ​six weeks​ for a tax refund if you mail in your return.

You can use the "Where My Refund?" tool to track your refund's status regardless of how you file. The IRS says you should be able to start tracking a refund for an e-filed return within ​24 hours​, but it can take around ​one month​ for mailed-in returns.