Income Threshold Required to File Federal Tax Return

by W D Adkins ; Updated July 27, 2017
Sometimes you can skip filing taxes and sometimes you can't.

The Internal Revenue Service sets several income thresholds for filing federal tax returns based on age, filing status and other factors. If you meet a threshold that applies to you, you must file a return. There’s no minimum to submit a return. In fact, the IRS accepts returns if you have no income at all. This actually makes sense because you may qualify for certain tax credits or need to document your income and tax situation. The specific dollar amounts used here are for 2014. Check with the IRS for updated figures.

For Typical Taxpayers

The IRS thresholds that apply to most taxpayers are for people who are not claimed as dependents. The threshold for a single taxpayer is $10,150. The amount increases to $11,700 at age 65. Couples filing a joint return hit their threshold at $20,300, plus another $1,200 for each spouse age 65 or older. When a person is married and files a separate return at any age, the limit is $3,950. A head of household has a threshold of $13,050 or $14,600 at age 65. Qualifying widows and widowers have to file when gross income tops $16,350 or $17,550 at 65. If you worked and had taxes withheld from your pay, you'll likely want to file even if you didn't make enough to make it mandatory. This is because you may be due a refund of the income taxes you've paid.

Dependent Taxpayers

For unmarried dependents, filing is required when they have $1,000 in unearned income or $6,200 in gross income. Add $1,550 to these figures if blind or age 65. When a single person is both age 65 and blind, add $3,100. For married dependents, the unearned income threshold is $1,000 in unearned income and $6,200 in gross income. However, married dependent taxpayers add only $1,200 if blind or age 65. If both blind and 65, they add $2,400.

Special Filing Thresholds

If you work for yourself, you must file a federal tax return when self-employment income reaches $400. Church employees have to file when earnings are $108.28. The IRS requires filing even when a person has zero income when you owe any special taxes such as alternative minimum tax or Social Security and Medicare taxes on tips. You also have to file if you received any distributions from a health savings account or advance premium payments via a health insurance marketplace. If you claimed tax credits or deductions that turned out to be in error, you must file and pay the money back.

Alien Filing Thresholds

Resident noncitizens working in the United States are subject to the same tax filing thresholds and rules as U.S. citizens. There are special requirements for nonresident aliens. A nonresident alien must send in a tax return if she has any income from a trade or business. If she works for wages, filing is required when gross income is $6,200 or more. Finally, when a nonresident alien works for a foreign-based employer and there is any tax liability not covered by this income source, she must file a U.S. tax return.

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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