Many taxpayers tend to believe that their filing requirements are determined by their work designation -- that's only half true. Although retired people tend to pay less tax on average than ordinary taxpayers, that has more to do with a reduction in their income than their work status. A taxpayer's filing requirement, retired or otherwise, is mostly dependent upon their level of income, not their work status. Once you understand this, you can make a decision on whether you are required to file.
The filing requirements drop once taxpayers reach age 65. For example, for tax year 2012, taxpayers who are single and over 65 aren't required to file a tax return unless their gross income is at least $11,200. Compare that to the $9,750 limit for taxpayers who are under 65. Taxpayers who file married filing joint aren't required to file a return unless their income is at least $21,800 (both spouses), $20, 650 (one spouse), $13, 950 for head of household, and $16, 850 for qualifying widow(er). The income filing requirement for married filing separately remains $3,800 regardless of age or work status.
Social Security Income
Most Social Security beneficiaries are not taxed on their benefits. Whether or not your Social Security benefits are taxable depends mostly on how much income you earn in addition to your Social Security. You are responsible for paying tax on your Social Security benefits if you file a federal tax return as an individual and your total income is more than $25,000. If you file a joint return, you will have to pay taxes if you and your spouse have a total income of more than $32,000. However, the average Social Security recipient only receives between $12,000 to $20,000. You can complete the IRS worksheet in IRS Publication 915 to determine if you are required to file a return.
Retirement Plan Distributions
If you receive income from an IRA, 401(k) plan, or pension, that income is generally. You will generally receive a 1099R in the mail informing you of the total amount of your distribution. If you receive a pension or annuity payment before age 59 ½, you may be subject to an additional 10 percent tax on early distributions.
Don't confuse Social Security retirement benefits with Supplemental Security Income. Unlike Social Security retirement benefits, SSI is a welfare benefit intended to subsidize the basic needs of people with little to no income and is not taxable. If you receive SSI, you won't receive a 1099 in the mail and aren't required to file an income tax return.
Denise Caldwell is a finance writer who has been writing on taxation and finance since 2006. Her articles appear regularly on websites such as Gomestic.com and MoneyNing.com. She has taken what she learned while working at the IRS to provide readers with helpful tax and finance tips. Caldwell received a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Howard University.