To determine the minimum income threshold for paying taxes, you need to consider your filing status, age and, for dependents, your vision status and whether the payments you receive are considered earned or unearned income. You can use the IRS's eligibility tool to help you determine if you need to file a tax return or consult IRS Publication 501. Even if you're not currently required to file a tax return, understanding the various tax thresholds can help you prepare for future filings.
Tax Threshold for Single Filers
For single filers who aren't claimed as dependents and don't have dependents to claim themselves, the minimum income thresholds are relatively cut-and-dry. There's only an age-based difference to remain aware of. If you're a single filer under the age of 65, you don't have to pay taxes until you earn more than $12,200 during the tax year. For single filers age 65 or older, you can earn up to $13,850 before needing to file a tax return.
If you file as "head of household" (meaning you're not married but you can claim dependents and pay the majority of household expenses), you'll need to file taxes once you make more than $18,350 if you're under 65. If you're over 65 and qualify for "head of household" filing, you can make up to $20,000 in the tax year before you need to pay income tax.
Tax Threshold for Married Filers
For married filers, there are several different income thresholds based on your ages and how you and your spouse decide to file. If you file jointly and you're both under 65, you don't have to file a tax return until your annual gross income exceeds $24,400. If you file jointly and you're both over the age of 65, the minimum income requirement increases to $27,000. If only one of you is over 65, you need to file a tax return after making more than $25,700.
Virtually everyone whose filing status is "married and filing separately" needs to file a tax return. The minimum income threshold for this status is just $5, and it also applies to all dependent married filers whose spouses file under the "married and filing separately" status.
Dependents May Need to File, Too
The minimum income to pay taxes as a dependent varies based on the dependent's marital status, age, whether or not they are blind and whether the income is considered "earned" or "unearned." Both single and married dependents under the age of 65 who are not blind will need to file a tax return if unearned income (also called passive income, which includes Social Security payments, trust fund distributions, etc.) exceeds $1,100 for the tax year or your earned income exceeds $12,200.
Single dependents who are either blind or at least 65 years old don't need to file a tax return until they make at least $2,750 in unearned income; or $13,850 in earned income; or gross income is the larger of either $2,750 or your earned income up to $11,850 plus $2,000. Married dependents who meet the same criteria need to file if their unearned income is at least $2,400; or their earned income is at least $13,500; or their gross income is the larger of either $2,400 or their earned income up to $11,850 plus $1,650.
Single dependents both 65 or older and blind must file a tax return if their unearned income exceeds $4,400; or their earned income exceeds $15,500; or their gross income is the larger of either $4,400 or their earned income up to $11,850 plus $3,650. Married dependents who meet the same criteria if they made more than $3,700 in unearned income; or made more than $14,800 in earned income; or if their gross income was the larger of $3,700 or their earned income up to $11,850 plus $2,950.
Cathy has been writing about finance since 2014 and has been published on sites like The Nest, Bizfluent, Financial Independence Hub, and Credibly. She takes a particular interest in demystifying personal finance questions, like budgeting, tackling debt, and investing for the future.