The requirement to file a federal income tax return is triggered when your income reaches a certain level, but it also depends on your filing status; that is, how old you are and whether you are married, single, widowed, a head of household, a dependent or self-employed. The income requirement for each of these statuses changes each year due to inflation, so review Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Publication 17 annually to determine the amount for the year you are filing.
Filing Status and Age
Your filing status depends on your family situation, whether you are single or married and whether you have children or other dependents. For the purposes of filing taxes, the IRS wants to know from most taxpayers what your family situation was on Dec. 31. In addition, the IRS gives you a slight break if you are 65 or older. Your income can be a little higher before you are required to file a tax return if you fall into that age category. For tax filing purposes, you are considered 65 one day before your 65th birthday.
For tax year 2012 filings, you needed to have income of $9,750 if you were single, younger than 65 and had no dependents. The amount was $12,500 if you were a head of household; that is, a single person with dependents. Married couples filing together needed to earn $19,500 before they were required to file. Those who are older than 65 have higher income requirements: $11,200 for singles, $13,950 for head of householders and $20,650 for married joint filers (one spouse over 65). If you are married and filing separately at any age, the income threshold is $3,800. Gross income includes all the income you receive in money, goods, property and services. Some of these forms of income may be exempt from taxes and don’t have to be included. Gross income also pertains to income made outside the United States.
Self-Employment and Church Employment
If you are a sole proprietor, independent contractor, member of a partnership or otherwise engaged in business, you are considered self-employed. Your requirement to file taxes is based on the same filing requirements for everyone else, but you must also file Schedule SE to calculate self-employment tax if you earned more than $400. If you are an employee of a church, which may be tax-exempt, you must file a tax return if your income exceeds $108.28.
Some dependents, such as children, who earn money from part-time jobs or investments, may have to file taxes, too, but the income requirements are much lower than most taxpayers.' Dependents are those who can be claimed on someone else’s taxes. For dependents younger than 65, you can file taxes, or have your income reported on someone else’s taxes. This applies if your earnings were more than $5,950 or your unearned income, such as interest on savings, was more than $950. For dependents older than 65, the requirements begin at $7,400 for earned income and $2,400 for unearned income. Consult a tax advisor to determine whether your scholarship or fellowship grant money is taxable.
If your income and filing status doesn’t require you to file a tax return, consider filing anyway. You may be entitled to get back money from the federal government. If you worked and had income tax withheld but didn’t earn enough to be required to file, you may get a full refund of all the federal income tax withheld. Your income level may also entitle you to the earned income tax credit, which generally means you get back money when you file. If you have children and very low income, you may qualify for additional tax credits, which, again, could trigger a refund. You could also qualify for a refundable credit for the prior year’s minimum tax, the health coverage tax credit, the Additional Child Credit, Health Coverage Tax Credit or the American Opportunity Credit. Check IRS Publication 17 for eligibility criteria.
Angela Ogunjimi has been a prize-winning writer and editor since 1994. She was a general assignment reporter at two newspapers and a business writer at two magazines. She writes on nutrition, obesity, diabetes and weight control for a project of the National Institutes of Health. Ogunjimi holds a master's degree in sociology from George Washington University and a bachelor's in journalism from New York University.