Using the right form is the important first step in filing your federal income tax return. The Internal Revenue Service offers three basic choices: 1040EZ, 1040A and 1040. EZ is the simplest, the "long form" 1040 the most complex, but which one you use depends on your filing status and your income. The IRS recommends that you use the simplest form for your situation.
You can use Form 1040EZ only if your taxable income is less than $100,000, you claim no dependents and you do not itemize any deductions. You and your spouse, if you file jointly, both must be under 65. You can't have taxable interest of more than $1,500 in addition to wages and salary, and you can't claim any credits or deductions for student loans, education expenses or retirement savings.
The 1040A also is limited to incomes under $100,000, but allows you to include capital gains distributions. You still can't itemize deductions, but can claim individual retirement account deductions and adjustments for student loans and other educational expenses. You also can claim certain credits for child and dependent care.
Long Form 1040
You must use the long Form 1040 if your income is over $100,000 and you want to itemize deductions for such things as mortgage interest. You also must use this form if you have self-employment income or sold property. You will get the most income deductions with this form but may have to complete or include other forms like a Schedule SE for self-employment or a1099-INT for interest.
Non-resident aliens who are required to file federal income taxes must use 1040NR. This is similar to the basic long-form 1040, but with specific sections dealing with non-resident aliens. There also is an EZ version for low-income alien filers.
Help With Forms
The IRS offers several options for free taxpayer assistance through its offices, the Internet or via 800 numbers, to answer questions about forms or preparation of returns. The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly are programs staffed by trained volunteers to help taxpayers with incomes under $50,000 or who are 60 years and older.
Bob Haring has been a news writer and editor for more than 50 years, mostly with the Associated Press and then as executive editor of the Tulsa, Okla. "World." Since retiring he has written freelance stories and a weekly computer security column. Haring holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri.