The Internal Revenue Service requires you to file a tax return in order to claim a refund or pay tax deficiencies on certain income. Otherwise, you might not be required to file. Other than certain special situations, the IRS bases requirements primarily on your gross income and filing status. Your age can also play a factor in filing requirements.
Gross Income Test
If your gross income does not exceed a certain level, you do not have to file. Although limits change periodically, for 2011, single filers were not required to file if gross income was less than $9,500, or $10,950 if over age 65. Married taxpayers filing separate returns had a $3,700 threshold, regardless of age. On a joint return, if both spouses were younger than 65, the limit was $19,000; if one was at least 65, the limit increased to $20,150, and if both were at least 65, the limit was $21,300. Head-of-household status had a limit of $12,200 for those under 65 and $13,650 for those aged 65 and up. Qualifying widows or widowers had a limit of $15,300 if under 65 and $16,450 if 65 or older.
Exceptions to Income Test
If you were employed by a religious organization that claimed exemption from the employer portion of Medicare and Social Security taxes, you had to file a 2011 return if your wages totaled at least $108.28. Self-employment income of $400 or more also required a return. Your dependents may have to file their own returns even if their gross income does not surpass the filing limits. For the 2011 tax year, the limit was $5,800 in earned income or $950 in unearned income, which includes revenue from passive activities such as dividend payments. Higher limits applied if your dependent was over the age of 65 or blind, increasing to $2,400 for unearned income and $7,250 for wages.
Exception for Children
If a child is 18 years of age or younger, or was under the age of 24 and a full-time student, the parents may choose to include the child’s income on their own return. To qualify, the child cannot have any income other than dividend and interest payments. If the parents choose to include the child’s income with their own, the child does not need to file his own return.
Even if you are not required to file based on your gross income, there are special situations that require you to submit a tax return. If you owe household employment taxes, the alternative minimum tax or additional taxes on an IRA, health savings account or Coverdell education savings account, you must submit a return. If you owe Medicare or Social Security taxes on wages or tips not reported to your employer, or if you reported them but your employer did not collect the taxes, you must file. Certain recaptures, such as those involving credits for first-time homebuyers, require you to file a return.
Jeffrey Joyner has had numerous articles published on the Internet covering a wide range of topics. He studied electrical engineering after a tour of duty in the military, then became a freelance computer programmer for several years before settling on a career as a writer.