Filing taxes is nobody’s idea of a good time. The process can be lengthy, confusing, financially straining, and even downright intimidating. However, while many people have tons of questions about tax filing, there’s one that’s not often asked: Do I even need to file a tax return? You may be one of the lucky few who can avoid the process entirely.
There are three factors that determine your filing requirement: age, income level, and filing status. Generally, if you earned less than a specified amount according to those three factors, you won’t have to file.
Tax Filing Income Limits
Below are tax filing income limits for the 2015 tax year for people who are not filing as dependents:
|Filing Status||Age as of 12/31/15||Minimum Income Requirement|
|65 or older||$11,850|
|Head of Household||Under 65||$13,250|
|65 or older||$14,800|
|Married Filing Jointly||Under 65 (both spouses)||$20,600|
|65 or older (one spouse)||$21,850|
|65 or older (both spouses)||$23,100|
|Married Filing Separately||Any age||$4,000|
|Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Children||Under 65||$16,600|
|65 or older||$17,850|
Filing status is the primary determining factor as to whether you must file taxes. Whether you file as single, head of household, married filing jointly vs. separately, or as a qualifying widower, the income requirements differ greatly.
Age is the other determining factor. If you are younger than 65, you’re required to file taxes at a lower total income than if you are 65 or older. For instance, a 50-year-old earner filing as head of household must file taxes if he or she earned $13,250 or more in 2015, whereas an earner who is 66 years old – also filing as head of household – does not need to file unless he or she earned $14,800 or more in 2015.
Keep in mind that age is a variant for all but one filing status: If you file as married filing separately, you must file if you earn at least $4,000, regardless of your age.
Do Dependents Need to File?
The IRS has separate rules for dependents, which are contingent upon whether the dependent is younger than 65, married, and/or blind. If the dependent is under 65 and not blind and receives any dividends, interest, or other “unearned” income and no earned income, he or she is required to file a tax return if the amount received in 2015 was $1,050 or more. The amount increases if the dependent is 65 or older or blind ($2,600 if either 65 or older or blind, or $4,150 if both 65 or older and blind).
If a dependent is under 65 and not blind, and has only earned income, he or she must file if the amount exceeds $6,300. The amount increases if the dependent is blind or older than 65 ($7,850 if 65 or older, or blind; or $9,400 if both 65 or older and blind). However, if a dependent receives both earned and unearned income, the filing requirement is determined by calculation (see Publication 929).
Should I File My Taxes Anyway?
Keep in mind that even if you meet the 2015 income restrictions for your age and filing status, there are several situations in which you are still required to file taxes:
- If you (or your spouse, if filing jointly) received HSA, Archer MSA, or Medicare Advantage MSA distributions
- If you earned self-employment income of $400 or more
- If you had wages of $108.28 or more from a church or qualified church-controlled organization that is exempt from employer Social Security and Medicare taxes
- If advance payments of the premium tax credit were made for you, your spouse, or a dependent who enrolled in coverage through the Marketplace
- If you owe any special taxes, including any of the following:
- Alternative minimum tax
- Additional tax on a qualified plan, such as an IRA or other retirement account
- Household employment taxes
- Social security and Medicare tax on tips you did not report to your employer or on wages you received from an employer who did not withhold these taxes
- Recapture of first-time home buyer credit (See the instructions for line 60b of Form 1040)
- Write-in taxes, including uncollected Social Security and Medicare or RRTA tax on tips you reported to your employer or on group-term life insurance and additional taxes on health savings accounts (See the instructions for line 62)
- Recapture taxes (See the instructions for lines 44, 60b, and 62)
In some instances, you may meet the income restrictions and legitimately not be required to file – but it might still be in your best interest to do so:
- If you had any federal income taxes withheld from your paycheck, you may qualify to get a portion back as a refund
- If you are eligible for refundable tax credits (which means that you can get a refund even if you don’t owe any taxes), such as the EITC, you must file your taxes to get these credits – refundable credits also include the American Opportunity Credit and the child tax credit
If you’re working and have taxes withheld from your paycheck, but consistently meet these income restrictions each year and have no tax liability, you should check with your employer’s human resources department to adjust your federal income tax withholding allowances on Form W-4.
It’s not uncommon for your tax situation to change – which could mean the difference between needing to file a return or not. If your circumstances have changed recently, check to see if you might be let off the tax hook altogether – it can save you plenty of time and aggravation. However, remember that it’s always in your best interest to file if you are eligible to receive any refundable tax credits.
Do you need to file taxes this year?