Who needs to file a tax return

FS-2023-02, Jan. 2023

Taxpayers need to know their tax responsibilities, including if they're  required to file a tax return . Generally, most U.S. citizens and permanent residents who work in the United States need to file a tax return if they make more than a certain amount for the year.

Taxpayers may have to pay a penalty if they're required to file a return but fail to do so. If they willfully failed to file a return, they may also be subject to additional fines and possible criminal prosecution.

Factors that affect filing requirement

Publication 501, Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information, has all the details, but here are the things that affect whether an individual is required to file a tax return.

Gross income. Gross income means all income an individual received in the form of money, goods, property and services that aren't exempt from tax. This includes any income from sources outside the United States or from the sale of a main home, even if a taxpayer can exclude part or all of it.

Required filing threshold. Taxpayers will need to see if their gross income is over the required filing threshold. Filing statuses have different income thresholds, so taxpayers may need to consider their potential filing status as well.

Filing status is divided into five categories: single, head of household, married filing jointly, married filing separate and qualifying surviving spouse.

Tax Year 2022 Filing Thresholds by Filing Status

Filing Status Taxpayer age at the end of 2022 A taxpayer must file a return if their gross income was at least:
single under 65 $12,950
single 65 or older $14,700
head of household under 65 $19,400
head of household 65 or older $21,150
married filing jointly under 65 (both spouses) $25,900
married filing jointly 65 or older (one spouse) $27,300
married filing jointly 65 or older (both spouses) $28,700
married filing separately any age $5
qualifying surviving spouse under 65 $25,900
qualifying surviving spouse 65 or older $27,300

Self-employment status. Self-employed individuals are required to file an annual return and pay estimated tax quarterly if they had net earnings from self-employment of $400 or more.

Status as a dependent. A person who is claimed as a dependent may still have to file a return. It depends on their gross income, including:

  • Earned income. This includes salaries, wages, tips, professional fees and other amounts received as pay for work actually performed.
  • Unearned income. This is investment-type income and includes interest, dividends and capital gains, rents, royalties, etc. Distributions of interest, dividends, capital gains and other unearned income from a trust are also unearned income to a beneficiary of the trust.

A parent or guardian must file a tax return for dependents who are required to file but aren't able to file for themselves.

Potential benefits when taxpayers file a tax return

Get money back. In some cases, people may get money back when they file a tax return. For example, if their employer withheld taxes from their paycheck, they may be owed a refund when they file their taxes.

Avoid interest and penalties. Taxpayers can avoid interest and penalties by filing an accurate tax return on time and paying any tax they owe before the deadline. Even if they can't pay, they should file on time or request an extension to avoid some penalties.

Apply for financial aid. When applying for financial aid, students may need to provide tax account information from their or their parents' tax return. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool allows people completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to transfer their data easily and securely from their tax return to their FAFSA form.

Build Social Security benefits. Reporting income on a tax return is important for self-employed taxpayers because this information is used to calculate their Social Security benefit. Unreported income can lead to an incorrect calculation.

Get an accurate picture of their income. When taxpayers report all their income, they give lenders an accurate financial picture to determine the loan amounts and rates the taxpayer should be entitled to receive.

Get peace of mind. When taxpayers file an accurate tax return and pay their taxes on time, they know that they're doing the right thing to follow the law.

Some taxpayers should consider filing, even if they aren't required to

People may want to file even if they make less than the filing threshold, because they may get money back. This could apply to them if they:

  • Have had federal income tax withheld from their pay
  • Made estimated tax payments
  • Qualify to claim tax credits like:
    • Earned income tax credit
    • Child tax credit
    • American opportunity tax credit
    • Credit for federal tax on fuels
    • Premium tax credit
    • Health coverage tax credit
    • Credits for sick and family leave
    • Child and dependent care credit

Use the Interactive Tax Assistant to help determine the need to file

The Interactive Tax Assistant is a tool that provides answers to many common tax law questions based on an individual's specific circumstances. Based on user input, it can determine if they should file a tax return. It can also help them understand:

  • Their filing status
  • If they can claim a dependent
  • If the type of income they have is taxable
  • If they're eligible to claim a credit
  • If they can deduct expenses

The user's information is anonymous and only allows the assistant to answer the taxpayer's questions. The assistant will not share, store or use information in any other way, nor can it identify the individual using it. The system discards the information the user provides when they exit a topic.

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