Do I Have to File a Tax Return?

Should I file a return?

Should I file taxes, or do I have to file a return? How much do I have to make?

If you're looking for the answer to whether you must or should file a Tax Return in any given year, you're in the right place! The very basic and general answer is this. As a filing single or married filing separate person, if your income for the year you're filing for did not equal or exceed the standard deduction limit of $13,850, and you do not owe any special taxes or have any special tax situations, you do not need to file. For the head of household filing status, the income limit would be at or above $20,800 and, for married filing jointly and qualifying surviving spouse, $27,700. If you were born after Jan. 1, 1959 or are blind the standard deduction amounts are higher. Find the details here: 2023 standard deductions.

To File or Not to File?

Many more factors might make it required for you to file, or at least make it beneficial for you to file. See the Reasons to File a Return examples and more detailed minimum income tax return filing requirements below. Even if you do not make enough to file, you must file a tax return to take advantage of eligible tax credits. Use any of these free tools and calculators to determine if you qualify. Sometimes, you may even find it beneficial to file without income.

The free FILEucator gives you a personal answer on whether to e-file or file a tax return quickly and accurately.

Your filing requirements to prepare and eFile a federal income tax return by Tax Day depend on the following factors: taxable income, filing status, eligible tax credits, and dependency status.

See also: when do I have to file taxes?

Review the sections to find out if you are required to file a tax return this year:

  • Minimum income tax return filing requirements
  • Reasons you may want to file a tax return
  • Other reasons you may need to file a return
  • Taxable versus nontaxable income.

Reasons to File a Return

How much money do I have to make to file taxes? Do I have to file taxes if I make less than $10,000? What if I am a dependent?

Let's say a single person without a qualified child(ren) had a total of $7,900 taxable income in 2023 and is at least 25 but not older than 65 as of Jan. 1, 2023. Since the standard deduction for a single person is $13,850, it's easy to assume not to file a tax return as it would result in zero tax refund and zero taxes owed. Not so! The tax app would automatically apply the Earned Income Tax Credit - EITC for this taxpayer. Those of the ages of at least 25 and under 65 (one spouse at least must meet this age range) may be able to claim credit worth up to $600 for singles with no dependents.

In addition, the taxpayer in question may have one or more qualified dependents or children, regardless of age. This credit could be a refundable credit of up to $3,733. This may also be refunded with the Child Tax Credit. Eligible refundable tax credits might reduce the tax liability and/or increase the tax refund. To see if you qualify for the EITC, use this free Earned Income Credit calculator or EITCucator.

Important: Are you missing a stimulus check? You must file taxes to get a missing stimulus check, even if you have no income or do not normally file taxes. Note: you cannot claim any federal stimulus checks by filing a return; see how to claim the IRS stimulus checks via back taxes and which states offered stimulus programs.

Filing Scenarios

Do you need to file taxes as a dependent? If you are a dependent on someone's tax return - for example, if your parents are going to claim you on their taxes - then you file taxes differently if you work or have income. As a dependent with income, your standard deduction is generally lower. If you work as a dependent and have taxes withheld from your pay - review this on the W-2 you receive at the end of the year - then you will want to file to report this and potentially receive it back as a refund. Parents or guardians do not claim their dependent's income on their tax return.

Must I file if I am over 65 with Social Security income? Find tax benefits and information about your Social Security. You may need to file a return if you have Social Security and other income.

Not sure if you need to file a return as a student? If you work during school and receive income, even if it isn't a lot, filing a return and reporting your income may be beneficial. On your return, report the information from a Form W-2 received from working a part-time job or from a 1099 form if you were self-employed or on contract. Additionally, you may be able to claim an education tax credit which can only be credited if you file.

If you are a student and receive a 1098-T, you should file taxes, as you may get a refundable tax credit. If you live with your parent or parents and they claim you on their taxes, it may be beneficial for them to report your 1098-T on their return since they likely have more substantial income and thus would benefit from it more.

You may be able to find a reason to file a tax return even if you earn less than the standard deduction - find out below.

We spare you the time and effort of researching whether you must file a tax return; use the free and easy FILEucator to find out now. Just click and answer a few questions, and you will know. Even if you're not required to file a 2023 Return, there are reasons you may want to e-file a tax return.

If you have determined that you may need to or want to file taxes, start below:

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Tax Tip: File a tax return or extension on time if you owe taxes, even if you can't pay the taxes on time. Remember that the late-filing penalties are considerably higher than those for not paying taxes on time.

Criteria to File Income Tax Returns

The minimum income required to file a tax return for any given tax year depends on your taxable income, eligible credits, age, and filing status during the tax year. Our standard deduction page lists the minimum income levels for the various filing statuses. If you make more than the standard deduction for your age and filing status, you must file a tax return.

If you earned below the minimum income for your filing status, you may not be required to file a federal tax return. However, there are reasons why you may still want to file; see a detailed listing below.

Taxable Versus Tax-Free Income
If the income you generate is tax-free, there is no need to file a tax return, but you may still want to. Learn about taxable income versus tax-free or nontaxable income.
Income: W-2 Wages, Salary
Generally, you don't have to file a return if your income is below the current standard deduction. However, it might still benefit you to file as stated in the example above and the information below. Review W-2 Income.
Income: Independent Contractor, Self-Employment
Generally, you must file a return if your self-employment income is at least $400. Report your self-employment income on your return and any other income you may have received during the tax year.
Income: Unemployment Benefits
Unemployment income is always taxable at the federal level; this income will be reported to you and the IRS on Form 1099-G. Visit the states page to find information on state unemployment benefits. In most cases, taxes are withheld from unemployment payments. You must report unemployment benefits on your return if you received unemployment benefits during the year.
Household Employment Taxes
If you employ any person(s) to work in your home or another residency, you are a household employer and will owe household employment taxes. These include hiring a maid, gardener, babysitter, or other person who performs work in or around your private residence. This does not include independent contractors, like plumbers or repairmen.
Refundable Tax Credits
Fully or partially refundable tax credits are dollar amounts that may be owed to you even if you do not owe tax. In other words, you need to file a return to claim them. The following tax credits are refundable, some of which do not require earned income to file:
  • Earned Income Tax Credit (requires earned income): If you qualify, you must file a return to receive the full amount; see if you qualify using this free EITCucator.
  • For 2021 only: Child Tax Credit or CTC (no earned income requirement for 2021; for all other years: the CTC requires earned income): As part of the third stimulus package, the 2021 Child Tax Credit was fully refundable, and you must file to receive the full amount. See details on the advance payments of the CTC. For all other years, the CTC is partially refundable.
  • American Opportunity Credit (no earned income requirement): This credit is partially refundable and can only be claimed by filing a tax return. See education information and taxes. If you have no taxable income and thus no tax, your maximum refundable credit is $1,000. 
  • For 2020 and 2021 Returns only: Recovery Rebate Credit or stimulus payments (no earned income requirement): Claim any missing advance stimulus payments by filing a tax return. The third stimulus payment can be claimed on the 2021 Return and the first and second payments can only be claimed by filing back taxes for 2021 and 2020. You must file a 2020 tax return by May 17, 2024, to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit for the first and second stimulus payments. You must file a 2021 tax return by April 15, 2025, to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit for the third stimulus payment.
You may owe additional taxes on a retirement plan, such as an individual retirement arrangement, IRA, 401K, or other tax-favored account. You will need to file a return to claim the Saver's Credit. Read these pages to learn more about your situation if you made retirement plan contributions or taxable distributions from an account. 
Alternative Minimum Tax
You may owe the Alternative Minimum Tax if your AMT exceeds your standard tax liability. The eFile App will determine which you will be subject to.
Homebuyer Credit
If you owe it, you must repay the 2008 First Time Homebuyer Credit (or any other recapture taxes) by filing a return.
Social Security, Medicare Taxes
You may owe Social Security tax if you have other sources of income - see page for details. Medicare taxes may also be owed. This goes for unreported tip income; report any tip income to your employer so they can withhold Social Security, retirement, Medicare, etc.
Church-related Income
If you earned $108.28 or more in income from a tax-exempt church or church-controlled organization, taxes apply against this income. No deductions for trade or business expenses are allowed against this self-employment income.
HSA or MSA Distribution
You may need to file taxes if you received certain distributions from an HSA Health Saving Account or MSA Medical Savings Account. These are detailed on the linked page, showing how to report and file these distributions and other information.
Premium Tax Credit
If you received advance payments of the Premium Tax Credit, you would have to file a return to receive the full credit or pay it partially back if you received too much. This credit is refundable if you did not claim your full amount in advance and will need to be claimed on a tax return.
Tax Withholding
If you had taxes withheld from your pay, you must file a tax return to receive this money back as a tax refund if you had withheld too much. See how to balance your tax withholding via Form W-4.
Health Tax Credit
If you qualify, you must file to claim the refundable Health Coverage Tax Credit or HCTC. Read IRS Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses (including the Health Coverage Tax Credit) for more details.
Adoption Tax Credit
If you adopted a qualifying child, you must file to claim the Adoption Tax Credit. Though nonrefundable, this credit can lower your taxes. See the page to find out how to claim it.

If you decide to file taxes, start free here - makes it easy to claim tax credits and deductions and maximize your tax refund. Depending on your situation, you may be able to file taxes for free via

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