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What is Taxable Income?

Most income you receive is fully taxable and must be reported on your federal income tax return unless it is specifically excluded by law. However, there is also nontaxable income that you may need to report on your tax return. Read on for examples of taxable income to consider when determining whether a tax return must be filed.

Taxable Income Examples

Taxable income includes:

If you have little or no income, find out if you have to file a tax return if you have low income.

Alimony Received

If you receive alimony from your spouse or former spouse, you must report the alimony as income in the year that you receive it. However, this only applies if you received the alimony under a decree or court order made on or before December 31, 2018. You do not have to pay tax on alimony received under a court order or decree made after December 31, 2018.

Please note child support is not alimony and nontaxable income.

If you make alimony payments during the tax year, they are only tax deductible if they are made under an official divorce decree and all of its qualifications are met. Payments that are not made under an official decree or agreement (e.g. a verbal consensus between two parents) are not tax deductible.

Learn more in Publication 504 -Divorced or Separated Individuals

Bartering Income

When you exchange goods or services for other goods or services, you are required to include the value of those goods or services as taxable income. The value of bartered goods and services is determined by the fair market value of an exchange between unrelated parties.

The person you traded with should send you a Form 1099-B reporting the fair market value of the goods or services. In addition, both of you have to report the information on separate Schedule C's: you report the value of your services while the other person reports the amount.

Canceled or Forgiven Debt

As a general rule, debt that is canceled or forgiven by an official lender is considered taxable income. For example, if you settle a credit card debt for less than the full balance, you will owe income tax on the amount that was forgiven. There are some circumstances in which the canceled debt may be excluded from your taxable income. If you received Form 1099-C, Cancelation of Debt, in relation to your main home, it may be nontaxable.

Certain student loans containing a provision that part or all of the debt incurred to attend a qualified college or university will be canceled if you work for a certain period of time in a certain profession.

Learn more in Publication 4681 -Canceled Debts, Foreclosures, Repossessions, and Abandonments.

Gambling 

Since money and prizes won by gambling are considered income and subject to federal income tax, you have to report all of your gambling winnings on your tax return. You must include all cash winnings and the fair market value of non-cash winnings as taxable income. The IRS usually taxes those winnings at a flat 25% rate rather than at your income tax withholding rate. Since casinos, race tracks, fantasy sport websites, and other places of gambling are heavily regulated by the IRS, they are required to report your winnings on Form W-2G

If you have gambling losses, you may deduct your gambling losses if you itemize your deductions. However, deductible gambling losses may not be greater than the gambling income reported on your return. In order to take deductions for your losses, the IRS requires you to obtain a statement from the institution with whom the losses were incurred.

Learn more about taxes on gambling income.

Moving Expenses

Moving Expenses are only tax deductible if you are a member of the Armed Forces. If you personally finance your moving expenses, the moving arrangement must meet two requirements to qualify as tax deductible: (1) Your new place of business must be at least 50 miles from your old home and (2) you must work 39 weeks out of the first 12 months right after you move to your new location.

If your employer pays for you to relocate, and the moving expenses would have been deductible if you had paid them yourself, you do not have to include the paid moving expenses as taxable income. If your employer pays your moving expenses, but you do not meet the criteria for tax deduction (i.e. your new place of employment is not at least 50 miles from your old home), then you must include the employer financed move as gross income.

For example, if Joe gets a new job that is 35 miles away and his employer moves him 5 miles away from his new job, Joe must include the moving expenses paid by his employer as taxable income. If Joe’s new job is 1000 miles away and his new employer moves him 980 miles closer to his new job, the moving expenses paid by his company do not have to be included in Joe’s gross taxable income.

Learn more in Publication 521 - Moving Expenses.

Pension and Annuity Income

Pensions and annuities are either fully taxable or partially taxable depending on your contributions. Your pension or annuity is fully taxable if all of the contributions were made by your employer prior to including it in your taxable wages or salary. Returns on payments made with after tax dollars are partially taxable. In that case you will not be charged tax on the cost of the plan or investment but only on the non-taxed interest accrued in the pension or annuity.

Learn more about pension and annuity income.

Retirement Plan Income

Retirement plan distributions are generally taxable, unless the distribution is from a Roth IRA or a Designated Roth Account, in which case it is nontaxable. Read about the different types of retirement plans and their tax benefits and whether required minimum distributions from retirement plans are taxable.

Early, non-required, withdrawals of retirement plan funds are taxable as income and may be subject to a penalty of 10% additional tax. Find out about the penalties for early withdrawal from a retirement plan.

Social Security Benefits

If Social Security is your only form of income, then it is generally not taxable. If you had income from other sources in addition to your Social Security benefits, it is possible that a portion of your benefits may be taxable. In general, your Social Security income will only be taxed if your combined income from all sources is more than a base amount determined by your filing status.

Find out if your Social Security income is taxable.

Tips and Gratuities

All tips that you receive on the job (for restaurant work, babysitting, delivery or valet services, etc.), whether the majority of your income is derived from tips or wages, is considered income and is subject to federal income tax. Non-cash tips in the form of gifts, tickets to sporting events, or other items of value are generally subject to federal income tax.

You must report cash, check, or credit card tips to your employer so they can withhold Social Security, Medicare, retirement tax, or any other applicable taxes from your total tips. If you receive $20 or more in tip income in a single calendar month, you must report that income to your employer and they must withhold Social Security and Medicare taxes. If you do not make more than $20 in tips in a single month, you do not have to report the income to your employer but you must report the income on your federal tax return.

Learn more in Publication 531- Reporting Tip Income

Unemployment Income

Unemployment benefits must generally be included on your federal and state income tax returns as taxable income. Unemployment income includes any money and the value of any other assistance received under the unemployment laws of the United States or of a particular state. This also includes disability benefits. The government will send you a Form 1099-G showing the total amount they paid you. 

Learn more about unemployment income and taxes

Other Taxable Income Examples

There are many other kinds of taxable income. Your gross income generally includes income from all sources, in whatever form it takes. Below are other kinds of generally taxable income (Note: This list is thorough but not comprehensive; there are other kinds of taxable income out there)

  • Awards
  • Back pay
  • Bonuses
  • Business income
  • Capital gains
  • Cashed out vacation or sick time
  • Clergy pay
  • Commissions
  • Compensation for personal services
  • Director’s fees
  • Disability benefits (employer-funded)
  • Discounts
  • Dividends
  • Employee awards
  • Employee bonuses
  • Estate and trust income
  • Exchanges of policyholder interest for stock
  • Farm income
  • Fees
  • Gains from sale of property or securities
  • Hobby income
  • Interest
  • IRA distributions
  • Jury duty fees
  • Lawsuit settlements
  • Stolen property
  • Buried treasure
  • Nobel Peace Prize money
  • Payments earned for donating eggs to infertile couples
  • Lump sum distributions
  • Military pay (not exempt from taxation)
  • Non-employee compensation
  • Notary fees
  • Online personal fundraising sites (GoFundMe, Kickstarter, etc.) - see below
  • Partnership, Estate and S-Corporation income (Schedule K-1s, Taxpayer’s share)
  • Prizes
  • Punitive damage
  • Railroad retirement
  • Refund of state taxes (if itemized in year paid and taxes were reduced because of deduction)
  • Rental income from Bed & Breakfast and other services (if the rental lasts more than 15 days)
  • Rewards
  • Royalties
  • Self-employment income
  • Severance pay

Income That May or May Not Be Taxable

Some income may be taxable under certain circumstances, but not taxable in other situations. Examples of items that may or may not be included in your taxable income are:

  • GoFundMe, Kickstarter, or Other Personal fundraising websites: These sites have become increasingly popular. Income from one of these sites can be considered either income or a gift. For campaigns that raise at least $20,000 and have 200 transactions, the income must be reported to the IRS. Gifts are considered non-taxable income, but if the gift creates income, that income would be taxable.
  • Life insurance: If you surrender a life insurance policy for cash, you must include in income any proceeds that are more than the cost of the life insurance policy. Life insurance proceeds, which were paid to you because of the insured person’s death, are generally not taxable unless the policy was turned over to you for a price.
  • Scholarship or fellowship grant: If you are a candidate for a degree, you can exclude from income amounts you receive as a qualified scholarship or fellowship. Amounts used for room and board do not qualify for the exclusion.
  • Non-cash income: Taxable income may be in a form other than cash. One example of this is bartering, which is an exchange of property or services. The fair market value of goods and services exchanged is fully taxable and must be included as income on Form 1040 of both parties.

Reduce Taxable Income With the Standard Deduction

If you do not itemize deductions, you may subtract the standard deduction from your taxable income when you prepare your tax return.

More Taxable Income Information

Learn more about taxable and nontaxable income in Publication 525 -Taxable and Nontaxable Income

Get more information about non-taxable income.

Use our FREE Tax Calculator to estimate your taxes.