Taxable Tax Return 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. If you have little or no income, find out if you have to file a tax return. These taxable income categories listed here might not apply to taxable state income; learn about states that apply to you.
Taxable Income Categories
W-2 Wage or Salary, Independent Contract
Attention: Taxes on Alimony payments have changed.
- You do not have to pay tax on alimony received under a court order or decree made after December 31, 2018. In other words, if a divorce was finalized in 2020, the alimony recipient no longer pays taxes on these payments. The alimony payer pays regular incomes taxes prior to making the alimony payments .
- 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.
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
When you exchange goods or services for other goods or services, you are required to include the value(s) 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.
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 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. More details on Tip Income.
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 Benefits, 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):
- Bartering Services and Goods: If you exchange your services or goods with others, you may be taxed on them even if it is not money. 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. Though you may have to pay estimated taxes on trades, you can deduct the costs for performing the services you bartered.
- Back pay
- Bonuses, Benefits from Employers: These are considered supplemental wages taxed at a flat 28% rate. Be aware that you also have to pay state and local taxes on it, as well as Social Security and Medicare. If your employer paid for an online course or other educational service, you can exclude up to $5,250 of the expenses. Since your employer does not report the benefits with your wages and other compensation, you do not need to report the benefits on your tax return. You will need to pay tax on any expenses over $5,250, which your employer will report on your W-2.
- Business income
- Capital gains
- Cashed out vacation or sick time
- Clergy pay
- Compensation for personal services
- Director’s fees
- Disability benefits (employer-funded)
- Donating Eggs to Infertile Couples: If you received money for donating your eggs to a fertility clinic, the IRS will tax that payment. You should receive a 1099 form from the clinic that sent you the payment.
- Employee awards
- Employee bonuses
- Estate and trust income
- Exchanges of policyholder interest for stock
- Fantasy Sport Winnings: Any money you win from fantasy sport leagues (including private ones) is considered taxable gambling income. You should receive a Form 1099-MISC reporting at least $600 of winnings from any fantasy sports website. If you have any losses such as entry fees in leagues you did not win, you can deduct the losses against your gains if they happened within the same year.
- Farm income
- Gains from sale of property or securities
- Gifts from Employer: If you received a non-monetary gift from an employer rewarding you for the work you have done for a company, you may be taxed on that gift.
- Hobby income
- IRA distributions
- Jury duty fees: If you served on a jury, the federal or state government pays you for your civic duty. Since your pay is from the government, it must be reported on a tax return. Otherwise, the IRS may send you a notice asking about the missing jury duty income. Your employer may or may not continue paying you while serving jury duty, so you may want to ask him or her about this. If he or she requests that you give them your jury pay, you may claim your pay as a deduction on Schedule C, line 30.
- Lawsuit settlements: If you win a lawsuit, you may need to pay taxes on your settlement based on the damages you have suffered.
- Loans, Forgiven: Any forgiven loans you have received from the federal government or a private company must be reported as income on your tax return. You do not have to report any loans from relatives or friends since they are considered gifts.
- Nobel Peace Prize money: The IRS requires you to pay taxes on any money you received for winning the Nobel Peace Prize or Pulitzer Prize, unless you donate the payment to a tax-exempt charity before receiving it. However, if you accept the money and give it to charity, you may have to pay taxes on some of the income since you can only deduct up to 50% of your adjusted gross income for charitable purposes.
- Payments earned for donating eggs to infertile couples
- Lump sum distributions
- Military pay (not exempt from taxation)
- Misc. Fees
- 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)
- 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 e.g. Airbnb (if the rental lasts more than 15 days)
- Self-employment income
- Severance pay
- Stolen property: The IRS will not let you off the hook for any income you earned from illegal activities (robbing a bank, drug dealing, etc). They also tax any bribes. If you are caught for not reporting your income, they can also charge you for tax evasion.
- Treasure, buried: If you found buried money or sold an antique table you saw in a deserted area, you must report that income to the IRS. This rule has been in place since 1954 when a couple earning $4,467 for selling a used piano they purchased for $15 had to pay taxes on it; a U.S. District Court agreed to the IRS requirement.
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.
If you do not itemize deductions, you may subtract the standard deduction from your taxable income when you prepare your tax return.
Learn more about taxable and nontaxable income in Publication 525 -Taxable and Nontaxable Income
Get more information about non-taxable income.
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