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Can I File an Income Tax Return If I Don't Have Any Income?

Updated for Tax Year 2017


OVERVIEW

Any year you have minimal or no income, you may be able to skip filing your tax return and the related paperwork.


Being allowed to skip filing your tax return and the related paperwork sounds like a good deal. Any year you have minimal or no income, you may be able to do just that.

income tax return with no income

However, it's perfectly legal to file a tax return showing zero income, and this might be a good idea for a number of reasons. Before you decide to skip your return this year, consider whether it might be worthwhile to file.

Income requirements

Even if you earned income last year, if it falls below the IRS minimum you don't have to file a tax return. The minimum varies according to your age and filing status—whether you are single, head of household, filing jointly with your spouse or you can be claimed as a dependent on someone else's taxes.

The IRS also adjusts the minimum amount of earned income from year to year for inflation. Individuals who fall below the minimum may still have to file a tax return under certain circumstances; for instance, if you had $400 in self-employment earnings, you'll have to file and pay self-employment tax.

If you have no income, however, you aren't obligated to file.

Credits may earn you a tax refund

The IRS offers a number of tax credits that you can take directly off your taxes rather than your income. If the credit is more than you owe in taxes, in some cases, you can claim the excess credit as a refund.

The IRS lists the "additional child tax credit" and the "earned income tax credit" as examples; if you qualify for these credits, you can receive a refund even if you paid no taxes. To claim the credits, you have to file your 1040 and other tax forms.

File now, deduct later

The IRS limits how much you can claim with various deductions and credits. For example, you can't claim a home office deduction so large that it would put your business into the red; instead, you claim zero business income for the year, and carry any leftover deduction into the next year.

Smart Money writer Bill Bischoff advises that if you have deductions or credits carrying over, you can't claim them if you have no income, but you need to file your taxes to claim them in a future year when you do have income

Protect yourself from future audits

The IRS operates under a statute of limitations when it comes to auditing old tax returns.

If you've reported your information accurately, in most cases they can only go back three years. However, the clock only starts for a given year when you actually file your tax return.

If you don't file, the IRS can always come back and audit you. For this reason, the IRS recommends that even if you don't file, you still keep any relevant financial records indefinitely.

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The above article is intended to provide generalized financial information designed to educate a broad segment of the public; it does not give personalized tax, investment, legal, or other business and professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional who knows your particular situation for advice on taxes, your investments, the law, or any other business and professional matters that affect you and/or your business.


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