Believe it or not, there may be years when you don't have to file an income tax return with the Internal Revenue Service. To make this determination, you need to evaluate a number of factors, such as the amount of income you earn and your filing status. It also depends on whether you’re the dependent of another taxpayer, and a number of special circumstances that require the filing of a tax return regardless of other factors.
IRS income thresholds
If you aren't the dependent of another taxpayer, you will have to file a tax return if your gross income is greater than or equal to the amount set each year by the IRS. This threshold amount is largely dependent upon the standard deduction for your filing status. Your total gross income for the year includes all earnings that aren't exempt from income tax. If you plan to file a joint return with your spouse, you must include the income you both earned.
Taxpayers 65 and older
The IRS increases the standard deduction amount for taxpayers who are 65 or older by the end of the tax year. As a consequence, the income threshold you use to evaluate whether you should file a tax return also increases. If your 65th birthday falls on January 1, you can take the larger standard deduction for the prior tax year since the IRS treats you as being 65 on December 31.
Dependent filing requirements
When other taxpayers, such as your parents, are eligible to claim you as a dependent on their tax return, you still may need to file your own return. If the total of your unearned income is more than $1,100 for 2020, you need to file a return even if it is not required by your earned income. Unearned income covers all other earnings, such as taxable interest, dividends, and capital gains that aren't the result of performing services.
Dependents who are 65 and older, blind, or married are subject to the dependent filing rules, but the IRS raises the income filing thresholds for these taxpayers.
Special filing situations
Regardless of special circumstances, you are expected to file a tax return if you owe taxes other than income tax. These taxes include Social Security taxes, alternative minimum taxes, or household employment taxes. Other situations where you will also have to file include: if you're self-employed and earned at least $400 during the year, or if you received distributions from a health savings account.
Although you may not be required to file a tax return, you may still want to file a tax return if you had any withholdings that can be refunded, or if you qualify for any refundable credits.