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Does Everyone Need to File an Income Tax Return?

Updated for Tax Year 2021 • February 17, 2022 10:22 AM


OVERVIEW

Not everyone is required to file an income tax return each year. Generally, if your total income for the year doesn't exceed certain thresholds, then you don't need to file a federal tax return. The amount of income that you can earn before you are required to file a tax return also depends on the type of income, your age and your filing status.



  

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Key Takeaways

• If your income is less than your standard deduction, you generally don’t need to file a return (provided you don't have a type of income that requires you to file a return for other reasons, such as self-employment income).

• In most cases, if you only receive Social Security benefits, you won’t need to file a tax return.

• If you receive Social Security benefits and also receive tax-exempt income, the tax-exempt income may cause your Social Security benefits to be taxable.

• Taxpayers who are claimed as a dependent on someone's tax return must file a tax return when their earned income is more than their standard deduction, or, for certain children, when their unearned income is greater than $1,100.

Consider your gross income thresholds

Most taxpayers are eligible to take the standard deduction. The standard tax deduction amounts that you're eligible for are primarily determined by your age and filing status. These amounts are set by the government before the tax filing season and generally increase for inflation each year.

The standard deduction, along with other available deductions, reduces your income to determine how much of your income is taxable. As long as you don't have a type of income that requires you to file a return for other reasons, like self-employment income, generally you don't need to file a return as long as your income is less than your standard deduction.

For example, in 2021, you don't need to file a tax return if all of the following are true for you:

What if I only receive Social Security benefits?

In most cases, if you only receive Social Security benefits you wouldn't have any taxable income and wouldn't need to file a tax return.

One catch with Social Security benefits is if you are married but file a separate tax return from your spouse who you lived with during the year.  Then you will always have to include at least some of your Social Security benefits in your taxable income to see if it is greater than your standard deduction.

When Social Security benefits may be taxable

When determining whether you need to file a return and you receive Social Security benefits, you need to consider tax-exempt income because it can cause your benefits to be taxable even if you don't have any other taxable income.

Here's an example of where you may need to file, even with tax-exempt income:

To figure out if your Social Security benefits are taxable:

TurboTax can help you estimate if you'll need to file a tax return and what income will be taxable.


 

TurboTax Tip: If you have had federal taxes withheld from your paycheck, you might want to file a return even when you are not required to, so you can receive your tax refund.


 

Income thresholds for taxpayers 65 and older are higher

If you are at least 65 years old, you get an increase in your standard deduction. You also get an increased standard deduction if:

The largest standard deduction would be for a married couple that are both blind and both over 65 years old.

Having a larger standard deduction can allow you to have more income than someone under age 65 and still not have to file a return.   TurboTax can help you estimate if you'll need to file a tax return and what income will be taxable.

When a dependent (child or adult) may need to file a tax return

Taxpayers who are claimed as a dependent on someone's tax return are subject to different IRS filing requirements, regardless of whether they are children or adults. A tax return is necessary when their earned income is more than their standard deduction.

The standard deduction for single dependents who are under age 65 and not blind is the greater of:

A dependent's income can be "unearned" when it comes from sources such as dividends and interest. When a dependent's unearned income is greater than $1,100 in 2021, the dependent must file a tax return.

When you may want to submit a tax return to claim a tax refund

With all the above being said, there are years when you might not be required to file a tax return but may want to. If you have federal taxes withheld from your paycheck, the only way you can receive a tax refund when too much was withheld is if you file a tax return.

Remember, with TurboTax, we'll ask you simple questions about your life and help you fill out all the right tax forms. With TurboTax you can be confident your taxes are done right, from simple to complex tax returns, no matter what your situation.

All you need to know is yourself

Answer simple questions about your life and TurboTax Free Edition will take care of the rest.

For simple tax returns only

Real tax experts on demand with TurboTax Live Basic

Get unlimited advice and an expert final review. Done right, guaranteed.

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Looking for more information?

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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