Youngsters are especially ambitious these days, and even if your kids are young enough to be your dependents, they may have to pay taxes. In some cases, you may be able to include their income on your tax return; in others, they'll have to file their own tax return or you will have to file a separate return on their behalf. Whether this is required depends on both the amount and source of the minor’s income.
A minor who works and earns more than the standard personal exemption has to file a tax return, according to IRS Publication 929. The amount of the exemption isn't set in stone but increases over time to account for inflation.
A 15-year-old who works after school, for instance, and earns less than the exemption would owe nothing in taxes. Even so, if an employer withheld taxes from her paycheck, she'll have to file a tax return to obtain a refund.
The IRS also has a cutoff level for "unearned income," such as dividends or interest. If your child's income is above this year's level, he has to file; below that point, he isn't required to file a tax return.
If the child has both earned and unearned income, both amounts must be added together to determine if the total income triggers the mandatory filing requirement. The IRS provides a formula for figuring this out in Publication 929.
Even if a minor's income is less than the minimum threshold, the IRS sets other conditions that may require a tax return to be filed. A minor must file, for example, if he owes Social Security or Medicare taxes on tip income.
In addition, if he earns income from self-employment, he may owe Self-Employment Tax, which means paying both the employee’s and employer's share of Social Security and Medicaid taxes. The trigger for Self Employment Tax has been $400 since 1990, but the IRS may change that in the future.
Filing on your child's behalf
If your child is required to file a tax return for unearned income, the IRS gives you the option of claiming the money on your return instead. There are certain restrictions, including a limit to the amount of money involved, and the tax you’ll owe may be greater than if your child filed an individual return. If you qualify, file Form 8814 with your 1040 and the IRS will not require your child to file.