Tax guide

Do I Need to File?

Updated for filing 2021 tax returns

Who Needs to File a Tax Return?

If your income is above a threshold based on your filing status, age and income, you are required to file a federal income tax return. Those thresholds vary quite a bit due to the different factors, so here’s a handy table to help you pinpoint the numbers that apply to you:

Filing Status Age at End of 2020 File if Gross Income is at Least
Single under 65 $12,550
  65 or older $14,250
Married filing jointly under 65 (both spouses) $25,100
  65 or older (one spouse) $26,450
  65 or older (both spouses) $27,800
Married filing separately any age $5
Head of household under 65 $18,800
  65 or older $20,500
Qualifying widow(er) under 65 $25,100
  65 or older $26,450

Do I need to file even if I’m not required to by filing status, age, and income level?

In some cases, yes—you will still need to file a tax return if any of the following apply:

  • You owe any taxes, such as alternative minimum tax, taxes on a retirement plan distribution, household employment taxes, and Social Security and Medicare taxes that were not withheld from income.
  • Repayment of the First-Time Homebuyer Credit.
  • You received a distribution from a health savings account, Archer MSA, or Medicare Advantage MSA.
  • You had at least $400 in self-employment income.
  • You earned $108.28 or more from a church or qualified church-controlled organization that is exempt from employer Social Security and Medicare taxes.
  • You received an advance payment of the Premium Tax Credit for health insurance bought from a health insurance marketplace. You should receive Form 1095-A with the amount of the advance payments.
  • Advance payments of the Health Coverage Tax Credit were made for you, your spouse or a dependent. You should receive Form 1099-H with the amount of the advance payments.
  • You are required to file Form 965-A for an elected installment payment.
  • You are claimed as a dependent, but your income exceeded the filing requirement threshold.

Should I file a tax return even if I’m not technically required to?

There are some cases where it’s advisable to file a tax return anyway, even if you could legally decline.

First, if you had federal income tax withheld from your pay, or if you made estimated tax payments, you should file in order to get any surplus withholding refunded back to you.

Second, there are a few tax credits that can give you a refund even if you didn’t make enough income to file. These are called “refundable” credits. Nonrefundable credits can only apply against taxes you owe.

  • Earned Income Tax Credit – You could qualify for the EIC if you worked a low-income job. Your credit amount will depend on income level, filing status and how many dependents you claim.
  • Child Tax CreditIf you have a qualifying child, the full Child Tax Credit is now refundable.
  • Additional Child Tax Credit – This credit could be available if you have at least one qualifying child and you didn’t receive the full amount from the Child Tax Credit.
  • American Opportunity Credit – Students in their first four years of postsecondary education could qualify for this credit, up to $1,000 of which is refundable.

With these credits, you have to file in order to receive the benefit.

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Are my Social Security benefits taxable?

As a very general rule of thumb, if your only income is from Social Security benefits, they won’t be taxable, and you don’t need to file a return. But if you have income from other sources as well, there may be taxes on the total amount.

If you’re married and file a joint return, both spouses must combine their incomes and Social Security benefits when figuring taxable amounts. This applies even if the spouse did not have any benefits.

The IRS offers a worksheet to calculate taxable benefits.

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Whether you’re required to file or decide to file a tax return anyway, filing with is easy. Everyone pays one flat rate of $25—and that’s why we’re the feel-good tax company.

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