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Filing Taxes

Whether or not you need to file a tax return depends on a few things:

  • Your gross income (the total amount you made from your job, selling stuff, and cleaning your neighbor's gutters last summer)
  • Your filing status (single? married? zombie?)
  • Your age
  • Whether or not you're a dependent on someone else's return
  • Uh…other stuff (we'll get to it in a minute)

Your Gross Income

If you're not a dependent on your parent's or someone else's income tax return and you make more than a certain amount, you'll probably need to file taxes. This handy chart can show you the cut-off amounts:

Filing StatusAge at End of 2008Must File if Gross Income was at Least
SingleUnder 65$8,950
65 or Older$10,300
Head of HouseholdUnder 65$11,500
65 or Older$12,850
Married, Filing JointlyUnder 65 (both)$17,900
65 or Older (one)$18,950
65 or Older (both)$20,000
Married, Filing Separatelyany age$3,500
Widow(er) caring for dependentUnder 65$14,400
65 or Older$15,450

Miss (In)dependent

You might feel independent, but if your parents (or someone else) are listing you on their tax return as a dependent, you probably don't need to file taxes. Why not? Because you're a deduction on their taxes.

But if your earned income (including tips, wages, salary and all that good stuff) is over $5,450 or your unearned income (unemployment benefits, investment interest) is more than $900, you'll probably have to file yourself. 

Other Stuff

There's a bunch of other stuff that could affect your income tax return. For example, you could be living overseas but still have to file taxes in the United States because you're a citizen. Or you could be stationed overseas as part of the military. How can you get your cash to Uncle Sam?

The IRS has special pages on their website to help you.

Thanks, IRS.

Can I Just Have Someone Else Deal With It?

If you're a student and don't have a ton of income or any complex stuff like retirement accounts, mortgages, and the like, it might be easy for you to file your income tax yourself.

It won't be fun, but that's too much to expect from the government.

The problem is that the tax code is very complicated. If you're not sure about something or are already earning a bunch of money or have investments from your Great-Aunt Louise, you'll want some help. The last thing you want is to have some IRS guy knocking on your door years from now because you missed sub-section ZZZ of form YA-WN this year.

There's accounting software out there that can help you (hello, TurboTax!). It asks you real questions in simple language and then puts the information on the right form.

If things get really crazy, you can also ask a tax professional to help you file. 

What Are All These Forms?

You're going to run into a lot of forms when trying to file. They all look the same and most of them have numbers as titles, which (are you listening, IRS?) isn't super helpful. Here are few of the most popular forms.


If tax forms were celebrities, this one would be on the Walk of Fame. Every employer needs to file one of these forms for every worker they pay a wage or salary. The W-2 sounds like a sci-fi robot, but it's used to report taxes (such as the FICA tax) that you've paid through the year on your paychecks.


Anything you earn that's not covered by the W-2 is usually reported using the 1099. For example, if you freelance or work as an independent contractor, you'll use this form because what you earn is not considered a wage (even though you can sure spend it like one) and is taxed differently.


If you need to file federal taxes, this is the form that you get to use. There are two pages of black and blue print and you're going to fill them out so that the government can decide whether to send you a refund or a bill.

If you're not sure whether or not you need to file, check out the IRS website or contact a tax professional. (We're legally required to say that.)

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