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Financial Literacy

Financial Literacy

Home Financial Literacy Taxes Shmaxes How Do I Know if I Need to File a Tax Return?

How Do I Know if I Need to File a Tax Return?

In the United States, whether or not you need to file a tax return depends on the following:

• Your gross income (“You only make 24k a year? Ew – gross!”)
• Filing status
• Age
• If you are a dependent on someone else’s return
• And some other special situations

Below are the minimum income requirements based on different filing statuses for those who are not dependents on someone else’s return. 

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

For Dependents

The government considers two different types of income when determining if a dependent needs to file a tax return. For earned income, which includes salary, wages, and tips, the government requires dependents to file if these sources total over $5,450. For unearned income such as investment interest, dividends, and unemployment benefits, if that total is over $900 then the government will require you to file.

Here are some links to the IRS website which provides more information for specific filing situations:


Do I Get Someone to Do It or Can I Do It Myself?

For your average student who doesn’t have the tax complexities of mortgage payments, retirement accounts, and the like, the government makes it easy enough for you to file on your own without the help of any tax professional.

However, the tax code is very complex and you may not wish to go down that road yourself. If you have no idea, for example, how much of the money you made last year came from farming income, you will probably need some help. For that, there are a vast array of software programs and many willing and capable tax professionals to help you. .

Forms to know

W-2 – The W-2 is without a doubt the most famous IRS form. (Word on the street is that it’s in talks to star alongside Robert Downey, Jr. and Mark Ruffalo in the next Avengers movie.) Employers complete the W-2 for every employee to whom they pay a salary or wage. The W-2 is also used to report FICA and other taxes withheld by employers over the course of the year.

1099 – The 1099 is used for types of income not covered in the W-2. Individuals who work as independent contractors receive 1099 forms because their type of compensation is not considered wages, and thus is treated differently for taxes.

1040 – While the 1099 and W-2 are filed by employers, the 1040 is filled by any individual who meets the minimum requirements for filing federal taxes. The 1040 has been in use since the income tax amendment was passed in 1913. The 1040 consists of two pages which a filer must complete in order to determine his or her tax burden payment or refund amount. If your refund ever works out to exactly $1,040, don’t get excited – you don’t win a prize.

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