Income thresholds that require filing of U.S. tax returns
QUESTION: What are the IRS filing requirements for retirees this tax season? My income dropped way down when I retired last year, so I’m wondering if I need to file a return this year.
ANSWER: Whether you are required to file a tax return this year depends on several factors: how much you earned in 2018, the source of that income, your age and your filing status.
Here’s a look at this season’s IRS filing requirement thresholds. For most people, it’s pretty straightforward. If your gross income — which includes all taxable income, not counting your Social Security benefits, unless you are married and filing separately — was below the threshold for your filing status and age, you may not have to file. But if it’s over, you will.
Single: $12,000 ($13,600 if you’re 65 or older by Jan. 1, 2019).
Married filing jointly: $24,000 ($25,300 if you or your spouse is 65 or older; or $26,600 if you’re both over 65).
Married filing separately: $5 at any age. Head of household: $18,000 ($19,600 if age 65 or older).
Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child: $24,000 ($25,300 if age 65 or older).
To get a detailed breakdown on federal filing requirements, along with information on taxable and nontaxable income, call the IRS at (800) 829-3676 and ask for a free copy of the “Tax Guide for Seniors” (publication 554) or see IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p554.pdf.
There are, however, some other financial situations that can require you to file a tax return, even if your gross income falls below the IRS filing requirements. For example, if you earned more than $400 from self-employment in 2018, owe any special taxes like an alternative minimum tax, or get premium tax credits because you, your spouse or a dependent is enrolled in a Health Insurance Marketplace (Obamacare) plan, you’ll need to file.
You’ll also need to file if you’re receiving Social Security benefits, and one-half of your benefits plus your other gross income and any tax-exempt interest exceed $25,000, or $32,000 if you’re married and filing jointly.
The IRS offers a tax assistant tool on its website that asks a series of questions that will help you determine if you’re required to file, or if you should file because you’re due a refund. It takes less than 15 minutes to complete.
You can access this tool at IRS.gov/filing — click on “Do I Need to File?” Or you can get assistance over the phone by calling the IRS helpline at (800) 829-1040. You can also get face-to-face help at a Taxpayer Assistance Center. See IRS.gov/localcontacts or call (800) 829-1040 to locate a center near you.
Even if you’re not required to file a federal tax return this year, don’t assume that you’re also excused from filing state income taxes. The rules for your state might be very different. Check with your state tax agency before concluding that you’re entirely in the clear. For links to state tax agencies, see Taxadmin. org/state-tax-agencies.
If you find that you do need to file a tax return this year, you can get help through the Tax Counseling for the Elderly program. Sponsored by the IRS, TEC provides free tax preparation and counseling to middle- and low-income taxpayers, age 60 and older. Call (800) 906-9887 or visit IRS.treasury.gov/ freetaxprep to locate a service near you.
Also check with AARP, a participant in the TCE program that provides free tax preparation at around 5,000 sites nationwide. To locate an AARP Tax-Aide site, call (888) 227-7669 or visit AARP.org/findtaxhelp. You don’t have to be an AARP member to use this service.