Advertiser Disclosure

Do I Have to File a Tax Return?

If your income is low enough, filing a federal return may not be required. But even if you don't have to, there is a reason you might want to.
March 5, 2019
Income Taxes, Taxes
Do I Have to File a Tax Return?
At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

Filing a tax return is an annual ritual for most people — but actually, not everyone has to file one. Generally speaking, if your income is below a certain level, you might not have to file a tax return with the IRS.

If you’re wondering whether you have to file a federal tax return this year, here are the general rules. You can see all the details in IRS Publication 501.

Income requirements for filing a tax return

If you’re under 65, you probably have to file a tax return this year if your gross income for 2018 was equal to or more than the thresholds in this table:

 Under 6565 and older
Single$12,000$13,600
Married, filing jointly$24,000
  • $25,300.
  • $26,600 if both are 65.
Head of household$18,000$19,600
Married, filing separately$5$5
Qualifying widow$24,000$25,300

If someone can claim you as a dependent, the rules change. You have to file a tax return if any of the following apply.

Dependents who are single

 Under 6565 and older65 and older and blind
Your unearned income was more than ...$1,050$2,650$4,250
Your earned income was more than ...$12,000$13,600$15,200
Your gross income was more than the larger of ...
  • $1,050, or
  • your earned income (up to $11,650), plus $350.
  • $2,650, or
  • your earned income (up to $11,650), plus $1,950.
  • $4,250, or
  • your earned income (up to $11,650), plus $3,550.

Dependents who are married

 Under 6565 and older65 and older and blind
Note: You also must file a return if your gross income was at least $5 and your spouse files a separate return and itemizes deductions.
Your unearned income was more than ...$1,050$2,350$3,650
Your earned income was more than ...$12,000$13,300$14,600
Your gross income was more than the larger of ...
  • $1,050, or
  • your earned income (up to $11,650), plus $350.
  • $2,350, or
  • your earned income (up to $11,650), plus $1,650.
  • $3,650, or
  • your earned income (up to $11,650), plus $2,950.

If you fit any of the requirements, you have to file a tax return even if:

  • You are a minor.
  • You lived or earned money in another country.
  • You lived in Puerto Rico.
  • You had income from Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, or the U.S. Virgin Islands (but special rules apply; see IRS publication 570 for help).

Other situations that require filing a tax return

Regardless of income, you’ll generally have to file a tax return if:

  • You had self-employment net earnings of at least $400.
  • You received distributions from a health savings account, Archer Medical Savings Account or Medicare Advantage MSA.
  • You owe taxes on an IRA, health savings account or other tax-favored account.
  • You owe taxes on household employees.
  • You owe alternative minimum tax.
  • You made more than $108.28 from a church or church organization.
  • You owe recapture taxes.
  • You owe Social Security or Medicare tax on tips you didn’t report to your employer or that your employer didn’t already take out of your pay.
  • Advance payments of the premium tax credit were made for you, your spouse or a dependent who got health coverage through the insurance marketplace.
  • Advance payments of the health coverage tax credit were made for you, your spouse or a dependent who got health coverage through the insurance marketplace.
  • You owe uncollected Social Security, Medicare or railroad retirement tax on tips you reported to your employer or on group-term life insurance and additional taxes on health savings accounts.

Don’t have to file a tax return? There’s a big reason you might want to do it anyway

You might qualify for a tax break that could generate a tax refund. So give filing some serious consideration if:

If you received a Form 1099-B (“Proceeds From Broker and Barter Exchange Transactions”), you might also consider filing a return if two things are true: Adding the number in box 1d puts you over the income threshold, and box 1e is blank. Filing a return in that case could keep you from getting a notice from the IRS.

About the author