The Internal Revenue Service provides guidance in the instructions for the various tax forms (1040, 1040A, etc.). Here is an overview of the factors that influence IRS requirements:
1. Basic Income Thresholds
If you earned more than this, the IRS requires a tax return for 2015 (ages are as of Dec. 31, 2015):
** Single: $10,300 under age 65; $11,850 if you're 65 or older. ** Married filing jointly: $20,600 if both spouses are under 65; $21,500 if one spouse is 65 or older; $23,000 if both are 65 or older. ** Married filing separately (any age): $3,950. ** Head of household: $13,050 if you're under 65; $14,600 for 65 or older.
2. Special Situations
No matter what your income, there are a number of situations that may require you to file a return. Examples include selling your home, earning more than $400 in self-employment income or taking an early distribution from an IRA or retirement plan. Additionally, even without a tax liability, by filing a return you may be entitled to claim valuable credits for things like education, health care insurance, children or the Earned Income Credit (low income earners).
3. Income Tax Withheld
If you had income tax withheld from your pay anytime during the year, you will generally want to file a return. Even if you didn't make enough money to require it, filing is the only way to get a refund of the amount withheld.
4. Social Security
For seniors, Social Security benefits are not included as income in the above thresholds, unless half of those benefits plus your other gross income and tax-exempt interest exceeds $25,000 ($32,000, if married filing jointly). If that's the case, determine how much of your Social Security is taxable and file a return.
Dependent children must generally file a return if they had unearned income over $1,000 or earned income over $6,300. However, parents can file a Form 8814 to include their child's income on their return. But the child must typically be under age 19 or a full-time student under age 24.