Every year I get asked about income requirements for filing taxes when publishing tax filing due dates for the upcoming tax season. While there are other factors (residency status, claiming tax credits) that also drive if you have to file taxes or not, how much you earn (gross income) is a primary driver. Gross income covers monies from goods, property, and services that isn’t exempt from tax. This includes any income from sources outside the USA.
The table below shows the minimum gross income requirements for having to file a tax return, based on filing status and age. Or said another way the table shows the amount of your earnings (lower threshold) at which you would be legally required to file taxes. If you make below these gross income amounts then income is not a driver for you having to file taxes – though other non-income factors may still require you to file.
|Tax Year (Filing Year)||Single Filers||Married Filing Jointly||Head of Household||Married Filing Separately|
|2016 (2017)||$10,350 |
($11,900 if 65 or older)
|$20,700 (both spouses)|
$21,950 (if one spouse > 65yrs)
$23,200 (both spouses > 65yrs)
($14,900 if 65 or older)
|$4,050 (any age)|
|2015 (2016)||$10,300 |
($11,850 if 65yrs or older)
|$20,600 (both spouses)|
$21,850 (if one spouse > 65yrs)
$23,100 (both spouses > 65yrs)
($14,800 if 65 or older)
|$4,000 (any age)|
Note that your filing status is based on what your family situation was on the last day of the tax year (Dec 31st). So if you got married mid-year in 2016, you would generally file in the married filing jointly status (versus single filer in the prior year). Also note that if you are filing under the married filing jointly status, and you didn’t live with your spouse at the end of the year and your gross income was at least $4,050, you must file a return regardless of your age.
When determining whether you need to file a return, you don’t include tax-exempt income when figuring your gross income. Also the minimum income thresholds for requiring a tax filing for those who are self-employed (e.g freelancers or S-corp owners) is $400.
Naturally the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recommends that all adults file a tax return even if their income is below the above thresholds. Obviously, the IRS wants to have everyone pay their taxes but it is also an important way for the government to ensure that it pays out subsidies, stimulus payments and tax credits to the groups that they were intended for. So if in doubt, just file a return. Better to be compliant and get tax credits you are due as opposed to being on hook for a penalty or having to face an IRS audit for not filing.
Please refer to IRS Publication 17 for a comprehensive list of criteria on filing taxes.