You Might Not Have to File a Federal Tax Return This Year!

This might come as a surprise to some readers, but you might not have to file a federal tax return, even if you earn a regular income.  The IRS indicates that each year many people file tax returns who aren’t actually required to do so.  Whether or not you have to file a tax return depends on your gross income, age, and filing status.

  • Are you a single filer? If you made below $9,350 you likely don’t need to file a tax return.  If you’re 65 or older, that limit rises to $10,750.
  • Are you filing as the head of a household? Your limit is $12,050 – or $13,450 if you’re 65 or older.  If your income falls below this figure, you likely don’t have to file a tax return.
  • Are you married and filing jointly? You likely don’t have to file a tax return if your income falls below $18,700.  If one spouse is 65 or older, your limit rises to $19,800.  If both spouses are 65 or older, your limit rises to $20,900.  However, if you’re not living with your spouse at the end of the year, the income limit falls to $3,650.
  • Are you married and filing separately? If you make less than $3,650, you likely don’t have to file a tax return.


In some instances, you may find it financially beneficial to file a tax return even if the IRS doesn’t require it.  Here are several situations where filing a return might make or save you money:

  1. If you had Federal taxes withheld from your pension and wages this year.
  2. If you had earned income from work, you may be able to qualify for the Making Work Pay Credit, which can provide you up to $800.  Likewise, if you worked, but did not earn a lot of money, you might qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit.
  3. If you did not receive the full amount of your Child Tax Credit, you might be eligible for the refundable Additional Child Tax Credit.
  4. If you have a student in post-secondary education, you may qualify for the American Opportunity Credit which provides a maximum of $2,500 per student per year.
  5. If you receive Trade Adjustment Assistance, Reemployment Trade Adjustment Assistance, or pension benefit payments from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, you may be eligible for a Health Care Coverage Tax Credit, which covers 80% of your monthly premiums.

There are certain circumstances where you are required to file a federal tax return even if your gross income falls below the specified limits.  If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, you most likely have to file a return.

  • Did you sell your home this year?
  • Will you owe a special tax on a retirement plan like an IRA or medical savings account?
  • Were you self-employed and earned more than $400?
  • Will you be subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax, which provides tax benefits to certain kinds of income?
  • Will you owe recapture tax?
  • Are you a church employee with income in wages of $108.28 or more from a church or qualified church-controlled organization?
  • Will you owe uncollected social security and Medicare or Railroad retirement (RRTA) tax on tips you reported to your employer?
  • Will you owe social security and Medicare tax on tips you did not report to your employer?

In determining whether or not you have to file a tax return, the key is to first look at filing status, age, and gross income, but also keep in mind that there are many circumstances where you are still required to file or might find it beneficial to do so.

What date do you have to file your federal tax return by?  Your tax return is due on April 18.  However, if you file for an extension, your tax return isn’t due until October 15.

Published or Updated: March 22, 2013
About Rob Berger

Rob founded the Dough Roller in 2007. A litigation attorney in the securities industry, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, their two teenagers, and the family mascot, a shih tzu named Sophie.

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