Minimum Income Required to File Federal Taxes

Some people can avoid the rush and legally not file income tax returns.

Some people can avoid the rush and legally not file income tax returns.

Filing a federal tax return is a task that many people put off until the last minute, but some people don't have to file tax returns at all. The Internal Revenue Service places minimum income requirements for different statuses, and if your annual income falls below a certain amount, you are not required to file a federal return. You can, however, choose to file a tax return regardless of the amount of money you earn, if you want to receive the tax refund due you.

Basic Filing Rules

Tax filing requirements vary depending on your tax filing status. The IRS said that for the 2011 tax season, single taxpayers must file a return if annual income was at least $9,500 and married taxpayers filing joint returns must file if income was $19,000 or higher. Married people that file separate tax returns were required to file if income was $3,700 or higher. Income minimums are slightly higher for people age 65 or older. Single filers 65 and older did not have to file a return if they made less than $10,950.

Self-Employed Workers

Basic tax fling rules apply to traditional workers that are subject to income tax withholding. Tax withholding occurs when an employer takes money out of a worker's paycheck and sends it to the government to cover the worker's income tax obligation. Self-employed workers, including freelancers, contractors and small-business owners don't pay taxes automatically through withholding so they are subject to stricter tax filing requirements. The IRS states that self-employed workers with $400 or more in net earnings have to file income tax returns.


A dependent is an individual such as a child or parent older than 65 who relies upon others financially. Taxpayers can claim dependents on a tax return to gain a dependent exemption and save money on taxes, but dependents may have to file tax returns if they have income. The IRS reports that single dependents under age 65 were required to file tax returns for the 2011 tax season if earned income was more than $5,800 and if unearned income was more than $950. Unearned income describes income earned from activities other than a job, like interest earned on a bank account.


If you have low annual income during a certain tax year, you might not be required to file a tax return, but that doesn't mean you can't file a return. You can voluntarily file an income tax return even if you have little or no income. It can be advantageous to file a tax even when you're not required to file, because the government may owe you a tax refund if you were subject to tax withholding or if you are eligible for tax credits.

About the Author

Gregory Hamel has been a writer since September 2008 and has also authored three novels. He has a Bachelor of Arts in economics from St. Olaf College. Hamel maintains a blog focused on massive open online courses and computer programming.

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