Who Should Sign a Minor's Federal Income Tax Return?

The child signs whenever possible.

The child signs whenever possible.

Minors are required to file a tax return for any income that exceeds the annual exemption established by the Internal Revenue Service. Generally, the child has to file his own return and pay any taxes and penalties. A child who is able to do so must sign his own return. If a child can't sign for any reason, the parent or legal guardian can do it for him.

Who Has to File

A minor who earns more than the personal exemption limits laid down by the IRS must file a return and pay taxes on his income. That income may be earned, for example, from an after-school job or unearned through investments, dividends and savings. Even if a kid earns less than the annual exemption, she still has to file a return if she wants to reclaim taxes withheld from her paycheck.

Parental Authority

Legally, the child can prepare, signs and file his own return. This responsibility begins at any age. However, if the child can't sign for any reason -- for example, he can't write -- a parent or legal guardian must sign for him. The adult signs the child's name followed by the words "by (signature), parent or guardian for minor child.”

Dealing with the IRS

The person who signs the return deals with the IRS on all matters connected with the return. Thus, a parent can give and receive information, respond to IRS notices and pay the child's taxes. If the child signs, he has to do those things himself. A signing minor can have a parent to act on his behalf, but there are limits to that move. In this scenario, the parent can do all the work with the return, but can't get the refund check or bind the child to a tax liability.

No Kid Gloves Allowed

The IRS treats a return by a minor the same way it does one from an adult. That means a kid can get tax deficiency notices, late filing penalties and even an audit. The IRS tells parents to contact the IRS as soon as they get a tax notice that concerns a child. According to IRS publication 929, the IRS tries to resolve the matter with the parent or legal guardian if that's permitted in the child's tax return.

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