Does Everybody Have to File Taxes?

The IRS sets the rules for who must file taxes
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The Internal Revenue Service sets down the rules for filing tax returns and paying federal income taxes. The amount you owe depends on your income level and filing status. The same applies to the requirement on filing a tax return. Although the tax code is encyclopedic in length, the basic rules on who has to file a tax return are fairly straightforward.


One common question on filing requirements involves age. On this question, the IRS doesn't care how old you are: if you have income, you are subject to income tax. This includes minor children as well as retirees older than 65. Although children might have a parent or guardian complete their tax return, and manage their money as well, they pay taxes like anyone else.

Single Status

Not everyone has to file a tax return. The requirement is based on income and filing status: single, married, head of household, dependent or widow(er). The IRS considers you to be a single taxpayer if you were unmarried on the last day of the year. If you are single and under 65, you must file a return if your gross income from all sources was $9,500 or more. If you are 65 or older, this threshold rises to $10,950.

Married Taxpayers

If you are married on the last day of the year, your status with the IRS is married, but you can file either jointly or separately. For couples filing a joint return, the income threshold is $19,000 if both are under 65 and $20,150 if one spouse is younger than 65 and one older. If both are 65 or older, the threshold rises to $21,300. A person whose filing status is married but filing separately must file if his income is above $3,700.

Head of Household and Widows/Widowers

The head of household filing status is for unmarried persons who provided more than half of the support for others with whom they live, which usually means a younger dependent. If you are a head of household under 65, you must file if you had at least $12,200 of income. At 65 or older, this threshold rises to $13,650. The IRS also provides filing requirements for qualifying widows and widowers. Those under 65 with $15,300 of more in income must file. At 65 or older the minimum filing income is $16,450.


The filing requirements for people who are claimed as dependents depend on their marital status and whether the income is earned or unearned. By the IRS definition, unearned income includes various payments for which you didn't have to actually work, such as Social Security benefits, interest or dividends on investments, and workers' compensation payments. As a single dependent under 65, for example, your filing threshold is $5,800 if you have only earned income. If you are 65 or older or blind, the threshold rises to $7,250. If you are 65 or older and blind, the threshold rises to $8.700. You can find the filing rules on dependent taxpayers in IRS Publication 929.

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