Form 1040 vs. Form 1040A

Make sure you use the right version of Form 1040.

Make sure you use the right version of Form 1040.

Make no mistake aabout it, you've got to file the right tax return for your federal income taxes. Choosing the wrong one may get you more than egg on your face -- it can cost you money, and since you're already giving some to the IRS, the last thing you want to do is add to the tab. The simplest form to use is 1040EZ, but that's limited to people making less than $100,000 a year with no dependents and no special deductions. The other choices are Form 1040 and 1040A, which are longer and similar but with important differences. A 1040 is the most complicated to file.

Itemize With 1040

You'll have to use Form 1040 if your taxable income is over $100,000 or if you want to itemize deductions. You'll also have to use this if you have any self-employment income, are eligible for a first-time homebuyer credit, got any money from a partnership, S corporation or from an estate or trust. This form covers all taxpayer options for income, deductions and credits.

1040a Limitations

You can use Form 1040A if your taxable income is under $100,000, you don't itemize deductions and you don't claim a lot of special adjustments. You can claim IRA contributions and some educational expenses and a few credits for such things as child-care and retirement programs. Instructions for the two 1040 forms differ in some respects and you have to follow the rules for the right form.

1040 Is Complex

The basic 1040 form is long, complex, has several schedules to complete and attach and often requires using several work sheets in the instruction booklet to figure such things as child-care credits, taxable amounts of Social Security and other items. It can be a major benefit if you have a lot of deductions, such as charitable contributions. It is essential to use the 1040 if you are self-employed and have to file a self-employment tax form.

1040A Is Simpler

You'll have to use a 1040A if you don't qualify for the 1040EZ but don't have a lot of deductions to itemize. It's simpler than a 1040 because you don't have to complete as many supplementary forms or provide documentation for such things as charitable contributions. You have to be careful in completing any worksheets for special credits, because rules vary between the 1040 and 1040A.

Get Complete Instructions

You can get complete instructions for all 1040 forms on at the IRS website, You also can find helpful advice and can ask specific questions if you don't understand something or want to verify that you're using the right form. Using 1040A instructions on a 1040 return in some cases can cause you to miscalculate some items and lead to an IRS claim for extra taxes.

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About the Author

Bob Haring has been a news writer and editor for more than 50 years, mostly with the Associated Press and then as executive editor of the Tulsa, Okla. "World." Since retiring he has written freelance stories and a weekly computer security column. Haring holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri.

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