They say taxes are unavoidable, but in reality, not everybody has to file a return. Whether you have to file depends on your age, income and filing status. The Internal Revenue Service sets the rules that determine whether you must file. Still, just because you don't have to file doesn't mean you shouldn't. Even if your income is quite low, depending on the deductions and exemptions you qualify for, you might be able to get a refund if you file. The income limit figures in this story are current as of tax year 2012.
Non-Dependent Under 65
If you are single and younger than 65, and nobody claims you as a dependent when they file their taxes, you can earn $9,750 without having to file your own return. If you are married filing jointly, your income can be as much as $19,500.
Dependent Under 65
If you are being claimed as a dependent on someone else's return, you have to consider the source of your income when it comes to skipping out on tax filing. Once your investment income reaches $950, you automatically have to file a return. If you child gets at least this much investment income, you have to file and sign a return on her behalf. If you are married filing separately and your spouse itemizes deductions, an income as low as $5 requires you to file a return. If neither of these situations applies to you, you can sail carefree through tax-filing season as long as you make less than $5,800.
One of the downsides of going into business for yourself is that you must file a return even if you bring in only $400. It doesn't matter how old you are or whether you are a dependent. The IRS doesn't exclude children from this requirement, so keep careful track of your child's self-employment income, if any.
65 and Up
A non-dependent single senior can earn up to $11,200 before the tax-filing requirement is triggered. a dependent single senior can have earned income up to $7,250. On the downside, unearned income, such as pension and investment income triggers the filing requirement at just $2,400. Seniors who are married filing jointly don't have to file until their earned income reaches $21,800. The unearned income limit is $6,950. As with younger couples who are married filing separately, the income limit is $5 if your spouse itemizes on his return.
D. Laverne O'Neal, an Ivy League graduate, published her first article in 1997. A former theater, dance and music critic for such publications as the "Oakland Tribune" and Gannett Newspapers, she started her Web-writing career during the dot-com heyday. O'Neal also translates and edits French and Spanish. Her strongest interests are the performing arts, design, food, health, personal finance and personal growth.