How Much Income Can Be Earned Before You Pay Taxes?

In the United States, you only pay taxes on the money you make. If you don’t make any money, you don’t have to pay taxes. That means not everyone has to file a tax return every single year, but it’s important to check every single tax season to make sure you aren’t required to file. The minimum income to file taxes can change from one year to the next, so not filing last year does not mean you’re free and clear this year.

Tip

Each year, the IRS sets a maximum amount you can earn without filing taxes. This amount depends on your age, filing status and whether you're employed or self-employed.

Maximum Earnings Before Paying Tax

The IRS uses a variety of factors to help you determine whether you need to file taxes in a given year. You can make up to a maximum earning before paying tax, but there are other factors you’ll need to consider even if you exceed that amount. The IRS bases your requirement to pay on your filing status, age, income, dependency status and a few other special requirements. The IRS provides a special tool at IRS.gov that will help you determine whether you’ll need to file a return in a given year. To get started, you’ll need to know how much federal income tax was withheld from your income during the tax year and your gross income. Using that information, the tool will ask a series of clarifying questions to help you arrive at an answer.

Each year, there is a minimum income requirement for filing your taxes. This is earned income, so it only includes wages, tips and bonuses you received. This means that money you collected from Social Security or pensions won’t count. However, if you have earned income during the tax year, you may have to pay taxes on some of your Social Security earnings. There’s a limit to how much you can earn outside of your unearned income.

If you’re a child or dependent on someone’s taxes, you may also not have to file a return. A child must file a return only if earned income meets or exceeds the standard deduction for the tax year. A child who receives only unearned income must file a return if the year’s total meets or exceeds $1,050. If the child receives a combination of earned and unearned income, a tax return is necessary if earned income was the same as or greater than the standard deduction, unearned income was $1,050 or more or if earned and unearned income combined was the larger of $1,050 or up to $12,000 in earned income plus $350.

Exceptions for the Self-Employed

If you’re self-employed, things are far less complicated. You’ll simply need to file a tax return if you earned $400 or more during the tax year. This is overall income, not income from a specific client. If you earned only $100 from four different clients during the tax year, you’ll still be required to file. This is notable because your clients aren’t required to send you a Form 1099-MISC unless they pay you $600 or more during the tax year. This in no way changes your obligation to report that income, which means you’ll be responsible for tracking and reporting every dime of self-employment income you make.

Taxes for 2018

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changes the tax brackets for 2018 as well as requirements for the minimum income to file taxes, so even if you’ve been required to file in past tax years, things may have changed. If you’re under the age of 65, you’ll need to file a return if your income exceeds the standard deduction, which is $12,000 if you’re single and $24,000 if you’re married filing jointly. Those 65 and older must file if your earned income meets or exceeds $13,600 or $25,300 if you’re married filing jointly.

Taxes for 2017

If you’re still filing your 2017 taxes, you’ll need to go by that year’s minimum income to file taxes. If you’re under 65, you’ll file if you earned $10,400 or $23,300 if you’re married filing jointly. If you’re 65 or older, you’ll file if your earned income was $11,950 or $23,300 for those filing jointly.

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About the Author

Stephanie Faris has written about finance for entrepreneurs and marketing firms since 2013. She spent nearly a year as a ghostwriter for a credit card processing service and has ghostwritten about finance for numerous marketing firms and entrepreneurs. Her work has appeared on The Motley Fool, MoneyGeek, Ecommerce Insiders, GoBankingRates, and ThriveBy30.