Making sure your taxes are filed correctly when you’re required to file makes sure you stay on the right side of the law. When you’re married, you must take into account both your income and your spouse’s income, as well as other taxable transactions, when determining whether you’re required to file an income tax return. In some circumstances, even if you’re not required to file, it can be to your advantage to complete a return so you don’t miss out on getting money back.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
How much money you can earn before you are required to file taxes when married depends on whether you are filing married filing jointly or married filing separately.
General Income Threshold
Your gross income, which is your total income before any deductions or credits, typically determines whether or not you have to file an income tax return. When you’re married, you can file your taxes jointly with or separately from your spouse. For the 2018 tax year, if you file a joint return, you must file a federal tax return if your gross income exceeds $24,000 if you and your spouse are both under 65, $25,300 if one of you is 65 or older or $26,600 if both of you are 65 or older. If you file separately, the IRS requires you to file a return if your gross income exceeds $5.
Self-employment income has a different filing threshold because of self-employment taxes. You are required to file a federal income tax return if your net self-employment income exceeds $400 or if your church employee income exceeds $108.28 as of the 2018 tax year. Your net self-employment income equals your total self-employment income minus your deductible business expenses.
Other Times Filing is Required
You are also required to file a tax return in certain other circumstances, generally when you owe specific types of taxes. For example, if you owe an early withdrawal penalty on early distributions from a retirement account, such as an IRA or 401(k), you must file, though if that’s the only reason to file, you can just File Form 5329 instead of a full tax return. Or, if you took distributions from tax-advantaged medical accounts, such as a health-savings account, you’re required to file.
Reasons to File a Return Anyway
Even if you’re not required to file a tax return, you may want to file in certain circumstances. For example, if you’ve had federal income taxes withheld from your paycheck, you must file a return to have that money refunded. In addition, you might be eligible for certain refundable tax credits, like the Earned Income Tax Credit, that could further increase the amount the government gives you back.
Based in the Kansas City area, Mike specializes in personal finance and business topics. He has been writing since 2009 and has been published by "Quicken," "TurboTax," and "The Motley Fool."