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Do I Have to File a Federal Tax Return?

You must file a federal income tax return if you are a citizen or resident of the United States or a resident of Puerto Rico and you meet the filing requirements discussed below. (Note: The filing requirements discussed below are for typical individual income earners. Different requirements exist for certain other groups. Click on the following links from the IRS for more information on filing requirements for Dependents, Children Under 14, Self-Employed Persons, and Aliens.)

If you are a U.S. citizen or resident, whether you must file a return depends on three factors:

  1. Your gross income,

  2. Your filing status, and

  3. Your age.

1. Gross Income

The table below illustrates filing requirements based on an individual's "gross income." This includes all income you receive in the form of money, goods, property, and services that is not exempt from tax. It also includes income from sources outside the United States (even if you may exclude all or part of it). Get more information on Common Types of Income from the IRS.

Community income.

If you are married and your permanent home is in a community property state, half of any income described by state law as community income may be considered yours. This affects your federal taxes, including whether you must file if you do not file a joint return with your spouse. See Publication 555, Community Property, for more information.

Table: 2016 Filing Requirements for Most Taxpayers

IF your filing status is... AND at the end of 2016you
THEN file a return if
your gross income
was at least...**
single under 65 $10,350
  65 or older $11,900
married filing jointly*** under 65 (both spouses) $20,700
  65 or older (one spouse) $21,950
  65 or older (both spouses) $23,200
married filing separately any age $4,050
head of household under 65 $13,350
  65 or older $14,900
qualifying widow(er) with under 65 $15,700
dependent child 65 or older $17,900  
* If you turn 65, you are considered to be age 65 at the end of 2016.
** Gross income means all income you received in the form of money, goods, property, and services that is not exempt from tax, including any income from sources outside the United States (even if you may exclude part or all of it). Do not include social security benefits unless you are married filing a separate return and you lived with your spouse at any time during 2016.
*** If you did not live with your spouse at the end of 2016 (or on the date your spouse died) and your gross income was at least $4,050, you must file a return regardless of your age.

2. Filing Status

Your filing status depends on whether you are single or married and on your family situation. Your filing status is determined on the last day of your tax year, which is December 31 for most taxpayers.

3. Age

If you are 65 or older at the end of the year, you generally can have a higher amount of gross income than other taxpayers before you must file. (see "Table" above) You are considered 65 on the day before your 65th birthday. For example, if your 65th birthday is on January 1, 2014, you are considered 65 for 2013.

Get Professional Legal Help Filing Your Federal Tax Return

Deciding not to pay federal taxes is risky business. No one wants Uncle Sam knocking at their door, garnishing their wages, or otherwise. If you do have questions about whether or not you are required to file federal income taxes, don't guess at it. Consult with an experienced tax law attorney today.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified tax attorney to help you navigate your federal and/or state tax issues.

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