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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. Your worldwide income is subject to tax, so if you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien living abroad you must still file an annual federal income tax return each year. However, if you are living abroad, the amount of tax you pay may be reduced by foreign earned income exclusions and/or foreign income tax credits.

The IRS filing requirements listed below are for individual income earners for the 2020 tax year. Certain other groups have different filing requirements. Click on the following IRS links for more information on filing requirements for DependentsChildren Under 14Self-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
  3. Your age

1. Gross Income

The table below illustrates filing requirements based on an individual's "gross income." The IRS defines gross income as the income received by an individual in the form of money, goods, property, and services that are not tax-exempt. It also includes income you earned from sources outside the United States (even if you are allowed to exclude all or part of it on your federal return). Get more information on Common Types of Income from the IRS.

A Note on 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: 2020 Filing Requirements for Most Taxpayers

IF your filing status is... AND at the end of 2020 you were...* THEN file a return if your gross income was at least...**
Single Under 65 $12,400
  65 or older $14,050
Married filing jointly*** Under 65 (both spouses) $24,800
  65 or older (one spouse) $26,100
  65 or older (both spouses) $27,400
Married filing separately Any age $5
Head of household Under 65 $18,650
  65 or older $20,300
Qualifying widow(er) Under 65 $24,800
  65 or older $26,100  
* If you were born before Jan. 2, 1956, you are considered to be older than 65 at the end of 2020.
** 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 either (a) you are married filing a separate return and you lived with your spouse at any time during 2020 or (b) one-half of your social security benefits plus your other gross income and any tax-exempt interest is more than $25,000 ($32,000 if you are married and filing jointly).
*** If you did not live with your spouse at the end of 2020 (or on the date your spouse died) and your gross income was at least $5, you must file a return regardless of your age.

2. Filing Status

Your filing status depends on whether you are single or married, as well as 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 are usually allowed a higher amount of gross income than other taxpayers before you must file (see the table above). You are considered to be 65 at the end of the tax year if your 65th birthday is on or before January 1 of the following year.

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 forcing them to make payments. 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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