Every year I get asked about income requirements for filing taxes when publishing tax filing due dates for the upcoming tax season.
While there are other factors (residency status, claiming tax credits) that also drive if you have to file taxes or not, how much you earn (gross income) is the primary driver.
Gross income covers monies from goods, property, and services that isn’t exempt from tax. This includes any income from sources outside the country.
The IRS inflation-adjusted table below shows the current (as of 2021) minimum gross income requirements for having to file a tax return, based on filing status and age.
Or said another way, if you earn more than the amounts shown in the table you would be legally required to file taxes for that year.
If you make below these gross income amounts then income is not a driver for you having to file taxes – though other non-income factors, like getting all the tax credits and stimulus payments, may still mean filing is a good idea.
|Single Filers||Married Filing Jointly or Qualified Widower||Head of Household||Married Filing Separately|
($14,250 if 65 or older)
|$25,100 (both spouses under 65)|
$26,450 (if one spouse > 65yrs)
$27,800 (both spouses > 65yrs)
($20,500 if 65 or older)
|$5 (any age)|
Note that your filing status is based on what your family situation was on the last day of the tax year (Dec 31st). So if you got married mid-year, you would generally file in the married filing jointly status (versus single filer in the prior year) for the year.
Also note that if you are filing under the married filing jointly status, and you didn’t live with your spouse at the end of the year and your gross income was at least $5, you must file a return regardless of your age. So basically everyone filing under this status needs to file.
When determining whether you need to file a return, you don’t include tax-exempt income when figuring your gross income. Also the minimum income thresholds for requiring a tax filing for those who are self-employed (e.g freelancers or S-corp owners) is $400.
Naturally the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recommends that all adults file a tax return even if their income is below the above thresholds.
So if in doubt, just file a return. Better to be compliant and get the tax credits (free government money) you are due as opposed to being on hook for a penalty or having to face an IRS audit for not filing.
Please refer to IRS Publication 501 for a comprehensive list of requirements for filing taxes. You can also use the IRS’ interactive tax assistant (IAT) to help you determine if filing is a good financial move for you.