Do I Have to File Taxes? 3 Times You Can Skip It

Learn when you have to file taxes and when you don't.

Tax return filing in the U.S. can be complicated; some Americans don’t even know if they are required to file a return. The Internal Revenue Service looks primarily at your filing status, age, income and dependency status to determine if you need to file taxes. Essentially, if you’re over certain income thresholds, you will have to file.

Even if you don’t hit the minimum income to file taxes, however, there are some situations in which income tax filing works to your benefit. Here’s a look at three times when you can skip filing taxes.

1. You Have Low Income

If you’re wondering how much you have to make to file taxes, the answer is a little complicated. The IRS has different income thresholds depending on your tax filing status and they range anywhere from $5 to five figures. The minimum income tax return filing requirements are as follows:

  • Single: $12,000
  • Head of household: $18,000
  • Married filing jointly: $24,000, both spouses
  • Married filing separately: $5
  • Qualifying widow(er): $24,000

The income thresholds above are based solely on W-2 income. To file taxes without W-2 income, you might have to file as a self-employed business. When self-employed, the income threshold for filing is dramatically reduced — to $400 — regardless of your filing status. You still, however, might have to file a tax return if you meet other requirements.

Up Next: Tax Experts Share the 6 Biggest Mistakes People Make When Filing

2. You Are 65 or Over

Being age 65 doesn’t automatically qualify you to skip filing your taxes. It does mean, however, that the IRS uses different income thresholds to determine if you’re required to file. If you are 65 and over, and your gross income is at least one of the amounts below, you must file a tax return.

  • Single: $13,600
  • Head of household: $19,600
  • Married filing jointly: $25,300 for one spouse; $26,600 for both spouses
  • Married filing separately: $5
  • Qualifying widow(er): $25,300

Learn: How to File Taxes Early — and Get Your Return Faster

3. You Qualify as a Dependent

When you qualify as a dependent, you can avoid filing taxes if your income falls below certain thresholds. The amount you can earn varies based on your age, filing status and the type of income, as follows:

For Single Dependents Age 65 or Older or Blind

  • Unearned income $2,650 or lower; $1,950 or lower if also blind
  • Earned income of $13,600 or lower; $11,650 if also blind

For Married Dependents Age 65 or Older or Blind

  • Gross income under $5 and spouse does not file a separate return and itemize deductions 
  • Unearned income of $2,950 or less
  • Earned income of $13,300 or less

For Single Dependents Not Age 65 or Older or Blind

  • Unearned income of $1,050 or less
  • Earned income of $12,000 or less

For Married Dependents Not Age 65 or Older or Blind

  • Unearned income $1,050 or less
  • Earned income $12,000 or les

More on Dependents: Taxes Have Changed for Divorced Parents — Here’s What You Need to Know

When You Might Want to File

Filing a federal tax return doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pay tax. In some instances, filing a tax return could actually mean that you receive money back. When you’re entitled to any of these three refunds or credits, consider filing even if you otherwise aren’t required to:

  • Earned income tax credit
  • Affordable Care Act premium tax credit
  • Refund of overpaid taxes

Workers with low-to-moderate income might qualify for the EITC. The income threshold varies depending on your filing status and the number of qualifying children you can claim. Thresholds vary from $15,270 for a single filer with zero qualifying children to $54,884 for joint filers with three or more qualifying children.

The Affordable Care Act premium tax credit helps low- and moderate-income families pay for health insurance purchased through the health insurance marketplace created by federal law. You can generally qualify if your household income is between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty line.

In case you overpaid your taxes  or forgot to file taxes  in a prior year, you can’t get your refund unless you file a tax return. You can’t wait too long, either — the IRS requires you to claim refunds from prior years within three years. After that, the IRS can no longer send a refund.

Click through to read the penalties for filing your taxes late.

More on Money

We make money easy. Get weekly email updates, including expert advice to help you Live Richer™.

About the Author

After earning a B.A. in English with a Specialization in Business from UCLA, John Csiszar worked in the financial services industry as a registered representative for 18 years. Along the way, Csiszar earned both Certified Financial Planner and Registered Investment Adviser designations, in addition to being licensed as a life agent, while working for both a major Wall Street wirehouse and for his own investment advisory firm. During his time as an advisor, Csiszar managed over $100 million in client assets while providing individualized investment plans for hundreds of clients.