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

You don't always have to file a tax return.

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

The IRS doesn’t require income tax return filing if you don’t earn a lot of money. Of course, “a lot of money” is a relative term, as you can still earn into the five digits without filing a return. The IRS has different income thresholds depending on your tax filing status. The limits for tax year 2017 are as follows:

  • Single: $10,400
  • Head of household: $13,400
  • Married filing jointly: $20,800, both spouses
  • Married filing separately: $4,050
  • Qualifying widow(er): $16,750

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.

2. You Are Over 65

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. Across the board, you can earn more income if you are over 65 and still not file, regardless of your filing status. Tax year 2017 limits for those over 65 are as follows:

  • Single: $11,950
  • Head of household: $14,950
  • Married filing jointly: $22,050 for one spouse; $23,300 for both spouses
  • Married filing separately: $4,050
  • Qualifying widow(er): $18,000

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 of $2,600 or lower; $4,150 if also blind
  • Earned income of $7,900 or lower; $9,450 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 $2,300 or less
  • Earned income of $7,600 or less

For Single Dependents Not Age 65 or Older or Blind

  • Unearned income of $1,050 or less
  • Earned income of $6,350 or less

For Married Dependents Not Age 65 or Older or Blind

  • Gross income under $5 and spouse does not file a separate return and itemize deductions
  • Unearned income $1,050 or less
  • Earned income $6,350 or less

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 $15,010 for a single filer with zero qualifying children to $53,930 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.

Learn More: These Are the Penalties for Filing Taxes Late