What Is the 1040 and What’s the Difference Between the 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ?

See the complete guide to filling out the new 1040 correctly.

Tax time can be stressful, and for many, the headaches start with trying to figure out which forms to use. Thankfully, for the 2018 tax year, all tax forms have been consolidated into one redesigned 1040 form. Unlike previous years, when taxpayers used multiple forms — such as the 1040EZ and 1040A, depending on their income or deductions claimed — filers will now simply fill out additional schedules on top of the 1040 form.

Forms 1040A and 1040EZ are not available for the 2018 tax year; here’s what you need to know about the new 1040 and how to fill it out correctly for your filing status..

In This Guide:

The Basics: What Is a 1040 Form?

A 1040 tax form lets taxpayers fill out their annual tax return. Taxpayers include information such as their income, deductions and credits using the 1040 form. Your 1040 form will also include:

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  • Taxable interest on investments
  • Child tax credits
  • Your standard or itemized deduction
  • Additional information gleaned from the new Schedules (explained later)
  • Refundable credits
  • Your direct deposit information (if receiving a refund)

Related: Tax Deductions Are Changing Drastically But You Can Still Optimize Your Return

How to Get a 1040 Form

You can access and download a blank version of a 1040 via IRS.gov. The site also includes instructions for filling out the form. You might also be able to get 1040 forms from:

  • Participating local libraries
  • Participating post offices
  • Local IRS offices

1040 vs. 1040a vs. 1040EZ: What’s the Difference?

In previous years, what forms you filled out depended on a variety of factors, such as income or filing status. Now, taxpayers will only use the new Form 1040 when filing their 2018 taxes.

Form 1040

Previously 1040s were mandatory if you were self-employed, itemized your deductions, owed household employment tax or had $100,000 or more in taxable income. Now, it’s the standard form everyone will use.

Form 1040A

Form 1040A allowed you to claim certain adjustments not available using Form 1040EZ. For example, Form 1040A was used to file as head of household, which is more advantageous than a filing status of single because it comes with a lower tax rate and a higher standard deduction. You could also claim dependents and take tax credits for child and dependent care, retirement savings, earned income, premium tax and education using Form 1040A. Now, that’s done on the new Form 1040.

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As with Form 1040EZ, Form 1040A only applied to you if your taxable income was less than $100,000. Other income requirements for Form 1040A differ from 1040EZ in that they allowed you to include a broader category of income. In addition to wages, salary and tips, for example, your income could’ve also included dividends, pensions, annuities, IRAs and capital gains distributions. These claims are also folded into the new Form 1040.

See: Taxable Income You Must Report to Avoid an IRS Audit

Form 1040EZ

Form 1040EZ was considered the easiest federal income tax form to complete, but it also had the most conditions and restrictions on its use. Here’s a checklist the IRS used to determine qualifying use of Form 1040EZ:

  • You file your income tax return with a status of single or married filing jointly.
  • Your taxable income is $100,000 or less.
  • All of your taxable income comes from wages, salary, tips, interest income amounting to less than $1,500, taxable scholarship and fellowship grants, unemployment compensation or Alaska Permanent Fund dividends.
  • On the last day of the tax year, you were under age 65 and you were not blind (this also applies to your spouse if you file jointly).
  • You aren’t required to pay household employment tax on household employees’ wages.
  • You didn’t become a Chapter 11 bankruptcy debtor.
  • Premium tax credits weren’t paid on your behalf or on behalf of your spouse, or on any individual, you enrolled in coverage for whom no one else is claiming the personal exemption.

Whatever your taxable income is now, you’ll use Form 1040 like everyone else.

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Which 1040 Form to Use for Your Taxes

Thankfully, now that the IRS has consolidated the 1040 form, you need only one to use for your taxes. However, depending on your filing status, you might be required to fill out additional schedules if you meet certain criteria.

“Many people will only need to file Form 1040 and no schedules,” according to the Internal Revenue Service. Consult the following table to see if you’ll need additional forms:

Tax Schedules to Use in Addition to Form 1040
Schedule Criteria
Schedule 1
(Additional Income and Adjustments to Income)
Use this schedule to report items such as: capital gains, unemployment, compensation, prize or award money, gambling winnings or to claim deductions, such as student loan interest deduction, self-employment tax and educator expenses.
Schedule 2
Filers fill out a Schedule 2 to report what they owe for the Alternative Minimum Tax or when they need to make an excess advance premium tax credit repayment.
Schedule 3
(Non-refundable Credits)
You can use this schedule to claim a nonrefundable credit, excluding the child tax credit or the credit for other qualifying dependents.
Ex. the foreign tax credit, education credits, general business credit
Schedule 4
(Other Taxes)
This schedule includes taxes that must be reported and paid such as the self-employment tax, household employment tax, additional tax on IRAs or other qualified retirement plans and tax-favored accounts.
Schedule 5
(Other Payments and Refundable Credits)
Taxpayers can use this schedule to claim a refundable credit other than the earned income credit, American opportunity credit, or additional child tax credit or have other payments, such as an amount paid with a request for an extension to file or excess social security tax withheld.
Schedule 6
(Foreign Address and Third-Party Designee)
You’ll need to fill out this schedule if you have a foreign address or a third-party designee (other than a paid preparer).
Information accurate as of Jan. 7, 2018.


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Check Out: Every Document You Need to Defend Yourself During an Audit

The New Postcard Tax Return Form for Tax Year 2018

The postcard-sized tax form, promised by President Donald Trump as a way to help taxpayers expedite the tax-filing process, is neither postcard sized, nor particularly new. The new 1040 form spans two pages, but also includes the six additional schedules that taxpayers might need to fill out. And although it does have fewer lines — the old 1040 form had 79 lines versus the new one’s 23 — for the most part, it’s just as complicated. The new standard deductions might make it easier for most people to compute their taxes, but the new format will do little to ease the burden, especially considering more than 90 percent of people will file their taxes electronically, anyway.

File Accurate Returns Quickly: TurboTax Free and Paid Options Review

IRS Form 1040 Instructions: How to Fill Out a 1040

The IRS’ own guidelines on filling out a 1040 form span more than 110 pages. Not every bit of information applies to every taxpayer, especially if you’re a single, employed filer. Similarly, not all lines apply to all taxpayers: What figures you enter depends on what forms you receive, which depend on what sort of income you earn, investments you have, dependents you can claim, etc.

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GOBankingRates’ line-by-line breakdown will help the process seem less daunting:

  • Line 1: Put your income from your W-2 forms, which will include wages, salaries, tips, etc. If you’re filing jointly, also include your spouse’s income.
  • Lines 2a/2b: If you received tax-exempt interest from an asset, such as from a municipal bond, enter it on this line using the payer’s 1099-INT or 1099-OID form that you received. If the total is over $1,500, you must also fill in and attach a Schedule B to your forms.
  • Lines 3a/3b: Fill out your qualified dividends on line 3a, which should be found in box 1b of Form 1099-DIV. Qualified dividends are eligible for a lower tax rate than other ordinary income, according to the IRS. Ordinary dividends should be found in box 1a of Form 1099-DIV. You must fill in and attach a Schedule B if this figure goes over $1,500 or you received, as a nominee, ordinary dividends that actually belong to someone else.
  • Lines 4a/4b: Here you will enter applicable IRA distributions and pension and annuity payments, which are now combined on one line, unlike previous tax years when they were separated. These can be found on your 1099-R.
  • Lines 5a/5b: You’ll enter your Social Security benefits, which can be found in box 3 of Form SSA-1099.
  • Line 6: You will fill out your total income here, which you’ll get by adding lines 1 through 5. You will also need to add the amount from Schedule 1, line 22, if any.
  • Line 7: This is your adjusted gross income. You might not have any, in which case you’ll just enter the same figure from line 6 on line 7. If you filled out a Schedule 1 form, subtract Schedule 1, line 36, from Form 1040, line 6 instead. Adjusted gross income might apply to people who pay for educational expenses or who are self-employed.
  • Line 8: Here you will enter either the standard deduction amount (which depends on your filing status) or your itemized deductions from the Schedule A form, which include deductions from mortgage interest payments, gifts to charity, theft losses, etc.
  • Line 9: Here you will enter your qualified business income deduction. Per the IRS: “Generally, you are allowed a deduction up to 20 percent of your net qualified business income plus 20 percent of qualified real estate investment trust (REIT) dividends and publicly traded partnership (PTP) income.”
  • Line 10: Your taxable income can be found by subtracting lines 8 and 9 from line 7. If it’s zero or less, you’ll enter 0.
  • Line 11a: This is one of the trickier parts of the 1040. The IRS has provided a separate worksheet to figure this number out, which can be found on page 39. Check out the following sections for specific instructions on correctly filling out this line.
  • Line 11b: You’ll also add anything from your Schedule 2, if you’re paying alternative minimum tax.
  • Line 12: Here you will fill out any child tax credits you are entitled to, or credit for other dependents. If you have any amount from Schedule 3, you will also add it to the line.
  • Line 13: Subtract line 12 from line 11. If zero or less, enter 0.
  • Line 14: Put other taxes on this line from Schedule 4, if any.
  • Line 15: Add lines 13 and 14 for your total tax.
  • Line 16: You’ll add the federal income tax withheld from your W-2 or 1099 here.
  • Line 17: You’ll write in your refundable credits here, including: the earned income credit, Schedule 8812, Form 8863, or any amount from the Schedule 5 form.
  • Line 18: Add lines 16 and 17 for your total payments.
  • Line 19: If line 18 is more than line 15, subtract line 15 from line 18. This is the amount you overpaid in taxes, which is subject to be refunded to you.
  • Line 20a: This is the amount of line 19 you want refunded to you (Form 8888).
  • Lines 20b, 20c and 20d: These will include your bank account number (checking or savings) and routing number.
  • Line 21: This is how much of line 19 you want applied to your 2019 estimated tax. This means you can allocate some of your refund as a tax credit for next year.
  • Line 22: Subtract line 18 from line 15. This is how much you owe (if any).
  • Line 23: Fill out your estimated tax penalty on this line. Per the IRS’ instructions, you might owe a tax penalty if:
    • Line 22 is at least $1,000 and it is more than 10 percent of the tax shown on your return, or
    • You didn’t pay enough estimated tax by any of the due dates. This is true even if you are due a refund.

Here’s When to Expect That Check: When Will You Get Your Tax Refund?

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Instructions for Line 11a of Form 1040

Line 11a of the Form 1040 requires more detailed instructions:

  1. Enter the amount from Form 1040, line 10.
  2. Enter the amount from your (and your spouse’s, if filing jointly) Form 2555, lines 45 and 50, or Form 2555-EZ, line 18 on line 2a. Then enter the total amount of any itemized deductions or exclusions you couldn’t claim because they are related to excluded income on line 2b. Subtract line 2b from line 2a, or, if zero or less, enter 0, and write that number on line 2c.
  3. Add lines 1 and 2c. Write that number on line 3.
  4. Figure the tax amount on line 3 using one of the following: the Tax Table, Tax Computation Worksheet, Qualified Dividends and Capital Gain Tax Worksheet, Schedule D Tax Worksheet, or Form 8615, whichever applies. See the instructions for line 11a to see which tax computation method applies. Note: Don’t use a second Foreign Earned Income Tax Worksheet to figure the tax on this line.
  5. Figure the tax on the amount on line 2c. If the amount on line 2c is less than $100,000, use the Tax Table to figure this tax. If the amount on line 2c is $100,000 or more, use the Tax Computation Worksheet.
  6. Subtract line 5 from line 4. Enter the result. If zero or less, enter 0. Also include this amount on the entry space on Form 1040, line 11a.

The Tax Table is the IRS’ grided table that lets you figure out how much tax you owe based on your income and filing status. For example, if the figure on line 3 reads 35,000, and you are filing as single, check the Tax Table to find the figure you should write in will be 4,013. Also assume that line 5 results in 0, leaving the remaining figure to be filled in the slot of 11a as 4,013.

However, also note that 11a takes into consideration amounts gleaned from Forms 8814 (which lets you report your child’s interest) and Form 4972 (Tax on Lump-Sum Distributions From Qualified Plans of Participants Born Before January 2, 1936).

Feeling Overwhelmed? See: Best Ways to Get Free Tax Help

You can also refer to the IRS’ own instruction manual when filling out your 1040. Additionally, the IRS offers certain tools, such as the Tax Witholding Tool, to help taxpayers figure out how much they owe — or are refunded.

1040 Examples: How a Completed Form Should Look

Filling out a Form 1040 can seem daunting, and it’s hard to shake the feeling of consequences if you accidentally file incorrectly — although if you catch your mistake you can also file a Form 1040X to correct the error. GOBankingRates has provided filled-out examples of the 1040 form for all five filing statuses. Note that these figures are artificial, and your own tax refund might not reflect so generously.

Sample of Completed Form 1040 for Filing Status: Single


Sample of Completed Form 1040 for Filing Status: Head of Household

1040_HeadofHousehold 1040_HeadofHousehold_Pg2

Sample of Completed Form 1040 for Filing Status: Married Filing Jointly


Sample of Completed Form 1040 for Filing Status: Married Filing Separately

1040_MarriedSeparately 1040_MarriedSeparately_Pg2

Sample of Completed Form 1040 for Filing Status: Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child

1040_Widower 1040_Widower_Pg2

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About the Author

Sean Dennison

Sean joined the GOBankingRates team in 2018, bringing with him several years of experience with both military and collegiate writing and editing experience. Sean’s first foray into writing happened when he enlisted in the Marines, with the occupational specialty of combat correspondent. He covered military affairs both in garrison and internationally when he deployed to Afghanistan. After finishing his enlistment, he completed his BA in English at UC Berkeley, eventually moving to Southern California.

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What Is the 1040 and What’s the Difference Between the 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ?
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