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Filing Requirements

Your requirement to file a return usually depends on three things:

  • Your filing status
  • Your gross income
  • Your age

Filing status

There are five filing statuses:

  • Single
  • Married filing jointly
  • Married filing separately
  • Qualifying widow(er)
  • Head of household

Single

Your filing status is single if, on the last day of the year, both of these apply:

  • You’re unmarried or legally separated from your spouse under a divorce or separate maintenance decree.
  • You don't qualify to file as head of household or qualifying widow(er).

You might also be single if you were widowed before Jan. 1, 2013, and didn't remarry during 2013. However, you might be able to lower your tax if you qualify to file as either:

  • Head of household 
  • Qualifying widow(er) with a dependent child

Married filing jointly

You're considered married if, on the last day of the year, both of these apply:

  • You’re legally married.
  • You’re not legally separated under a divorce or separate maintenance decree.

A married couple can file a joint return or separate returns.

If your spouse dies during the year, both you and your spouse are considered married for that tax year. If you don't remarry during the year, you can file a joint return or separate returns.

If you do remarry in the same year your spouse died, you must do both of these:

  • File a joint return or separate returns with your new spouse.
  • File a married filing separately return for your deceased spouse.

Married filing separately

A married couple can choose to file a joint return or separate returns. However, a joint return often results in a lower federal tax.

If you file separate returns, the tax rates are usually higher. Plus, several deductions and credits you might receive if you file a joint return are:

  • Reduced
  • Limited
  • Not allowed

Qualifying widow(er)

You can file as qualifying widow(er) if all of these apply:

  • You qualified to file a joint return for the year your spouse died. It doesn’t matter if you actually filed a joint return.
  • Your spouse died in either of the two tax years immediately before the current tax year and you haven’t remarried. So, for 2013, your spouse must have died in either 2011 or 2012.
  • You claim one of these relatives as an exemption on your return:
    • Son
    • Daughter
    • Stepson
    • Stepdaughter

This doesn’t include a foster child.

  • You paid more than half the cost of maintaining your home for the year. This must have been the home of your child or stepchild for the entire year.

Head of household

You can file as head of household if all of these apply:

  • You were unmarried or considered unmarried on the last day of the tax year.
  • You paid more than half the cost of maintaining your home for the year.
  • A qualifying person lived with you in the home for more than half the year -- except for temporary absences. However, if the qualifying person is your dependent parent, he or she doesn't have to live with you.

If you'd like to learn more, see Publication 17: Your Federal Income Tax.

Married but considered unmarried for tax purposes

To be considered unmarried for tax purposes, all of these must apply:

  • You file a separate return from your spouse.
  • You provided more than half the cost of maintaining your home for the entire year.
  • Your home was the main home for more than half the year for one of these people:
    • Son or stepson
    • Daughter or stepdaughter
    • Foster child
  • You can claim an exemption for the child. However, this doesn’t apply if you can’t claim the exemption because the noncustodial parent is claiming the child. If you'd like to learn more, see Publication 17: Your Federal Income Tax.
  • Your spouse didn’t live in the home during the last six months of the year.

Ex: Let’s assume you:

  • Lived apart from your spouse since Feb. 3, 2013
  • Don't have a divorce decree or a written separation agreement
  • Don't want to file a joint return
  • Have one child

If you paid more than half the cost of maintaining the home where you and your child lived all year, you're considered unmarried for tax purposes. So, you're entitled to file as head of household.

By filing as head of household, you might be able to claim credits and deductions not available to married filing separately filers. These include:

  • Earned Income Credit (EIC)
  • Child and dependent care credit
  • Education credits
  • Student-loan interest deduction

If you'd like to learn more, see IRS Publication 501: Exemptions, Standard Deduction and Filing Information.

2013 filing requirements for most people

You’re required to file a return for 2013 if you have a certain amount of gross income. Gross income requirements for each filing status are:

  • Single:
    • $10,000 if under age 65
    • $11,500 if 65 and older
  • Married filing jointly:
    • $20,000 if both under 65
    • $21,200 if 1 spouse is 65 or older
    • $22,400 if both 65 or older
  • Married filing separately -- $3,900 at any age
  • Qualifying widow(er) with a dependent child:
    • $16,100 if under 65
    • $17,550 if 65 or older
  • Head of household:
    • $12,850 if under 65
    • $14,600 if 65 or older

2013 filing requirements for children and other dependents

If your parent or someone else can claim you as a dependent, filing requirements depend on your:

  • Gross income
  • Earned income
  • Unearned income

You need to file a return if you’re a:

  • Single dependent under age 65, not blind, and any of these apply:
    • Your unearned income was more than $1,000.
    • Your earned income was more than $6,250.
    • Your gross income was more than the larger of:
      • $1,000
      • Your earned income up to $5,850 plus $350
  • Single dependent either age 65 or older, or under age 65 and blind, and any of these apply:
    • Your unearned income was more than $2,550.
    • Your earned income was more than $7,750.
    • Your gross income was more than the larger of:
      • $2,550
      • Your earned income up to $5,850 plus $350 and $1,550
  • Single dependent age 65 or older, blind, and any of these apply:
    • Your unearned income was more than $4,100.
    • Your earned income was more than $9,300.
    • Your gross income was more than the larger of:
      • $4,100
      • Your earned income up to $5,850 plus $350 and $3,100

Other reasons you must file a return

You might need to file a return even if your income falls below the gross income filing requirements. The most common reasons are:

  • You owe uncollected Social Security or Medicare tax. This is usually on tips you didn't report to your employer.
  • You're self employed and have net earnings of $400 or more.
  • You've received the advance premium tax credit.

Even if you don't have to file, you should file a federal return to get money back if:

  • You had federal tax withheld from your pay.
  • You qualify for the EIC, additional child tax credit, the American Opportunity Credit, or the health coverage credit.

If you're due a refund, you don't have to worry about paying a penalty for filing a late return. However, if you don't file a return to claim your refund within three years of your return’s due date, you won't receive your refund.

If you'd like to learn more, see:

  • Forms 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ
  • Sources of Income tax tip

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