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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, 2016, and didn't remarry during 2016. 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 file either 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, you could lose or be limited on deductions and credits you might receive if you file a joint return.

Qualifying widow(er)

You can file as a 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 2016, your spouse must have died in either 2014 or 2015.
  • 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.

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. 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, 2016
  • 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

To learn more, see Publication 501: Exemptions, Standard Deduction and Filing Information.

2016 filing requirements for most people

You’re required to file a return for 2016 if you have a certain amount of gross income. Gross income requirements for each filing status are:

  • Single:
    • $10,300 if under age 65
    • $11,900 if 65 and older
  • Married filing jointly:
    • $20,700 if both under 65
    • $21,950 if 1 spouse is 65 or older
    • $23,200 if both 65 or older
  • Married filing separately -- $4,050 at any age
  • Qualifying widow(er) with a dependent child:
    • $16,650 if under 65
    • $17,850 if 65 or older
  • Head of household:
    • $13,350 if under 65
    • $14,800 if 65 or older

2016 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 $1,050.
    • Your earned income was more than $6,300.
    • Your gross income was more than the larger of:
      • $1,050
      • Your earned income up to $5,950 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 $2,600.
    • Your earned income was more than $7,850.
    • Your gross income was more than the larger of:
      • $2,600
      • Your earned income up to $5,950 plus $350 and $1,550
  • Single dependent age 65 or older, blind, and any of these apply:
    • Your unearned income was more than $4,150.
    • Your earned income was more than $9,400.
    • Your gross income was more than the larger of:
      • $4,150
      • Your earned income up to $5,950 plus $350 and $3,100

Other reasons you must file a return

  • You must file if any of these conditions apply for 2015:
    • You owe any special taxes, including any of these:
    • Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)
    • Additional tax on a qualified plan, including an IRA, or other tax-favored account -- However, if you're filing only because you owe this tax, you can instead file Form 5329 by itself.
    • Household employment tax -- However, if you're filing only because you owe this tax, you can instead file Schedule H by itself.
    • Social Security and Medicare tax on either of these:
      • Tips you didn't report to your employer
      • Wages you received from an employer who didn't withhold these taxes
    • Recapture of first-time homebuyer credit
    • Write-in taxes, including uncollected Social Security and Medicare or RRTA tax on these:
      • Tips you reported to your employer
      • Group term life insurance
      • Additional taxes on health savings accounts. To learn more, see instructions for Line 62.
    • Recapture taxes
  • You (or your spouse, if filing jointly) received health saving account (HSA), Archer MSA, or Medicare Advantage MSA distributions.
  • You had net earnings from self-employment of at least $400.
  • You had wages of $108.28 or more from a church or qualified church-controlled organization that is exempt from Social Security and Medicare taxes.
  • Advance payments of the premium tax credit were made for you, your spouse, or a dependent who enrolled in coverage through a marketplace. You -- or whoever enrolled you -- should have received Form 1095-A showing the amount of the advance payments.

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.

To learn more, see:

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

Ready to file?

You've got your forms. And we've got your back. There's only one thing left to do. Let's do this.

Calculators

So how much will you get (or owe) this year? That’s the million-dollar question. We happen to have three very useful calculators to help you estimate your refund or balance due.

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