Question

Do I have to file a tax return for my dependent?

Answer

If you have a dependent who’s earning income, good news — you can still claim them as a dependent so long as other dependent rules still apply. Your dependent’s earned income doesn’t go on your return. Filing tax returns for children is easy in that respect.

If you’re the dependent in question, you might be asking, “Do I file taxes if I’m a dependent?” Even if you’re a child, filing a tax return might be necessary depending on your income and circumstances. In short, you’ll want to file your own dependent tax return to claim your own W-2 income if:

If you’re claimed as a dependent, you must file if your income is more than the standard deduction allowed for dependents:

  • Your earned income is more than $12,200, which is the standard deduction for a single filer.
  • Your unearned income (e.g. investment) is more than $1,050.
  • Your gross income is more than the greater of:
    • $1,100
    • Your earned income (up to $11,850) plus $350

Income Info for Filing as a Dependent on Someone Else’s Return

Depending on your age, marital status, and income, you might have to file taxes, even if you’re a dependent on someone else’s return. 

Income falls into three categories: 

  • Earned income
    • Salaries
    • Wages
    • Tips
    • Professional fees
    • Taxable scholarship and fellowship grants
  • Unearned income
    • Taxable interest
    • Ordinary dividends
    • Capital gain distributions
    • Unemployment compensation
    • Taxable social security benefits, pensions, and annuities
  • Gross income 
    • Total of your earned and unearned income

When Should You File a Return as a Dependent?

Even if you’re filing as a dependent or a dependent child, you must file a tax return if: 

  • You’re a single or married dependent under age 65 with:
    • Unearned income more than $1,100
    • Earned income more than $12,200
    • Gross income more than $1,100 or earned income up to $11,850 — plus $350
    • Gross income of at least $5, and you had a spouse who filed a separate return and itemized deductions (if married)
  • You’re a single dependent over age 65 with:
    • Unearned income more than $2,750, or $4,400 if over 65 and blind
    • Earned income more than $13,850, or $15,500 if over 65 and blind
    • Gross income more than the larger of:
      • $2,750, or $4,400 if over 65 and blind
      • Your earned income (up to $11,850) plus $2,000, or $3,650 if over age 65 and blind
  • You’re a married dependent over age 65 with:
    • Unearned income more than $2,400, or $3,700 if over 65 and blind
    • Earned income more than $13,500, or $14,800 if over 65 and blind
    • Gross income of at least $5, and you had a spouse who filed a separate return and itemized deductions
    • Gross income more than the larger of 
      • $2,400. or $3,700 if over 65 and blind
      • Your earned income (up to $11,850) plus $1,650, or $2,950 if over 65 and blind

Even if you’re not required to file a return, you might want to file a tax return as a dependent. Filing a tax return for your child or other dependents will allow them to get a refund of any tax withheld. 

Related Topics

Related Resources

Tax on Unemployment Income

Learn about unemployment income and how it affects your taxes from the experts at H&R Block.

Education Savings Accounts

What are education savings accounts, and how do they affect your taxes? Discover more about ESAs and get tax answers at H&R Block.

Reporting Roth IRA Contributions

Learn more about reporting Roth IRA contributions with advice from the tax experts at H&R Block.

Are Social Security Benefits Taxable?

Up to 50% or even 85% of your Social security benefits are taxable if your “provisional” or total income, as defined by tax law, is above a certain base amount. Your Social Security income may not be taxable at all if your total income is below the base amount.