This article has been updated for the 2023 tax season (for 2022 tax returns). As the tax start date and inevitable tax deadlines approach, I wanted to share something that may come as a surprise to many – not all income-earning Americans are legally obligated to file a federal tax return. In fact, there are gross income level thresholds that, if not surpassed, may result in an individual (or married) filer not being required to file a tax return with the IRS. However, just because you may be able to avoid filing taxes, it doesn’t mean you should. I’ll discuss why you might want to file a tax return for your own benefit, even if you are not required to, later in this article.
The minimum income tax filing thresholds vary based on age and tax filing status and closely resemble the post tax-reform higher standard deduction amounts. If you surpass these income thresholds, you typically must file a tax return. The income thresholds for 2023 (for 2022 tax year filing), are detailed in the IRS’s 1040 instructions, and are as follows:
Single Minimum Income to File Taxes in 2023:
In 2023, when filing as “single”, you need to file a tax return if your gross income level in 2022 was at least:
- Under 65: $12,950
- 65 or older: $14,700
Married Filing Jointly Minimum Income to File Taxes in 2023:
In 2023, when filing as “married filing jointly”, you need to file a tax return if your gross income level in 2022 was at least:
- If both spouses are under 65: $25,900
- If one spouse is under 65 and one is 65 or older: $27,300
- If both spouses are 65 or older: $28,700
Married Filing Separately Minimum Income to File Taxes in 2023:
In 2023, when filing as “married filing separately”, you need to file a tax return if your gross income level in 2022 was at least:
- All ages: $5
Head of Household Minimum Income to File Taxes in 2023:
In 2023, when filing as “head of household”, you need to file a tax return if your gross income level in 2022 was at least:
- Under 65: $19,400
- 65 or older: $21,150
Qualifying Widower (with Dependent Child) Minimum Income to File Taxes in 2023:
In 2023, when filing as “qualifying widow(er) with dependent child”, you need to file a tax return if your gross income level in 2022 was at least:
- Under 65: $25,900
- 65 or older: $27,300
Self-Employed Minimum Income to File Taxes:
In 2023, regardless of age, if you had self-employment income, you need to file a tax return for 2022 if your net self-employment income is $400 or more, even if your gross income is below the amounts listed above for your filing status.
Do I Need to File a Tax Return? Here’s when you are Required to File a Tax Return
The income levels provided above are general guidelines provided by the IRS, but there are a number of exceptions (e.g. if you or your spouse are claimed as a dependent, are blind, etc.). When in doubt on whether you need to file a tax return or not, I would highly recommend using the IRS’s interactive tax assistant tool, aptly titled “Do I Need to File a Tax Return?”.
There are a few explicitly stated situations that require you to file a tax return as well:
1. You owe any special taxes, including any of the following (see the instructions for Schedule 2).
- a. Alternative minimum tax.
- b. Additional tax on a qualified plan, including an individual retirement arrangement (IRA), or other tax-favored account.
- c. Household employment taxes.
- d. Social security and Medicare tax on tips you didn’t report to your employer or on wages you received from an employer who didn’t withhold these taxes.
- e. Uncollected social security and Medicare or RRTA tax on tips you reported to your employer or on group-term life insurance and additional taxes on health savings accounts.
- f. Recapture taxes.
2. You (or your spouse if filing jointly) received health savings account, Archer MSA, or Medicare Advantage MSA distributions.
3. You had net earnings from self-employment of at least $400.
4. You had wages of $108.28 or more from a church or qualified church-controlled organization that is exempt from employer social security and Medicare taxes.
5. Advance payments of the premium tax credit were made for you, your spouse, or a dependent who enrolled in coverage through the Marketplace. You or whoever enrolled you should have received Form(s) 1095-A showing the amount of the advance payments.
6. You are required to include amounts in income under section 965 or you have a net tax liability under section 965 that you are paying in installments under section 965(h) or deferred by making an election under section 965(i).
If you have a complicated tax situation, I would also recommend reviewing chapter 1 of IRS Publication 54, as it covers self-employment income, foreign earned income, citizenship status, and much more, in great detail.
The Better Question: “Should I File a Tax Return?”
Just because you can avoid filing a tax return – it doesn’t mean you should. There may be cases where you are below the minimum income levels when a tax return is required, and it would still be advantageous to file a tax return, even if you are not required to. In some cases, you may be eligible for a refundable tax credit, and could be leaving money on the table if you do not file return. Here are just a few examples:
- Earned Income Tax Credit: the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a significant tax credit for lower and lower-middle income taxpayers that rewards earned income, particularly for those with children. And, it is refundable.
- Child Tax Credit: with the enhanced Child Tax Credit expiring, it is no longer refundable to everyone (and can only reduce taxes owed), however, you may be able to claim the “Additional Child Tax Credit”, which allows you to receive a refundable amount up to $1,500 of the $2,000 Child Tax Credit, per child, for 2022.
- American Opportunity Tax Credit: up to 40% of the American Opportunity Credit (one of a few educational tax credits and deductions), is refundable. The refundable portion is capped at $1,000.
- The Premium Assistance Tax Credit: under some circumstances, a taxpayer with health insurance purchased through the health insurance marketplace may be eligible for subsidies to help offset premium costs. Any subsidies not paid by the IRS directly to the insurance company may be available to the tax filer in the form of a refundable tax credit.
- Credit for Sick and Family Leave
- Credit for Federal Tax on Fuels
It’s also worth noting that aside from your federal tax filing status, some states require filing at any level of income.
And, finally, there are identity theft protection reasons to file a return even if you do not have to. Identity theft on false tax returns has been rampant in recent years, and if you do not file a return, it is possible that someone else could file a false one in your name. Filing a proper return in your name helps to protect you against this threat.
How to File Your Taxes
If you’re unsure about whether you need to file your taxes or not, or if it would be beneficial to do so, I would recommend that you go ahead and file.
Fortunately, there are a lot of cheap tax software options and even free ways to file your taxes that you can leverage. My favorites, all with generous 20somethingfinance affiliate partner discounts, are:
- H&R Block
- Cash App Taxes (formerly “Credit Karma Tax”, now owned by Square/Cash App)
Want more tax filing tips? Check out my guide on the basics of how to do your taxes.