Filing Basics

Federal tax returns must be filed if you earn enough income to be subject to tax, want to receive a refund, or are required to report certain information. A tax return must be filed if income was received that was not reported by the payer, such as service people earning tips, or if income exceeds a statutory amount that would incur a tax liability. This statutory minimum amount generally equals the personal exemption plus the standard deduction. For the self-employed, the minimum is $400, since that is the minimum amount that must be reported for self-employment tax purposes. More information is provided on tax filing requirements based on income in Tax Filing Requirements. Additionally, there are several refundable tax credits, such as the earned income credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit, where the taxpayer may receive a refund even if there is no tax liability. Filing requirements also depend on filing status, since minimum income requirements vary from the lowest for single people, higher for head-of-household taxpayers, and highest for married filing jointly.

For those still filing paper returns, the address to which the return should be sent are listed in the instructions of the tax form, and also at Where to File Paper Tax Returns With or Without a Payment. The address differs depending on:

Due Dates for Tax Filing, Tax Payments, and Reporting Certain Information

The filing and payment of taxes and other reporting requirements have due dates. If the required action is not performed by the due date, then additional interest or penalties may apply. If the due date falls on a weekend or holiday, then the due date is extended to the 1st business day after the 15th. Taxes must also be paid by the due date, even if an extension is granted. Otherwise, interest and late-payment penalties may be added to the amount of the tax due. In many years, the due date may be extended by an additional day because of Emancipation Day, which is a legal holiday in the District of Columbia, but since the headquarters of the Internal Revenue Service is located there, all its offices throughout the country are closed. So the due date for 2017 is April 18, since April 15 is a Saturday, and Emancipation Day is on Sunday, so Monday is a legal holiday for IRS employees.

For taxpayers based on a calendar year, which is most, tax returns must be filed by April 15, unless an extension is requested. An automatic 6-month extension will be granted if you file Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return by the due date of the return. The 6-month extension sets the due date for October 15, unless that day falls on a weekend, in which case, it will be the next business day. Note, that this is true even if the initial filing date was extended because of a weekend or Emancipation Day, so it may not be exactly 6 months after the initial due date.

If you are a US citizen or resident living and working outside of the US or Puerto Rico or you are in military service in those areas, then you have until June 15 to both file and pay your tax. A 4-month extension will be granted if you file form 4868 by the due date; this extension date will also fall on October 15. Likewise, alien residents with earned income that was not subject to withholding must also file and pay any tax by June 15.

If the taxpayer uses a fiscal year rather than a calendar year, which is any year that does not end in December, then the due date is the 15th day of the 4th month after the fiscal year ends. An automatic 4-month extension will be granted by filing Form 4868.

If you receive any income for which tax was not withheld, such as self-employment income, then you may also have to make estimated tax payments, which are due on April 15, June 15, September 15, and January 15, although the last payment may be skipped if the tax return for that year is filed before February. Note that although there are 4 payments for the year, they are not quarterly, since the June payment is due 2 months after the April payment and the January payment is due 4 months after the September payment.

Which Tax Form to Use: 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ?

Any taxpayer can use Form 1040, U. S. Individual Income Tax Return, but lower income taxpayers may be able to use the simpler Form 1040A or Form 1040EZ. You can use the simpler forms if your income is less than $100,000.

Additional requirements for Form 1040A include:

The requirements for Form 1040EZ, Income Tax Return for Single and Joint Filers with No Dependents include:

Starting for the tax year 2018, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed by the Republicans at the end of 2017, has consolidated Form 1040EZ, 1040A, and Form 1040 into a single Form 1040, along with 6 new supporting schedules.    

Filing a Tax Return for an Incompetent Person

If a person is incompetent, then a legal guardian must file and sign the return. If a person has a spouse, and the competent spouse can file and sign the return for the incompetent spouse without a power of attorney and if no legal guardian has been appointed for the incompetent spouse. However, if the spouse is mentally incompetent, then a joint return cannot be filed because the incompetent spouse cannot agree to the joint filing.