Minimum Income Requirements for 2020 Tax Returns

Income Tax Filing Requirements for Tax Year 2020

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Only individuals whose incomes exceed certain levels must file tax returns. However, income isn’t the only factor involved. Numerous other circumstances can affect your filing status, too, and there are some situations in which you’d want to file even if you’re not technically required to.

Four Factors That Impact Income Thresholds

Four factors determine if you must file and each circumstance has its own gross income threshold. The four factors are:

  • If someone else claims you as a dependent
  • If you're married or single
  • Your age
  • If you're blind

Some of these factors can overlap, and this can change the income thresholds for required filing.

Minimum Gross Income Thresholds for Taxes

The IRS defines "gross income" as anything you receive in the form of payment that's not tax-exempt. Gross income can include money, services, property, or goods. The thresholds cited here apply to income earned in 2020, which you must report when you file your 2020 tax return in 2021.

In a practical sense, the limits are equal to the year’s standard deduction, because you can deduct this amount from your gross income and only pay income tax on the difference. You would owe no tax and would not be required to file a return if you’re single and earned $12,400 in 2020 because the $12,400 deduction would reduce your taxable income to $0. But you would have to file a tax return if you earned $12,401 because you’d have to pay income tax on that additional dollar of income.

As of the 2020 tax year, these figures are:   

Single under age 65 $12,400
Single age 65 or older $14,050
Married filing jointly, both spouses under 65 $24,800
Married filing jointly, one spouse age 65 or older $26,100
Married filing jointly, both spouses 65 or older $27,400
Married filing separately, any age $5
Head of household under age 65 $18,650
Head of household age 65 or older $20,300
Qualifying widow(er) under age 65 $24,800
Qualifying widow(er) age 65 or older $26,100

Qualifying Rules for 2020 Standard Deductions

There are various rules and requirements you have to meet in order to file in some of the situations mentioned in the table above.

Head of Household

You must be unmarried on the last day of the tax year, pay more than half the cost of maintaining the home, and have a qualifying dependent to file as head of household.

Widow or Widower

A qualifying widow(er) with a qualifying child dependent is entitled to use the same standard deduction as married taxpayers who file jointly for up to two years after the death of a spouse. Other rules also apply.

Over 65 or Blind

Taxpayers who are 65 or older and blind persons get an additional standard deduction on top of the regular standard deduction. Their filing requirements differ because of these additional amounts. They can add an additional $1,300 per spouse to their standard deduction for a total of $2,600 if they’re married, or $1,650 if they're single or file as head of household.

Qualifying Rules If You Can Be Claimed as a Dependent

You must file a tax return for 2020 in any of the following circumstances if you're single, someone else can claim you as a dependent, and you're not age 65 or older or blind:

  • Your unearned income was more than $1,100.
  • Your earned income was more than $12,400.
  • Your gross income was more than $1,100, or $350 plus your earned income up to $11,850, whichever is greater.

Married dependents who are not age 65 or older or blind are subject to these filing requirements plus one more: They must file if their gross income was at least $5 and their spouse files a separate return and itemizes deductions.

Unusual Tax Filing Situations

You'll have to file a tax return even if you don't earn these income thresholds if you owe any special taxes. These include the additional tax on a qualified retirement plan such as an IRA or other tax-favored account. But if you only have to file a return because you owe this particular tax, you can submit IRS Form 5329 by itself instead.

Other special taxes include the Alternative Minimum Tax, and Social Security and Medicare tax on tips you didn't report to your employer, or taxes on wages you received from an employer who didn't withhold these taxes from your pay.

You must file if you had net earnings from self-employment of at least $400, or if you had wages of $108.28 or more from a church or qualified church-controlled organization that's exempt from employer Social Security and Medicare taxes. 

A return is required if you, your spouse, or a dependent were enrolled in coverage through the Healthcare.gov Marketplace under the terms of the Affordable Care Act and Premium Tax Credit payments were made to you or to your insurer. You'll know if this pertains to you because you'll receive a Form 1095-A detailing the payments.

Why You Might Want to File a Tax Return Anyway

You might want to file a return even if you're not required to do so if it will result in receiving a tax refund—otherwise, you're just letting the IRS keep that money.

This would be the case if you had any taxes withheld from your income, such as withholding on wages or retirement plan distributions, so you overpaid your taxes because income falls below these filing thresholds—no tax is due.

You're entitled to a refund of the money that was withheld because you don't have a tax liability.

It could also generate a tax refund if you're eligible for one or more of the refundable tax credits, such as the Earned Income Credit, the Child Tax Credit, or the American Opportunity Tax Credit. You'd have to file a tax return to calculate and claim these credits and to request a refund from the IRS.

The IRS has certain time limits, called statutes of limitations, for issuing tax refunds, conducting audits, and collecting taxes someone might owe. It generally has three years from the date a tax return is filed to begin an audit, and it has 10 years from the date a tax return is filed to collect a tax.

These time limits never begin running if a return isn't filed, so the IRS would effectively have forever to look into your tax situation. Filing a return starts the clock ticking on these statutes of limitations.

You might also want to file a return if you have been—or think you might be—a victim of identity theft. Filing a return puts the IRS on notice as to what your true income was for the year, and it prevents a thief from filing a fake tax return using your name and Social Security number.

Article Sources

  1. Internal Revenue Service. “IRS Provides Tax Inflation Adjustments for Tax Year 2020.” Accessed Nov. 12, 2020.

  2. eFile.com. "Qualifying Widow, Widower Tax Filing Status." Accessed Nov. 12, 2020.

  3. Internal Revenue Service. “26 CFR 601.602: Tax Forms and Instructions.” Page 14. Accessed Nov. 12, 2020.

  4. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 501 Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information," Pages 2-5. Accessed Nov. 12, 2020.

  5. Internal Revenue Service. “26 CFR 601.602: Tax Forms and Instructions.” Page 13. Accessed Nov. 12, 2020.

  6. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 501: Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information." Page 4. Accessed Nov. 12, 2020.

  7. Internal Revenue Service. "5.1.19 Collection Statute Expiration." Accessed Nov. 12, 2020.