Minimum Income Requirements for 2019 Tax Returns

Income Tax Filing Requirements for Tax Year 2019

Only individuals whose incomes exceed certain levels must file tax returns. Four factors determine whether you must file, and each circumstance has its own gross income threshold. You must file a tax return if you earn more than that threshold. The four factors are:

  • Whether you're someone else's dependent
  • Whether you're married or single
  • Your age
  • Whether you're blind

Some of these factors overlap, changing the income thresholds.

The Gross Income Thresholds

The IRS defines "gross income" as anything you receive in the form of payment that's not specifically tax-exempt. It can include money, services, property, and goods.

The thresholds cited here apply to the income earned in 2019, which you must report when you file your 2019 tax return in 2020. These figures are updated by the IRS each year to keep up with inflation.

Single under age 65 $12,200
Single age 65 or older $13,850
Married filing jointly, both spouses under 65 $24,400
Married filing jointly, one spouse age 65 or older $25,700
Married filing jointly, both spouses 65 or older $27,000
Married filing separately, any age $5.00
Head of household under age 65 $18,350
Head of household age 65 or older $20,000
Qualifying widow(er) under age 65 $24,400
Qualifying widow(er) age 65 or older $25,700

The Effect of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

The IRS officially releases these income figures late in the year, but they've historically equaled a taxpayer's standard deduction and personal exemption amounts added together.

That changed when the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) eliminated personal exemptions from the tax code from 2018 through at least the end of 2025. Your filing requirement during this time period is equal to the standard deduction for your filing status—whether you're married, single, head of household, or a qualifying widow or widower.

The 2019 Standard Deductions

The standard deductions—and, by extension, filing requirements—for 2019 for those under age 65 are:

  • Single: $12,200
  • Married Filing Jointly: $24,400
  • Head of Household: $18,350
  • Qualifying Widow(er): $24,400

A head of household filer is someone who is unmarried on the last day of the tax year, pays more than half the cost of maintaining the home, and has a qualifying dependent.

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

The Standard Deductions for Older Taxpayers

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. 

If they're married, these individuals can add an additional $1,300 per spouse to their standard deduction for a total of $2,600, or $1,650 if they're single or file as head of household.  

When Older Taxpayers Are Dependents

Single dependents age 65 or older or blind and who qualify for the higher standard deduction must therefore file a 2019 return in any of the following circumstances:

  • Unearned income was more than $2,750, or $4,400 if you are both 65 or older and blind
  • Earned income was more than $13,850, or $15,500 if you are both 65 or older and blind
  • Gross income was more than the larger of $2,750 ($4,400 if both 65 or older and blind) or on earned income up to $11,850 plus $2,000 ($3,650 if 65 or older and blind)

Married dependents age 65 or older or blind must file a return in any of the following circumstances:

  • Unearned income was more than $2,400, or $3,700 if you are both 65 or older and blind
  • Earned income was more than $13,500, or $14,800 if you are both 65 or older and blind
  • Gross income was at least $5 and your spouse files a separate return and itemizes deductions
  • Gross income was more than the larger of $2,400 ($3,700 if both 65 or older and blind) or on earned income up to $11,850 plus $1,650 ($2,950 if both 65 or older and blind) 

Filing Requirements for Younger Dependents 

You must file a 2019 tax return in any of the following circumstances if you're single, if 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 $12,200.
  • 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.

Other Situations When You Must File a Return 

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 an individual 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 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.

They also include recapture taxes, such as additional taxes on health savings accounts. You must file a return if you—or your spouse if you're filing jointly—received HSA, Archer MSA, or Medicare Advantage MSA distributions.

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. 

Filing a Return to Claim a Refund 

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.

Filing a Return As a Precaution

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. IRS. "Publication 501 Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information," Pages 2-5. Accessed Jan. 16, 2020.

  2. Tax Foundation. "2019 Tax Brackets." Accessed Jan. 16, 2020.

  3. IRS. "Filing Status," Page 7. Accessed Jan. 16, 2020.