What Is Form 1040?

Form 1040 Explained

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IRS Form 1040 is a tax return used by individual filers. The most recent version is for 2021. Before it was released in December 2021, the 2020 version of the form was used. There have been several versions released each year since 2018.

Forms 1040-EZ and 1040-A were eliminated from the tax code in 2018. The 2018 Form 1040 introduced numerous schedules that many taxpayers had to figure out and file along with their tax returns. The IRS touted it as a “simpler” version of the old tax return, but that didn’t really turn out to be the case. The IRS went back to the drawing board and undid many of the initial changes when it released another draft of the Form 1040 for tax year 2019, again for 2020, and now for 2021.

Definition and Examples of Form 1040

To understand how the most recent Form 1040 came to be, it helps to understand what’s happened to the form during previous years. Form 1040 underwent major changes between 2017 and 2018, then saw relatively minor adjustments in 2019. The 2019 version was “more than a tune-up but less than an overhaul," according to a 2019 blog post by the Tax Policy Center.

The key changes between the 2018 version and 2019 version were the return of the standard deduction and income reporting and reconciliation to the first page of the income tax return.

All the 2019 changes remained on the first page of the 2020 Form 1040, but the standard deduction—or the total of your itemized deductions as calculated on Schedule A—moved to line 12. It is still on line 12 in the form for 2021. Back in 2019, it appeared on line 9.

2021 Form 1040

Where To Get Form 1040

All reputable tax-preparation software should have the most up-to-date From 1040 for the tax year that you're filing for in the spring. You can also download and print a copy from the IRS website. The form is interactive, so you can complete it online, then print it out and mail in a paper return.

Make sure the Form 1040 you're downloading is for the correct tax year. The year always appears in the center at the very top of the first page.

How To Fill Out and Read Form 1040

Filling out your Form 1040 may not seem all that different if you file online via a guided tax-prep tool. Whether you fill it out, print it, and file it, work with an accountant, or use online software, it helps to know what to expect before filing.

Tax Day is generally April 15, unless it falls on a weekend. For the 2022 tax season, your 2021 tax return is due by Monday, April 18—that's when Form 1040 is due.

Form 1040 is two pages long with several sections.

Filing Status

This is where you state your filing status—whether you're filing as single, married jointly, married separately, head of household, or as a qualifying widow(er). You'll also include your personal information here, including name, address, Social Security number, and more.

Standard Deduction

Here, you'll state whether someone can claim you as a dependent or claim your spouse as a dependent. There's also a box to check if your spouse itemizes their return separately or if you started the tax year as a non-resident of the U.S. and then gained residence (the IRS labels people in this situation "dual-status aliens").

There's also a subsection here for "Age/Blindness," which asks about you and your spouse's birth year and if either of you is currently blind.

Dependents

If you have dependents, this is where you'll list their name, Social Security number, relationship to you, and tax credits that apply.

Lines 1 to 33

This is the main section of the form. On lines 1 through 33, you'll fill in information such as wages, salaries, and tips; qualified dividends; pensions and annuities; Social Security benefits; capital gains or losses; charitable contributions; and more. Line 15 is where you'll figure out and write in your taxable income. Line 15 is also the last line on page 1.

Page 2 starts with line 16, and you'll be asked for information regarding tax withheld from W-2 forms or 1099 forms, child tax or other dependent credits, the earned income credit, amounts from other forms and schedules, and more.

Line 32 is where you figure out your total other payments and refundable credits, and line 33 is where you learn what your total payments are.

Refund

You'll learn if you are owed a refund in this section of Form 1040. You can also include your bank account info if you'd like to receive the refund via direct deposit.

Amount You Owe

If you are not owed a refund—line 33 is less than line 24 on the form—then you owe taxes. This is where you'll figure that out, plus if there's any estimated tax penalty.

Third Party Designation

This is where you'll let the IRS know if you are comfortable with another person discussing your tax return with the agency.

Sign Here

Finally, you'll need to sign and date the return, agreeing that all of the information you provided is accurate to the best of your knowledge.

Schedules

There are several schedules that you may need to fill out in addition to Form 1040, depending on your situation. Here are a few you may need to fill out:

  • Schedule 1: Additional Income and Adjustments to Income
  • Schedule 2: Additional Taxes
  • Schedule 3: Additional Credits and Payments
  • Schedule A: Itemized Deductions
  • Schedule B: Interest and Ordinary Dividends
  • Schedule C: Profit or Loss From Business

For a complete list of schedules, check the IRS website.

The three numbered schedules detail your taxes, credits claimed, payments made, additional income not reported directly on Form 1040, and adjustments to income. The totals from these schedules are then transferred to the tax return.

Can Form 1040 Be E-Filed?

Not only can Form 1040 be e-filed, but the IRS strongly urges taxpayers to do so. The IRS provides a list of e-filing options on its website.

Where To Mail Form 1040

If you really don’t want to e-file, the address to which you should mail a paper copy of Form 1040 depends on if you owe taxes, and also on your state of residence. The IRS offers a full list of addresses for each circumstance and each state on its website.

Key Takeaways

  • Form 1040 is the standard tax return that individual taxpayers can use to file their taxes.
  • The most recent version is the 2021 Form 1040, the fourth change to the form in recent years.
  • Form 1040 has several schedules that may also need to be filed along with it during tax season, depending on your situation.
  • You can mail a paper copy of Form 1040 to the IRS, though the agency strongly recommends e-filing your return.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a 1040 form?

A 1040 form, also known as Form 1040, is the federal tax return many taxpayers will use to file their taxes in the spring every year. It's the official form from the IRS that helps you figure out what your taxable income was for the year and if you owe the federal government any money.

Which Form 1040 should you use?

There are a few versions of Form 1040. The regular standard tax return form is the main Form 1040. There is also Form 1040-SR which is for older adults over the age of 65. 1040-SR mirrors Form 1040, but with larger font. It was released in 2020. There is also Form 1040-X for amending past tax returns, and Form 1040-NR for taxpayers who are not U.S. residents.