Minimum Income Requirements for 2018 Tax Returns

Income Tax Filing Requirements for Tax Year 2018

Not everyone is required to file a federal income tax return. Only those whose incomes exceed certain thresholds must do so, although there are reasons why you might want to even if you don't technically have to.

Five factors determine whether you must file a return and how much you can earn before you have to do so. Are you someone else's dependent? What's your filing status? How old are you? Are you blind?

What was your gross income for the year? The IRS defines gross income as "all income you receive in the form of money, goods, property, and services that is not exempt from tax." 

Filing Requirements by Income

If your income equals or exceeds the amounts shown in the chart below, you'll have to file a tax return. These figures are updated by the IRS each year. These income thresholds pertain to the income you earned in 2018, which you must report when you file your tax return for the 2018 tax year in 2019. 

Table 1. 2018 Filing Requirements for Independent Taxpayers
 
If your filing status is...And at the end of 2018 you were...Then you must file a return if your gross income was at least...
SingleUnder 65$12,000
65 or older$13,600
Married filing jointlyUnder 65 (both spouses)$24,000
65 or older (one spouse)$25,300
65 or older (both spouses)$26,600
Married filing separatelyAny age$5
Head of householdUnder 65$18,000
65 or older$19,600
Qualifying widow(er) with dependent childUnder 65$24,000
65 or older$25,300

2018 Filing Requirements for Dependents 

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

  • Your unearned income was more than $1,050
  • Your earned income was more than $12,000
  • Your gross income was more than the larger of $1,050 or earned income up to $11,650 plus $350

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

    • Unearned income was more than $2,650, or $4,250 if you are both 65 or older and blind
    • Earned income was more than $13,600, or $15,200 if you are both 65 or older and blind
    • Gross income was more than the larger of $2,650 ($4,250 if both 65 or older and blind) or on earned income up to $11,650 plus $1,950 ($3,550 if 65 or older and blind)

    Married dependents who are not age 65 or older or blind must file a return in any of the following circumstances:

    • Unearned income was more than $1,050
    • Earned income was more than $12,000
    • Gross income was at least $5 and your spouse files a separate return and itemizes deductions
    • Gross income was more than the larger of $1,050 or on earned income up to $11,650 plus $350

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

    • Unearned income was more than $2,350, or $3,650 if you are both 65 or older and blind
    • Earned income was more than $13,300, or $14,600 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 $2,350 ($3,650 if both 65 or older and blind) or on earned income up to $11,650 plus $1,650 ($2,950 if both 65 or older and blind) 

      How Does the IRS Arrive at These Numbers? 

      Filing requirements have historically been a taxpayer's standard deduction and personal exemption amounts added together. But the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which went into effect in January 2018, eliminated personal exemptions from the tax code through at least the end of 2025. Your filing requirement is therefore equal to the standard deduction for your filing status. 

      The standard deduction for a single taxpayer in 2018 was $12,000, so you would have to file a tax return if your gross income was $12,001. You would subtract the $12,000 standard deduction from that number, and you would have to report and potentially pay tax on that balance of a single dollar. Your tax liability—what you're required to pay the IRS in federal tax—is based on your taxable income, which is your gross income minus any deductions.

      The standard deduction varies based on a taxpayer's filing status, and people who are 65 or older and blind persons get an additional standard deduction on top of their regular standard deduction. Their filing requirements therefore differ because of these additional amounts. 

      The filing requirement numbers can change each year because the standard deduction amounts often change each year. They're adjusted annually based on inflation.

      Other Situations When You Must File a 2018 Return 

      You'll have to file a tax return if you owe any special taxes, such as the additional tax on a qualified retirement plan, including individual IRAs or other tax-favored accounts. But if you only have to file a return because you owe this particular tax, you can file IRS Form 5329 by itself instead.

      Other special taxes include Social Security and Medicare on tips you did not report to your employer or taxes on wages you received from an employer who did not 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. You'll know if this pertains to you because you'll receive a Form 1095-A detailing the payments. 

      When Would It Be a Good Idea to File a Return Even If It's Not Required? 

      You'll want to file a return even if you're not required to do so if you're going to receive a tax refund. If you had any taxes withheld from your income, such as withholding on wages or retirement plan distributions, you overpaid your taxes if your income falls below the above thresholds. You don't have a tax liability so you're entitled to a refund of the money that was withheld. The IRS will keep it unless you file a tax return. 

      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.

      You might also want to file a tax return simply as a precaution. The IRS has certain time limits, called statutes of limitation, for issuing tax refunds, for conducting audits, and for collecting taxes it thinks someone might owe.

      The IRS 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 the tax. These time limits never begin running if a return isn't filed. This could potentially leave you exposed to audit or collection actions. Filing a return starts the clock ticking on these statutes of limitations.

      You might also want to file a return even if you don't have to if you have been—or might be—a victim of identity theft. Filing a return puts the IRS on notice regarding what your true income was for the year, and it prevents an identity thief from filing a fake tax return using your name and Social Security number.