Should You File Taxes This Year? How Much Money You Have to Make to File

by
Timothy Sheardy, MS, BBA
Updated 
May 11, 2022
April 7, 2022
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Reviewed by
Sarah York, EA

We know the thought of filing taxes makes most people want to run screaming from the room. And while there are definitely ways to make paying taxes easier, it’s still something most people would rather avoid.

Of course, you can’t just decide not to pay. But depending on your income, age, and filing status, you might not have to!

Let’s break down how much money you have to make to file taxes.

Contents

General income requirements for filing taxes

The first thing to consider is whether your income exceeds the income requirements. If it does, sorry, but you must file income tax.

These are the general filing requirements for the 2021 tax year (in other words, the taxes you’ll be paying in 2022). If your gross income is equal to — or higher than — the amounts listed below, you’ll need to file income tax.

Filing Status Under 65 65 or older
Single $12,550 $14,250
Married (filing jointly) Both spouses under 65: $25,100
One spouse under 65, one over: $26,800
Both spouses 65 or older: $28,500
Married (filing separately) $5 $5
Head of Household $18,800 $20,500
Qualifying widow/widower $25,100 $26,800

Remember, these are the numbers for if you need to file your income tax — it doesn’t necessarily mean you owe money. 

How the standard deduction impacts whether you have to file

If all your earnings come from traditional W-2 jobs, then making less than the standard deduction would reduce your taxable income down to zero — meaning you don’t have to pay the IRS anything.

Even assuming your employer withheld taxes during the year, though, you might want to file a return anyway. That way, you can get some money back as a tax refund.

What the standard deduction means for Social Security recipients

The standard deduction works differently if your only income is from Social Security.

Social Security isn’t taxable unless you also have income from other sources. So even if you received more than the standard deduction amount in Social Security payments, you’re still exempt from filing.   

There’s another group of taxpayers that have to deal with the opposite situation — they have to file even if they made less than the standard deduction.

We’re talking about self-employed people.

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Self-employment income requirements for tax filing

If you freelance, work on a 1099 contract, or own a small business, your filing requirement kicks in at a much lower income level. Whether it’s a full-time business or a casual side hustle, you must file taxes if you earn $400 or more in self-employment income.

Yes, you read that right. $400. 

There’s a common misconception that you don’t have to file 1099 taxes if you make less than $600, but that’s not true. The actual limit is $200 lower.

Even if you don’t think of yourself as self-employed, the government might. Self-employment income includes everything from working as a freelance writer, to selling crafts on Etsy, to delivering for GrubHub. Even being paid in cash to pet-sit your neighbor’s dog counts.

Basically, any time you’re earning money outside of a regular W-2 job counts as self-employment.

Filing vs. paying self-employment taxes

Just because you’re reporting your self-employment income, it doesn’t mean you need to pay tax on all of it!

Business write-offs can save you hundreds — if not thousands — of dollars a year on self-employment tax. The great news is, you can take them on top of the standard deduction.

Keeper Tax automatically finds and deducts these expenses for you, making tax time easier than ever — maybe even so easy you won’t mind filing. (Which you can do right from the app!)

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How much do you need to make to pay quarterly self-employment taxes?

Self-employed people who expect to owe $1,000 or more also have another tax requirement to worry about: paying quarterly taxes.

How do you know how much you’ll owe in advance? We’re so glad you asked! Figuring out quarterly taxes gives people so much headache we created a free quarterly tax calculator to take the stress out.

Quarterly taxes are due on:

  • 🌷 Q1 - April 15
  • 🏖️ Q2 - June 15
  • 🍁 Q3 - September 15
  • 🌲 Q4 - January 15

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Dependent income requirements for filing taxes

Still being claimed as a dependent on someone else’s taxes? You’ll have to deal with a set of different rules. Check out your tax filing requirements chart below.

Dependent Status Under 65 65 or older 65 or older and blind
Single Unearned income: $1,100
Earned income: $12,550
Gross income: $1,100, OR: earned income (up to $12,200), plus $350
Unearned income: $2,800
Earned income: $14,250
Gross income: $2,800, OR: earned income (up to $12,200), plus $2,050
Unearned income: $4,500
Earned income: $15,950
Gross income: $4,500, OR: earned income (up to $12,200), plus $3,750
Married Unearned income: $1,100
Earned income: $12,550
Gross income: $1,100 OR: earned income (up to $12,200), plus $350
Unearned income: $2,450
Earned income: $13,900
Gross income: $2,450 OR: earned income (up to $12,200), plus $1,700
Unearned income: $3,800
Earned income: $15,250
Gross income: $3,800, OR: earned income (up to $12,200), plus $3,050

If you earned more than the amounts shown, you must pay taxes as a dependent.

(Wondering how income can count as “unearned”? It’s just a fancy way of talking about income from interest, dividends, and capital gains — money that accrues without any extra work on your part!)

Other tax filing requirements

“Okay,” you’re saying to yourself, “I don’t make enough to have to pay taxes! That means I’m done, right?”

Not necessarily. You’ll still need to file if:

  • 💵 You owe Social Security or Medicare tax on tips you didn't report to your employer, or on wages you received from an employer who didn't withhold these taxes
  • 💰 You owe uncollected Social Security, Medicare, or railroad retirement tax on tips you did report to your employer
  • 🧾 You owe taxes on on group-term life insurance coverage over $50,000
  • 🤑 You owe alternative minimum tax (for high-income taxpayers)
  • 🏦 You owe additional tax on an IRA or another tax-favored account
  • 🏡 You owe household employment taxes (from employing housekeepers, gardeners, or others who work around your home as employees)
  • 📉 You owe recapture taxes (from selling something you depreciated on your taxes)
  • 🏥 You (or your spouse, if filing jointly) received Archer MSA, Medicare Advantage MSA, or health savings account distributions
  • ⛪ 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
  • 😷 You, your spouse, or a dependent received advance payments from the health coverage tax credit

Should you ever file if you’re not required to?

We know it sounds weird — why would you ever file taxes if you don’t have to, right? Well, how about when filing taxes earns you money?

It’s true: If you’re owed a refund from your W-2 withholding, overpaid your quarterly taxes, or qualify for one of the many refundable tax credits, you’ll only be able to collect if you file a return telling the IRS that it owes you money.

Tax credits worth filing for

Here are some of the credits you’ll probably want to do your taxes for, even when you aren’t required to file:

Dependent Status Under 65 65 or older 65 or older and blind
Single Unearned income: $1,100
Earned income: $12,550
Gross income: $1,100, OR: earned income (up to $12,200), plus $350
Unearned income: $2,800
Earned income: $14,250
Gross income: $2,800, OR: earned income (up to $12,200), plus $2,050
Unearned income: $4,500
Earned income: $15,950
Gross income: $4,500, OR: earned income (up to $12,200), plus $3,750
Married Unearned income: $1,100
Earned income: $12,550
Gross income: $1,100 OR: earned income (up to $12,200), plus $350
Unearned income: $2,450
Earned income: $13,900
Gross income: $2,450 OR: earned income (up to $12,200), plus $1,700
Unearned income: $3,800
Earned income: $15,250
Gross income: $3,800, OR: earned income (up to $12,200), plus $3,050
Married (filing separately) $5 $5
Head of Household $18,800 $20,500
Qualifying widow/widower $25,100 $26,800

Just make sure you double-check your eligibility before claiming a refundable credit on your return. Falsely claiming credits can count as tax fraud, and can be a criminal offense.

Knowing when and when not to file taxes can be tricky, and the answer will be different for everybody. But unless you’re certain you don’t have to file, it’s generally better to be on the safe side and send in that return.

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The last thing you want is to realize after the deadline that you were supposed to file — after all, being late on your taxes is no laughing matter.

Timothy Sheardy, MS, BBA

Timothy Sheardy, MS, BBA

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My name is Timothy Sheardy and I am tax and accounting professional from the Metro Detroit area. I have completed my Masters of Science in Taxation specializing in small business and self-employed and Bachelors of Arts in Accounting. As of 2020, I have been preparing taxes for 9 years and also have 10 years accounting experience with 6 of the using QuickBooks both desktop and online and 9 using Sage Peachtree I pride my business on working with clients. I believe a knowledgeable client will make better business decisions. The success of them and their business is most important.

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At Keeper Tax, we’re on a mission to help freelancers overcome the complexity of their taxes. That sometimes leads us to generalize tax advice. Please email support@keepertax.com if you have questions.