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Ask the taxgirl: Do I have to file?

February 5, 2010 · 4 comments

Taxpayer asks:

Hi taxgirl, do I have to file taxes if I’ve made less than $2,800.00? I’m a student and I claimed 1 dependent for myself on my taxes so money was withheld last year. If I don’t have to file it’s ok by me, I just don’t want to get into any trouble.

Thanks.

Taxgirl says:

I have two answers for you:

1) No, you probably don’t need to file.
2) But you should file anyway.

Based on the information that you provided, you don’t probably have to file a return. Although there are a few exceptions, the income brackets for determining whether to file for the 2009 tax year are as follows:

  • If you file as single and you’re under the age of 65, you must file a return if your gross income is at least $9,350; if you are 65 or older, you must file a return if your gross income is at least $10,750.
  • If you file as married filing jointly, and both spouses are under the age of 65, you must file a return if your gross income is at least $18,700; if both spouses are 65 or older, you must file a return if your income is at least $20,900. If one spouse is 65 or older, you must file a return if your income is at least $19,800.
  • If you file as married filing separately, you must file a return if your gross income is at least $3,650, no matter what your age.
  • If you file as head of household and you are under the age of 65, you must file a return if your gross income is at least $12,000; if you are 65 or older, you must file a return if your gross is at least $13,400.
  • If you file as qualifying widow(er) and you are under the age of 65, you must file a return if your gross income is at least $15,050; if you are 65 or older, you must file a return if your gross is at least $16,150.

So, assuming you’re single – or any filing status, really – your income means that you don’t need to worry about filing. Again, there are a few exceptions (such as for the self-employed) but those don’t seem to apply here.

That said, you mentioned that you had money withheld during the year. You’re probably entitled to get that back but you can’t get a refund unless you file. My guess is that you’d be okay with a 1040-EZ which you can file for free with most services (TurboTax and CompleteTax both offer this service for free). Why not run the numbers and see what happens?

Like any good lawyer, I need to add a disclaimer: Unfortunately, it is impossible to give comprehensive tax advice over the internet, no matter how well researched or written. Before relying on any information given on this site, contact a tax professional to discuss your particular situation.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mary O'Keeffe February 6, 2010 at 12:28 am

A few other exceptions it’s important to mention.

With a total income of $2,800, it is very possible that your correspondent is the dependent of another taxpayer.

If a taxpayer can be claimed as the dependent of someone else, then the filing requirement could be much lower than the amounts you’ve mentioned above. Unearned income over $950 and/or total income over $5,700 could trigger a filing requirement for a taxpayer who can be claimed as the dependent of another taxpayer.

(Yes, I know your correspondent wrote that she claimed “1 dependent for myself,” but my experience at our VITA site is that many students are understandably confused about whether they can be claimed as the dependent of another taxpayer. The dependency rules are confusing! If she is a fulltime student under 24 and she does not provide half of her own support, it’s very likely that her parents can still claim her as their Qualifying Child dependent.)

2 Carlala February 7, 2010 at 12:15 am

I agree, Mary….with some additional considerations: When she says “student” is she is she saying she is still in high school or college? If it is college (and she has not achieved the age of 24 in 2009) and she is claimed as a dependent on her parent’s return, her parents will be in the running to claim an Education credit which could be the very nice (refundable!) American Hope Credit. It is my understanding that ONLY the parents can claim the Education credit if they are claiming there college student as a dependent (regardless of who is actually paying/required to pay back the funds).
Also, in the state of Ohio a dependent may still claim their own individual exemption on their state return…a nice perk!

If she was not claimed as a dependent…and achieved age 25 in 2009 she can claim the Earned Income Credit.

3 Marry April 25, 2010 at 10:39 am

Hi Taxgirl, I am Mary. My friend has some questions about FBAR. She opened a few CD accounts in a foreign bank on November 2008. Before that time, She never had had any offshore accounts. The aggregate value was about $40,000. All the money came from her parents. Her parents were not America citizen and not living in USA. There was no any taxable income from these accounts in 2008 because the maturities of these accounts were in 2009. She only recently learned that she should have been filing FBAR for 2008 even though she didn’t obtain any taxable income from these accounts. She learned this when she was reporting the income from these accounts in 2009. Due to one-time extension is over, She become very worry.

How can she solve this issue?
Should she use the voluntary disclosure process?
Is filing delinquent FBAR still available right now?
Could she be imposed a penalty for the failure to file the information returns?

Thank you very much!

4 Kelly April 26, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Mary, this is a very tricky question. Your friend may be subject to penalties for not reporting those accounts. I highly recommend that you check with a tax professional to determine the best way to proceed.

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