New to taxes? If this is your first year filing on your own, don’t worry – we’ve got your back! Everyone’s got to start some time, and lucky for you we’re here to guide you toward your biggest refund or a lower tax bill. We’ll start with the basics below and if you have any other questions, ask us in the comments section. Patience young grasshopper, you’ll be a wise tax whiz in no time!

 

Do I Have to File?

First thing’s first - decide if you need to file an income tax return. Several factors affect the answer to this question such as filing status, gross income, your age, and whether or not someone claims you as a dependent. With some help from the IRS, we’ve put together a chart to make it easy for you when deciding to file or not. Simply match your filing status with your age, and if your gross income was at least that amount for 2015, then you should file a tax return.

                                                                                   

Your Filing Status:

Your Age At The End Of 2015:

You Should File a Return If Your Gross Income Was At Least:

Single

Under 65

$10,300

Single

65 Or Older

$11,850

Head of Household

Under 65

$13,250

Head of Household

65 Or Older

$14,800

Married, Filing Jointly

Under 65 (Both Spouses)

$20,600

Married, Filing Jointly

65 Or Older (One Spouse)

$21,850

Married, Filing Jointly

65 Or Older (Both Spouses)

$23,100

Married, Filing Separately

Any Age

$4,000

Qualifying Widow(er) With Dependent Child

Under 65

$16,600

Qualifying Widow(er) With Dependent Child

65 Or Older

$17,850

 

What Tax Form Do I Need?

Now that you know you need to file an income tax return, it’s time to determine which form to file. You’ll need one of the three basic tax forms – 1040EZ, 1040A, or the 1040.

The 1040EZ is a single page, and it’s the simplest form. However, you can only claim one credit on this form, for example the Earned Income Credit, and you also cannot itemize your deductions. This could affect the potential savings you could have on your tax bill.

 

                        

If you meet these conditions, you can file the 1040EZ:
           
  • You're single or you're married filing jointly
  •        
  • You have no dependents
  •        
  • You're under 65 years old
  •        
  • Your taxable income is less than $100,000
  •        
  • Your taxable interest is no more than $1,500
  •        
  • You don't claim any adjustments to income
  •        
  • You only have wages, tips (all incluuded on your W-2), salaries, unemployment compensation, taxable scholarship and fellowship grants, or Alaska Permanaent Fund dividends
  •        
  • You didn't receive premium assistance from the health insurance marketplace
  •      

 

(See the full list of IRS conditions here.)

The 1040A is the next level up from the 1040EZ and allows you to claim several tax credits. You can also file this form with any of the five filing statuses. Although this form has more flexibility, you still cannot itemize your deductions.

                        

You can file the 1040A if:
                    
  • Your taxable income is less than $100,000
  •        
  • You have capital gain distributions
  •        
  • You want to claim tax credits like child and dependent care expenses, education expenses, and retirement savings contributions
  •        
  • You claim adjustments to your income for IRA contributions and student loan interest
  •      

 

And lastly, the most complicated of the three forms – the 1040. If you don’t qualify for the 1040EZ or the 1040A, you’ll need to file the 1040. The good news? You can itemize your deductions on this form, which can help you save on your tax bill!

                        

You can file the 1040 if:
           
  • Your taxable income, or combined income, is less than $100,000
  •        
  • You want to itemize deductions
  •        
  • You are reporting self-employment income
  •        
  • You need to report income from the sale of a property
  •      

 

How Should I File?

Choosing whether to file online or in an office with a tax preparer is an important decision! E-filing is nice because the calculations are done for you, guaranteeing accuracy. It’s also a good way to improve your tax knowledge and have power over your tax destiny. However, professional tax preparers know the tax code like the back of their hand, and they know how to analyze your return for commonly overlooked deductions and credits. Do your research and find an affordable and convenient fit for your tax situation.

Basic Terminology

You’ve probably heard lots of tax jargon this time of year like taxable income, dependents and deductions. If you’re unfamiliar with these and other commonly used terms, check out our tax glossary. It’s like a dictionary just for tax terms!

What other questions do you have about filing taxes for the first time? We’d be happy to answer your questions in the comments below! And be sure to stay updated on all things taxes by following us on Facebook and Twitter.