Tax return: Do I need to file taxes for 2011?

If you have started working for the first time or you are earning a significantly different amount than you have in prior years, you may not know if you need to file a federal income tax return for 2011.  The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has what is called an Interative Tax Assistant (ITA) that can help you determine if you need to file a tax return, but following is an overview of some things you need to consider to help you determine if you should file.

The primary things you need to consider to determine if you need to file a federal income tax return is your gross income, your filing status, and your age.  Gross income is all the money you earn from all sources.  Gross income includes but is not limited to the following sources: compensation for services (e.g., wages, salaries, tips), gains from the sale of property, interest, rent, dividends, alimony, life insurance receipts, pensions, and forgiveness of debt.

If your gross income is above a defined minimum threshold, you need to file a tax return.  Following are the minimum thresholds as defined by the IRS:

  • Single, under age 65 – $9,500
  • Single, age 65 or older – $10,950
  • Married Filing Jointly, both spouses under age 65 – $19,000
  • Married Filing Jointly, with one spouse age 65 or older – $20,150
  • Married Filing Jointly, with both spouses age 65 or  older – $21,300
  • Married Filing Separately, any age – $3,700
  • Head of Household, under age 65 – $12,200
  • Head of Household, age 65 or older – $13,650
  • Qualifying Widow(er) with dependent child, under age 65 – $15,300
  • Qualifying Widow(er) with dependent child, age 65 or older – $16,450

Based on your filing status and your age, if your gross income meets or exceeds the applicable amount noted above, you need to file a federal income tax return for the 2011 tax year.  The filing date for 2011 federal income tax returns is April 17, 2012.

If your gross income does not meet or exceed the applicable amount noted above, you may still need to file a federal income tax return for the 2011 tax year if one or more of the following situations applies to you as defined by the IRS:

  • You owe special taxes related to social security, Medicaid, medical savings accounts, or other situations
  • You or your spouse received distributions from certain medical savings accounts (MSAs)
  • You had net earnings from self-employment of at least $400
  • You had wages of $108.28 or more from a church organization exempt from social security and Medicare taxes

Even if you are not required to file your federal income tax return for the 2011 tax year, you may still want to file a tax return to get money back for one of the following reasons:

  • You had federal income tax withheld even though you owe no tax
  • You qualify for the earned income credit
  • You qualify for the additional child tax credit
  • You qualify for the health coverage tax credit
  • You qualify for the refundable credit for prior year minimum tax
  • You qualify for the first-time homebuyer credit
  • You qualify for the American opportunity credit
  • You qualify for the federal tax credit on fuels
  • You qualify for the adoption credit

Additional information about each of the situations where you are required to file a federal income tax return for the 2011 tax year or where you may want to file such a return is available in the 2011 IRS Tax Guide for Individuals.

If you are unsure if you should be filing a federal income tax return for the 2011 tax year, you should consult a tax attorney.

by Mark Johnston

Mark has been a contributor to legal web sites related to bankruptcy, tax, and criminal law since 2011. He has an Accounting degree from Texas A&M University.