Dear Savvy Senior,
What are the IRS income tax filing requirements for seniors this tax season? My income dropped way down when I retired last year, so I'm wondering if I need to even file a tax return this year.
-- Recently Retired
Whether or not you are required to file a federal income tax return this year depends on your gross income, as well as your filing status and age. Your gross income includes all the income you receive that is not exempt from tax, not including Social Security benefits, unless you are married and filing separately.
To get a detailed breakdown on federal filing requirements, along with information on taxable and nontaxable income, call the IRS at 800-829-3676 and ask them to mail you a free copy of the "Tax Guide for Seniors" (publication 554).
In the meantime, here's a rundown of the IRS filing requirements for this tax season. If your gross income from 2013 was lower than the amount listed in your filing status, you probably won't have to file. But if it's over, you will.
• Single: $10,000 ($11,500 if you're 65 or older by Jan. 1, 2014).
• Married filing jointly: $20,000 ($21,200 if you or your spouse is 65 or older; or $22,400 if you're both over 65).
• Married filing separately: $3,900 at any age.
• Head of household: $12,850 ($14,350 if age 65 or older).
• Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child: $16,100 ($17,300 if age 65 or older).
Be aware that there are some special financial situations that require you to file a tax return, even if your gross income falls below the IRS filing requirement. For example, if you had net earnings from self-employment in 2013 of $400 or more, or if you owe any special taxes to the IRS such as alternative minimum tax or IRA tax penalties, you'll probably need to file.
To figure this out, the IRS offers a resource on their website called "Do I Need to File a Tax Return?" that asks a series of questions that will help you determine if you're required to file, or if you should file because you're due a refund. You can get assistance over the phone by calling the IRS helpline at 800-829-1040. You can also get face-to-face help at a Taxpayer Assistance Center.
Check Your State
Even if you're not required to file a federal tax return this year, it doesn't necessarily mean you're also excused from filing state income taxes. Check with your state tax agency before concluding that you're entirely in the clear.
Tax Prep Assistance
If you find that you do need to file a tax return this year, you can get help through the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (or TCE) program. Sponsored by the IRS, TEC provides free tax preparation and counseling to middle and low-income taxpayers, age 60 and older. Call 800-906-9887 to locate a service near you.
Also check with AARP, a participant in the TCE program that provides free tax preparation at more than 5,000 sites nationwide. To locate an AARP Tax-Aide site call 888-227-7669 or visit aarp.org/findtaxhelp. You don't have to be an AARP member to use this service.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.