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How Old Do You Have to Be to File Taxes?

There are many things in our world with age limits. Is taxes one of them?

Justin Cupler

Contributing Writer at Tally

March 7, 2022

When tax season arrives, tax filers have questions about filing their taxes. One common question is, "How old do you have to be to file taxes?" Is there a minimum age? Are there specific qualifiers a minor must meet to file taxes? 

These are all valid questions for a young first-time taxpayer or an adult with a working dependent child. Below, we cover all these questions and more.

So, how old do you have to be to file taxes?

Anyone can legally file taxes; there’s no minimum age limit. However, whether you’re required to file taxes is based on a combination of the following:

  • Gross income

  • Age (under or over 65)

  • Filing status

  • Dependent status

So even if you’re dependent and a minor, you may be required to pay taxes. The filing requirements will vary based on the types of income you have: earned income, unearned income or both. 

Earned income is the money you receive from a part-time or full-time job, while unearned income includes things such as interest and dividends from investments. You can own assets at any age, opening you to potential income tax from the day you're issued a Social Security number. 

Let's dive deeper into the filing requirements for dependents under 65 for each type of income.

Earned income

If you’re a dependent under the age of 65 and your gross income is made up of earned income only, you must file a federal tax return if your earned income from that tax year exceeded $12,550. This income threshold is the same whether your filing status is single, married filing separate returns or married filing a joint return. 

However, there is one caveat, if you’re a dependent whose spouse files separately and itemizes deductions, you must file a return if your earned income is equal to $5 or more.

Unearned income

Any under-65 dependent with unearned income of $1,100 or more must file a tax return in a calendar year. Unearned income can include profits from stocks, dividend distributions or interest from savings accounts.

For example, if you started a brokerage account for your child in their name, and the account earned $1,100 or more in dividend income, you would need to file a federal tax return for them.

Like the above, if you’re a dependent whose spouse files separately and itemizes deductions, you must file a return if your unearned income equals $5 or more.

Both earned and unearned income

If you’re a dependent under 65 and your gross income includes both earned and unearned income, you’ll need to do a little math to determine if you must file taxes or not. 

As of the 2021 tax year, you’re required to file a tax return if your gross income (i.e., your earned income and unearned income combined) is more than $1,100 or more than your earned income plus $350 whichever number is greater. 

For example, let’s say you made $4,000 at a part-time job (earned income) and $300 in interest (unearned income). Your gross income would be $4,300. First, you would decide which number is higher: $1,100 or your earned income plus $350. In this example, your earned income plus $350 is $4,350, which is higher than $1,100.

Next, compare your gross income of $4,300 to the $4,350 amount. Since your gross income is lower, you don’t need to file a tax return.

There are some additional details to be aware of:

  • If your earned income plus $350 is greater than $12,550, you’ll use $12,550 as your income threshold to determine if you must file a tax return.

  • If you’re a married dependent whose spouse files a separate return and itemizes deductions, you must file a tax return if your gross income is $5 or more.

Exceptions to the income rules

There are times when these income rules don't apply, starting with tipped income. Anyone who may owe Social Security or Medicare taxes on tipped income must file a tax return regardless of their income level. 

Also, anyone who's earned at least $400 in self-employment income will trigger the self-employment tax liability, so they must also file.

Finally, the income thresholds from above increase if a dependent is blind, over 65, or both.


Can a parent file a child's tax preparation?

If your dependent child is required to file an income tax return, you may wonder if you can handle the filing for them. 

Yes, tax laws permit you to complete your child's income and even sign them if they're too young to sign their own tax returns. You'd simply sign the child's name, then write "by" next to it and sign your name. 

Should my child file a tax return even if they don't have to? 

If your child earns less than the required income amount to file taxes, there are certain instances where they still may want to file a tax return. Here are a few common instances. 

Their employer withheld Income taxes from their paycheck

If your dependent didn't earn enough income to exceed the tax-filing threshold, they should have paid $0 in taxes. However, some employers automatically withhold taxes, meaning your child paid taxes they shouldn't have. 

This is a case where your child would want to file a tax return to get an income tax refund check and get money back. 

They were self-employed

If your child was self-employed and earned $400 or more through self-employment, they will owe a 15.3% self-employment tax, even if they owe no other federal income tax. In this case, they must complete a tax return to determine how much they owe. 

They can earn Social Security credits

As soon as your child starts working, they can start earning the 40 required work credits to be eligible for Medicare and Social Security benefits. In 2021, they’ll earn one work credit for earning at least $1,470, and this increases to $1,510 in 2022 and may continue increasing over time. 

To get the credit, they must file an income tax return and pay any owed Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) or self-employment taxes.

They want to learn

Filing income taxes is a part of life, and teaching your children how to do it early will make it easier for them to do it themselves later. Since most schools don't teach this necessary skill, you are their next best option for early education on how taxes work.

They qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

The EITC is a tax credit generally reserved for folks with children of their own, but you can be eligible for it without having kids, so your children may qualify for it too. To qualify without a child, you must meet the following criteria

  • Worked during the tax year and earned under $57,414

  • Had investment income under $10,000

  • Have a valid Social Security number

  • Been a U.S. citizen or resident alien the entire tax year

  • Cannot have filed IRS Form 2555

  • Must have resided in the U.S. for more than half the year

  • Cannot be claimed as a qualifying child on someone else's tax return

  • Be at least 18 years old by the end of the tax year

There's no actual age limit to file taxes

There is no minimum age limit to filing taxes. But whether the IRS requires you to file will be based on a number of factors, including your gross income. 

Even if you or your child aren’t required to file taxes this year, it may still be beneficial to do so as a learning experience, to earn Social Security work credits or even to claim the EITC.

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