How to File Taxes for the First Time

Do I Have to File a Tax Return?

Before you figure out how to file a tax return, first consider whether you need to file one at all. Generally, a person who makes at least $10,150 in 2014 is required to file a return. That includes income from wages, self-employment earnings, dividends, interest, disability benefits and unemployment compensation.

The threshold rises to $13,050 for a person who files as a "head of household." This category applies to an unmarried person who pays more than half of the costs (rent, mortgage, utilities) to maintain a home for him- or herself and one qualifying dependent, like a child or another family member who shares the home [sources: IRS].

The 2014 income minimums for filing purposes are as follows [source: IRS]:

  • A married couple filing jointly: $20,300
  • Married persons filing separately: $3,950
  • Individuals 65 and older: $11,700
  • Joint filers for which one person is 65 or older: $21,500
  • Joint filers who are both 65 and older: $22,700
  • A widow or widower with a dependent child: $16,350
  • A widow or widower who is 65 or older: $17,550

These threshold figures apply to anyone who can't be claimed as a "dependent" on another person's tax return. There are two types of dependents: children and relatives. A tax filer can claim his or her child as a dependent if the child is under 19 at the time (or 24 for children who are students), lives with the parent at least half of the year and depends on the parent for at least half of his or her financial support during the year.

Certain relatives who also depend largely on the tax filer may also be able to be claimed. But that doesn't mean these dependents don't have to file their own tax returns. They just can't take a personal exemption on their W-4s. The 2014 minimum income levels for filing purposes for dependents are as follows [source: IRS]:

  • Single (under the age of 65): $6,200
  • Single (over 65): $7,750
  • Married (under 65): $6,200
  • Married (over 65): $7,750