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Savvy Senior: How much do you have to make to file income taxes?


DEAR SAVVY SENIOR: What are the IRS income tax filing requirements for retirees in 2020? My income dropped way down when I was forced into retirement last March due to COVID, so I’m wondering if I need to file a tax return this year.

— Unexpected Retiree

DEAR UNEXPECTED: Whether or not you are required to file a federal income tax return this year actually depends on several factors: How much you earned last year (in 2020), the source of that income, your age and your filing status.

Here’s a rundown of this tax season’s IRS tax filing requirement thresholds. For most people, this is pretty straightforward. If your 2020 gross income — which includes all taxable income, not counting your Social Security benefits, unless you are married and filing separately — was below the threshold for your filing status and age, you may not have to file. But if it’s over, you will.

Single: $12,400 ($14,050 if you’re 65 or older by Jan. 1, 2021).

Married filing jointly: $24,800 ($26,100 if you or your spouse is 65 or older; or $27,400 if you’re both over 65).

Married filing separately: $5 at any age.

Head of household: $18,650 ($20,300 if age 65 or older).

Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child: $24,800 ($26,100 if age 65 or older).

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 “1040 and 1040-SR Instructions for Tax Year 2020,” or you can get it online at

Check here, too

There are, however, some other financial situations that can require you to file a tax return, even if your gross income falls below the IRS filing requirements. For example, if you earned more than $400 from self-employment in 2020, owe any special taxes like an alternative minimum tax, or get premium tax credits because you, your spouse or a dependent is enrolled in a Health Insurance Marketplace (aka Obamacare) plan, you’ll need to file.

You’ll also need to file if you’re receiving Social Security benefits, and one-half of your benefits plus your other gross income and any tax-exempt interest exceeds $25,000, or $32,000 if you’re married and filing jointly.

To figure all this out, the IRS offers an interactive tax assistant tool on its website 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. It takes less than 15 minutes to complete.

You can access this tool at — click on “Do I Need to File a Tax Return?” Or, you can get assistance over the phone by calling the IRS helpline at 800-829-1040.

Check your state

Even if you’re not required to file a federal tax return this year, don’t assume that you’re also excused from filing state income taxes. The rules for your state might be very different. Check with your state tax agency before concluding that you’re entirely in the clear. For links to state tax agencies, go to

Tax prep assistance

If you find that you do need to file a tax return this year, you can free file through the IRS at if your 2020 adjusted gross income was below $72,000.

Or, if you need some help, contact the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (or TCE) program. Sponsored by the IRS, TCE provides free tax preparation and counseling to middle and low-income taxpayers, age 60 and older. Call 800-906-9887, or go to to find out about services near you.

You also can get help through the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide service, a participant in the TCE program that provides free tax preparation in-person, online and by phone. To find out about service options in your area, call 888-227-7669 or go to 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 go to Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.