How to File Taxes With No Income

The idea of not having to file your annual income taxes sounds like a daydream for most people, and if you made little or no income during the tax year, it's very possible to make that dream come true. But can you file income taxes with no income? And – perhaps even more pressingly – why would you want to? As it turns out, not only can you, but the relatively minimal effort required to do so might just pay off in the end.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

Filing taxes with no income works just the same as filing taxes with income, and it may be worthwhile depending on your tax situation.

Can You File Taxes With No Income?

It is possible to file a tax return if you made zero income during the tax year. The nuts and bolts of filing for those who made no income work just as they do for people who earned money – you can complete and file a common tax form such as Form 1040EZ, Form 1040A or Form 1040 by paper mail, with a tax preparer or through online submission, or via any number of different tax-filing apps.

As a general guide, here are the tax forms available to use:

  • Use a 1040EZ if you're single or married filing jointly, not claiming any dependents and have interest income of less than $1,500.
  • Use a 1040A if you have capital gains distributions, are claiming tax credits, or adjustments to income from IRA contributions and student loan interest.
  • Use a 1040 if you claim itemized deductions, are reporting self-employment income or reporting income from sale of property.

Should I File With No Income?

Filing taxes with no income may actually come with a few perks. If you have no income, can you get a tax refund? The answer is, in some limited cases, yes!

Some tax credits, such as the additional child tax credit, can be taken directly off the amount of tax you owe, rather than from your income. Even better, you can receive these credits as a refund even if you are not required to pay taxes. Of course, to claim any type of IRS tax credit, you must file your tax return.

If you're in a position to claim deductions or credits, it's a wise move to file tax returns during no-income years. Even if you're not entitled to a refund, deductions or credits for a particular tax year, filing your tax return anyway allows you to carry over deductions and credits into future tax years when you do make income. Likewise, filing helps protect you from audits, as the IRS typically only audits tax returns within three years of their date of filing; if you don't file, that time limit doesn't apply.

Am I Required to File a Return?

Although you can file tax returns with no income, you don't always have to. If your income during the tax year falls below the IRS' minimum requirements, you're not required to file a tax return; if it exceeds the minimum, you must file. If you made no income of any sort whatsoever, you're not required to file.

Otherwise, the minimum income amount depends on your filing status and age. These figures are based on the 2018 tax year:

  • Single, under age 65: $12,000
  • Single, age 65 or over: $13,600
  • Married filing jointly, both spouses under 65: $24,000
  • Married filing jointly, one spouse under 65, one spouse 65 or over: $25,300
  • Married filing jointly, both spouses 65 or over: $26,600
  • Head of household, under 65: $18,000
  • Head of household, 65 or over: $19,600
  • Qualifying widow or widower with dependent child, under 65: $24,000
  • Qualifying widow or widower with dependent child, 65 or over: $25,300  

In most cases, the easiest way to figure out if you need to file a tax return is by using the free Interactive Tax Assistant at IRS.gov. Just answer a few quick questions, such as the tax year, your marital status, what kind of benefits you receive and how much money you made. The IRS will give you an instant answer on the tax-filing front.

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About the Author

As a freelance writer and small business owner with a decade of experience, Dan has contributed legal- and finance-oriented content to diverse sources including Chron, Fortune, Zacks.com, Motley Fool and MSN Money, among others.