1040, 1040EZ, 1040-A or something else?

Taxes can be complicated. As taxpayers, we find this frustrating. So it would make sense for us to grab the simplest tax forms we can find. But it’s not always the right choice. There are a number of tax forms available, and the key is to choose the one that is most beneficial to you, not just the one that seems easiest to you.

Here is a brief overview of the most common forms available on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website:

Federal Form 1040EZ, Tax return for single and joint filers without dependents (download in pdf). The key to the 1040EZ is the “easy” in the title. It’s a very simple return. You can choose to file a Federal Form 1040EZ if you are filing as single or married jointly with no dependents (remember, when it comes to children, nothing is ever easy). If you have dependents or are filing as head of household, widow(er), or eligible married spouse(s) separately, you cannot use federal Form 1040EZ. no matter how easy you think your return will be. You also cannot use Federal Form 1040EZ if you intend to claim the additional standard deductions (available to taxpayers who are blind or over age 65) – these options are only available on Federal Form 1040.

Also, your taxable income must be less than $100,000. Your income must consist only of wages, salaries, and tips (see line 1), taxable interest less than $1,500 (see line 2), and unemployment compensation or Alaska Permanent Fund dividends (see line 3).

You cannot file a federal Form 1040EZ if you have self-employment income (Schedule C), rent (Schedule E), or capital gains and losses (Schedule D).

You cannot itemize deductions (Schedule A) if you use Federal Form 1040EZ: you must claim the standard deduction. Additionally, your available credits are limited to Earned Income Credit or the non-taxable Battle Balance election.

Federal Form 1040, U.S. personal income tax filing (download in pdf). The most common federal income tax is Federal Form 1040. There are no real restrictions (other than residency) that affect your ability to file Federal Form 1040. It is the longest and most complicated of the 1040 series of forms, but it’s also the most secure: if you can’t decide which form to use, there’s no harm in choosing this one.

Federal Form 1040-A, U.S. personal income tax filing (download in pdf). A good middle ground between Federal Form 1040 and Federal Form 1040EZ is the often overlooked Federal Form 1040-A. You can file a Form 1040-A if your taxable income is less than $100,000 and your income is from the same types of income you would claim on Form 1040EZ plus interest (line 8) and dividends (line 9). ); capital gains distributions (line 10); IRA distributions (line 11); distributions of pensions and annuities (line 12); and taxable Social Security and railroad retirement benefits (line 14).

Unlike Federal Form 1040EZ, certain “over the line” adjustments can be claimed on a Form 1040-A, including educator expenses, IRA deductions, student loan interest deductions, and tuition and fee deductions. These are deductions you can claim even if you don’t itemize, which is good since you can’t itemize deductions on a Form 1040-A. You can claim a limited number of tax credits using Form 1040-A, including child tax credit, education credits, earned income credit, child care expense credit children and dependents, the credit for the aged or handicapped and the American Opportunity Credit.

Federal Form 1040NR, Tax filing for non-resident aliens in the United States. (pdf downloads) The United States imposes a worldwide income tax on its citizens and residents. If you are a nonresident alien (see this article for more information on residency), you only pay federal income tax on US-source income. In most cases, you must file a tax return if you are a nonresident alien, even if you have no income from your trade or business in the United States, you have no US source income or if your income is exempt from US tax under a tax treaty. (hey, I don’t make the rules). There is one exception: you do not need to file a return if, as a nonresident alien, your only trade or business in the United States was providing personal services with wages under $3,650 and you do not need to file a return to claim a refund of excess withholding, satisfy additional withholding, or claim partially exempt income. Exceptions also apply if you are a nonresident alien student, teacher, or intern in the United States temporarily on an “F”, “J”, “M” or “Q” visa, and you do not have no taxable income.

Federal Form 1040NR-EZ, U.S. Tax Return for Certain Nonresident Aliens Without Dependents (download in pdf). You can pretty much guess the filing rules from this form. If the rules for filing a Form 1040NR apply (see above) and you have no dependents, you can file a Form 1040NR-EZ as long as your taxable income is less than $100,000 and your income from U.S. sources is from wages, salaries, tips, state and local income tax refunds, and scholarship or scholarship grants. You cannot claim any deductions or credits, however, to be fair, these are also quite limited on Form 1040NR.

Federal Form 1040-SS, U.S. Self-Employment Tax Filing (download in pdf). Form 1040-SS is a short form for reporting self-employment income if you, or your spouse (if filing a joint return), do not have to file a Form 1040, but had net income self-employment of $400 or more (or you had church employee income of $108.28 or more); and reside in Guam, American Samoa, US Virgin Islands, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, or Puerto Rico.

Federal Form 1040-PR, Planilla para la Declaración de la Contribución Federal sobre el Trabajo por Cuenta Propia (Incluyendo el Crédito Tributario Adicional por Hijos para Residentes Bona Fide de Puerto Rico) (download as pdf file). This is the part where I wow you with my college-level Spanish… Form 1040-PR is the Spanish equivalent of Form 1040-SS for residents of Puerto Rico. For more information in English, see the explanation of Form 1040-SS below. For information in Spanish, visit the IRS website.

Federal Form 1040-C, Tax return for aliens leaving the United States. It’s my favorite tax form simply because it’s so wacky and complicated. Form 1040-C is sometimes referred to as “navigation documents” and is used by aliens (persons who are not citizens) who intend to leave the United States or any of its possessions for more than an incidental period of time. The purpose of the form is to report and pay federal income tax on income received or expected for the entire tax year. And here’s the part that confuses people: despite what I just said, a Form 1040-C is not a definitive return. You must still file a final tax return (either a Form 1040 or Form 1040NR) after your tax year ends. The IRS warns you (again) directly on the form:

Federal Form 1040ES, Estimated tax for individuals (download in pdf). You use Form 1040ES to make estimated payments to the IRS throughout the year if you expect to owe tax of $1,000 or more when you file your federal tax return. Unlike many other tax forms, you will complete this form more than once during the year since estimated taxes are paid quarterly. If you miss a payment or make a late payment, you could be subject to penalties. To learn more about estimated payouts, see this article.

Federal Form 1040-V, payment voucher (download in pdf). This is the form the IRS likes the most since it is the form you use to send in your tax payments. Of course, you can still pay online – the IRS really, really wants your money as fast as they can get it.

Federal Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Personal Income Tax Return (download in pdf). What happens if you choose the right return, file on time, and then make a mistake? This is not the end of the world. You fix it by filing a federal form 1040X. Don’t Just File Another Return – it will only confuse the IRS, and you don’t want to do that. It takes some time to process an amended return. If you have a refund claim, be patient – the IRS says to wait about 8-12 weeks before asking about the status of your refund. If you owe taxes, expect to pay interest and possibly penalties, depending on the facts.

Keep in mind that you may not need to deposit at all, depending on your filing status and income (more here).

If you still have questions, consult your tax professional or contact the IRS by phone at 1.800.829.1040 – or make an appointment.

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