A:

Two of the forms used for filing individual federal income tax returns are IRS Form 1040A and IRS Form 1040EZ (the third is IRS Form 1040, the most complex of the three). Anyone can file Form 1040; however, you have to meet certain requirements to use 1040EZ or 1040A.

Form 1040EZ is the briefest version of the 1040. You can't itemize deductions or claim any adjustments to income or tax credits (except for the Earned Income Credit), and you can't have any income from self-employment, alimony, dividends or capital gains. You can use 1040EZ if all of the following are true:

  • Your taxable income is less than $100,000
  • Your filing status is single or married filing jointly
  • You claim no dependents
  • You (and your spouse if filing jointly) were under age 65 on January 1 of the year in which you file, and not blind at the end of the tax year for which you are filing
  • Your income is only from wages, salaries, tips, taxable scholarship and fellowship grants, unemployment compensation, or Alaska Permanent Fund dividends
  • Your taxable interest is $1,500 or less
  • Your earned tips (if any) are included in boxes 5 and 7 of your From W-2
  • You do not owe any household employment taxes on wages you paid to a household employee
  • You are not a debtor in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy case filed after Oct. 16, 2005

Form 1040A is not as complex as Form 1040, but is longer than 1040EZ. Form 1040A allows you to claim a number of deductions that you are not able to on 1040EZ. If you can't use Form 1040EZ, you may be able to use 1040A if:

  • Your taxable income is less than $100,000
  • Your income is only from wages, salaries, tips, taxable scholarships and fellowship grants, interest, ordinary dividends, capital gain distributions, pensions, annuities, IRAs, unemployment compensation, taxable social security or railroad retirement benefits, and Alaska Permanent Fund dividends
  • You do not itemize deductions (so you can't deduct charitable donations or mortgage interest paid)
  • You did not have an alternative minimum tax adjustment on stock you acquired by exercising an incentive stock option
  • Your taxes are only from the Tax Table, the alternative minimum tax, recapture of an education credit, Form 8615 or the Qualified Dividends and Capital Gain Tax Worksheet
  • Your only adjustment to income are the IRA, student loan interest, educator expenses, and tuition and fees deductions
  • The only credits you are claiming are the credit for child and dependent care expenses, EIC, credit for elderly or the disabled, education credits, child tax credit, additional child tax credit, or the retirement savings contribution credit

To learn more about how to get the most back on your tax return, check out How do I know whether to itemize deductions or take the standard deduction?

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