If you've ever filed your taxes on your own (and there's probably a good chance that you have), then you're probably very familiar with Form 1040: U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. This is the form that most individual taxpayers use to file their annual tax returns.
But there were alternative forms that were used depending on the circumstances of individual taxpayers: Form 1040-EZ: Income Tax Return for Single and Joint Filers With No Dependents and 1040-A: U.S. Individual Tax Return. These forms were discontinued as of the 2018 tax year. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) consolidated the forms into one and allowed taxpayers to supplement their filings with different schedules.
Each form served the same purpose—to report your income and determine if you owe additional taxes or, better yet, get a refund. But they did vary in terms of complexity and who could use them. Here's how the three forms differ.
- Form 1040 is the standard tax return form that most individual taxpayers use every year.
- The IRS no longer accepts Forms 1040-EZ or Form 1040-A for tax years 2018 and beyond, which means most taxpayers must use Form 1040 to complete their tax returns.
- The IRS consolidated everything into a single form.
- Form 1040-EZ was the easiest and least complicated to file, and was meant for individuals who didn't take any credits or deductions or made any adjustments to their income.
- Form 1040-A was considered the middle ground, and limited the amount of deductions and credits you could take.
Form 1040: U.S. Individual Income Tax Return
As noted above, Form 1040 is the primary form that most individual taxpayers use to report their annual tax returns. As of 2018, it is the only tax return that you can use to report your income taxes to the IRS.
This form has two pages and is the most complex of the forms for individual tax filers. Although it was simplified, starting in 2018, it also gives you the most options for claiming tax credits and deductions. You should file Form 1040 if:
- Your taxable income is greater than $100,000
- You itemize deductions
- You receive income from the sale of property
- You have certain types of income, including that from unreported tips, self-employment, certain non-taxable distributions, a partnership or S corporation, or if you’re a beneficiary of an estate or trust
- You owe taxes for the use of a household employee
There is a special income tax return designed for seniors. Individual taxpayers who are 65 and older can use Form 1040-SR: U.S. Tax Return for Seniors. It resembles Form 1040 but has larger fonts, which makes it easier to read and fill out. It also focuses on senior-specific tax benefits.
Form 1040-EZ: Income Tax Return for Single and Joint Filers With No Dependents
Form 1040-EZ was the shortest of the 1040 forms and the easiest to fill out. It was meant for individuals who only took the standard deduction and didn't itemize. You also couldn't take any tax credits or deductions other than the earned income tax credit (EITC), or make any adjustments to income like contributions to an individual retirement account (IRA). And speaking of income, self-employment, alimony, dividends, or capital gains disqualified you from using Form 1040EZ.
So when would you use this form? You could use Form 1040-EZ if all of the following apply:
- You file as single or married filing jointly
- Your taxable income was less than $100,000
- You don’t claim any dependents
- You don’t itemize deductions
- You (and your spouse, if filing jointly) were under age 65 on January 1 of the year in which you file, and not legally blind at the end of the tax year for which you are filing
- Your income came only from wages, salaries, tips, taxable scholarship and fellowship grants, unemployment compensation, and/or Alaska Permanent Fund dividends
- Your taxable interest was $1,500 or less
- Your earned tips (if any) were included in boxes 5 and 7 of your W-2
- You didn’t owe household employment taxes on wages you paid to a household employee
- You were not a debtor in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy case filed after Oct. 16, 2005
Keep in mind that while you can't use this form as of the 2018 tax year, you can still use Form 1040EZ to report your income taxes to the IRS for 2017 and earlier as long as you qualify.
Form 1040-A: U.S. Individual Tax Return
Form 1040-A fell somewhere in between the standard Form 1040 and Form 1040EZ in terms of complexity. It offered more room for tax breaks than Form 1040EZ, including childcare, education, and retirement savings.
This form was limited in how many deductions and credits it allowed compared to the standard Form 1040. For instance, if you couldn't use Form 1040-EZ because you had dependents to claim, you would have been able to use 1040A if:
- You file as single, married filing jointly or separately, qualifying surviving spouse, or head of household
- Your taxable income was less than $100,000
- Your income was only from wages, salaries, tips, taxable scholarships, fellowship grants, interest, ordinary dividends, capital gains distributions, pensions, annuities, IRAs, unemployment compensation, taxable Social Security, railroad retirement benefits, and/or Alaska Permanent Fund dividends
- You take the standard deduction and don’t itemize
- You didn’t have an alternative minimum tax (AMT) adjustment on stock you acquired by exercising a stock option
- Your only adjustments to income were deductions for an IRA, student loan interest, educator expenses, and tuition and fees
- The only credits you claim are for child and dependent care expenses, EITC, the elderly or the disabled, education, child tax credit, premium tax credit (for insurance purchased on the health insurance marketplace), or the retirement savings contribution credit
Just like Form 1040EZ, you can't use Form 1040-A as of the 2018 tax year. But you can still use it to report your income taxes for 2017 and earlier as long as you qualify.
Is Form 1040 the Only Option to File My Tax Return?
Yes. As of Form the 2018 tax year, all individual taxpayers are required to file their tax returns using Form 1040. The IRS consolidated all previous versions of the annual tax return into Form 1040 to streamline the process. You may, however, use Form 1040-SR if you are over 65.
Why Did the IRS Discontinue Forms 1040-EZ and 1040-A?
The IRS stopped accepting Forms 1040-EZ and 1040-A beginning with the 2018 tax year after it redesigned Form 1040, which is the standard tax return form. It consolidated all three forms into one, allowing taxpayers to supplement their filing with various schedules. This means you're likely going to use Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR if you're a senior. Keep in mind, though, that if taxpayers meet the use and filing guidelines and need to file their tax returns for 2017 and earlier, they can use Form 1040-EZ or 1040-A.
Can I Still Use Form 1040-EZ or Form 1040-A?
Yes and no. You can still use Form 1040-EZ or Form 1040-A to file returns for 2017 and earlier tax years as long as you qualify. But for 2018 and beyond, you must use Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR if you're a senior.
The Bottom Line
As a rule of thumb, the longer the tax form, the more tax breaks, and credits will be available. Filing Form 1040-EZ or 1040-A instead of Form 1040 was often faster and with fewer recordkeeping requirements, but you may miss out on money-saving tax credits and deductions. As of 2018, the EZ and A versions of form 1040 have been discontinued. If you’re not sure which form is best for your situation, ask a tax professional or try the IRS’s Interactive Tax Assistant, designed to help you determine the simplest form to use to file your federal income tax return.