How do IRS Forms 1040EZ and 1040A differ?

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) provides taxpayers filing individual tax returns three options: Form 1040EZ, Form 1040A, and the classic Form 1040. Anyone can file Form 1040; however, you have to meet certain requirements to use 1040EZ or 1040A.

Form 1040EZ

Form 1040EZ is the briefest version of the 1040, and the simplest form to fill out. You can take the standard deduction, but you can't itemize deductions or claim any adjustments to income or tax credits (except for the earned income credit, available to certain low-income taxpayers), and you can't have any income from self-employment, alimony, dividends or capital gains.

You can use 1040EZ if all of the following apply:

Form 1040A

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 allowed on 1040EZ. If you can't use Form 1040EZ, you may be able to use 1040A if:

Form 1040

Form 1040 is the most complex of the form options for individual tax filers, but provides taxpayers with the most number of options for claiming deductions and credits. Taxpayers who are self-employed, such as freelancers or consultants, can only file a Form 1040. Certain other tax situations require taxpayers to use the Form 1040:

  • having an adjusted gross income of more than $100,000
  • having adjustments from the AMT
  • having income from a partnership or S corporation
  • under-reporting tips
  • if your employer did not withhold Social Security or Medicare taxes from your paycheck
  • if you owe taxes for the use of a household employee

The Bottom Line

As a rule of thumb, the longer the tax form is the more tax breaks are available. Filing a FormĀ 1040EZ or 1040A instead of a Form 1040 may be faster, with fewer recordkeeping requirements, but may result in the taxpayer missing important tax credits and deductions.