What Is Form 1040: U.S. Individual Tax Return?

Form 1040 is the standard Internal Revenue Service (IRS) form that individual taxpayers use to file their annual income tax returns. The form contains sections that require taxpayers to disclose their taxable income for the year to determine whether additional taxes are owed or whether the filer will receive a tax refund.

Key Takeaways

  • Form 1040 is what individual taxpayers use to file their taxes with the IRS.
  • The form determines if additional taxes are due or if the filer will receive a tax refund.
  • Personal information, such as name, address, Social Security number, and the number of dependents, are asked for on Form 1040.
  • A filer also needs to report wages, salary, taxable interest, capital gains, pensions, Social Security benefits, and other types of income.
  • Taxpayers may need to file supplemental tax 1040 forms depending on their situation.

Understanding Form 1040: U.S. Individual Tax Return

Form 1040 needs to be filed with the IRS by April 15 in most years. Everyone who earns income over a certain threshold must file an income tax return with the IRS (businesses have different forms to report their profits).

The IRS overhauled the 1040 form for the 2018 tax year after passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and it examined, according to the agency, "ways to improve the 1040 filing experience." The new, shorter 1040 was billed as easing communication of future tax-law changes and reducing the number of 1040s from which taxpayers must choose.

The 1040 form for the tax year 2019, which will be filed in 2020, includes two pages to fill out.

Form 1040
Form 1040 Page 1.

All pages of Form 1040 are available on the IRS website. Form 1040 can be mailed in or e-filed.

Form 1040 prompts tax filers for information on their filing status, such as name, address, Social Security number (some information on one's spouse may also be needed), and the number of dependents. The form also asks about full-year health coverage and whether the taxpayer wishes to contribute $3 to presidential campaign funds.

Form 1040 2

The 1040 income section asks the filer to report wages, salary, taxable interest, capital gains, pensions, Social Security benefits, and other types of income. It also allows filers to claim the new higher standard deduction introduced with the Tax and Job Cuts Act. For 2019, these deductions are as follows:

  • Single or married filing separately, $12,200
  • Married filing jointly or a qualifying widow(er), $24,400
  • Head of household, $18,350

For the tax year 2020, which will be filed in 2021, the numbers have increased and are as follows:

  • Single or married filing separately, $12,400
  • Married filing jointly or a qualifying widow(er), $24,800
  • Head of household, $18,650

An additional deduction may be taken by those who are age 65 or older or blind (see "Age/Blindness" on the first page of Form 1040):

  • Single or head of household filers, $1,650
  • Married filing jointly, $1,300 for each spouse who is 65 or older or blind.

The new tax legislation eliminated many deductions, including for unreimbursed employee expenses, tax-preparation fees, and moving for a job (except for military on active duty).

The new 1040 uses what the IRS terms a "building block" approach and allows taxpayers to add only the schedules they need to their tax return. Some individuals may now need to file one or more of six new supplemental schedules with their 1040 in addition to long-standing schedules for such items as business income or loss, depending on whether they're claiming tax credits or owe additional taxes. Many individual taxpayers, however, only need to file a 1040 and no schedules.

Taxpayers who receive dividends that total more than $1,500, for example, must file Schedule B, which is the section for reporting taxable interest and ordinary dividends.

Similarly, those who want to claim itemized deductions on their 1040 have to complete Schedule A. The IRS also has several worksheets to help taxpayers calculate the value of certain credits or deductions. 

Types of Form 1040: U.S. Individual Tax Return

Taxpayers in certain situations may need to file a different variant of the 1040 form instead of the standard version. Below are the options.

Form 1040-NR

A variety of nonresident aliens or their representatives need to file this form:

  • Those who are engaged in trade or business in the United States
  • Representatives of a deceased person who would have had to file a 1040-NR
  • Those who represent an estate or trust that had to file a 1040-NR

Form 1040NR-EZ

This is a simplified version of the above form. Nonresident aliens can use this form if they claim no dependents and their only income from U.S. sources is wages, salaries, tips, refunds of state and local income taxes, or scholarship or fellowship grants.

Form 1040-ES

This form is used to figure and pay estimated quarterly taxes. The estimated tax applies to income that isn’t subject to withholding, which includes earnings from self-employment, interest, dividends, and rents. This may also include unemployment compensation, pension income, and the taxable portion of Social Security benefits.

Form 1040-V

This is a statement accompanying a taxpayer's payment for any balance on the "Amount you owe" line of the 1040 or 1040-NR.

Form 1040X

If a filer makes a mistake or forgets to include information on any 1040 form, Form 1040X is used for making changes to previously filed 1040s.

Form 1040-SR

The IRS designed a new 1040 form for seniors for the 2019 tax year. Changes include a larger font, no shading (shaded sections can be hard to read) and a standard deduction chart that includes the extra standard deduction for seniors. Seniors who fill out their taxes online won't notice the difference, but those who do it on paper should benefit.