What Is an Individual Tax Return?

An individual tax return is an official form that a person or a married couple submits to a federal, state, or local taxing agency to report all taxable income received during a specific period, usually the previous year. This record is used to assess the amount of tax that is due or was overpaid for that period. 

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the federal taxing authority in the U.S. The United States has a voluntary reporting system that permits either electronic or hard-copy filing of individual tax returns.

All countries have agencies that oversee national tax collection. Some tax agencies provide individual taxpayers with pre-filled individual tax returns, while others require the taxpayer to fill out and file the returns on their own.

Key Takeaways

  • An individual tax return is an official form that a person submits to a federal, state, or local taxing agency to report all taxable income received during the previous year.
  • All U.S. tax returns are submitted to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the federal taxing authority in the U.S.
  • Businesses, corporations, and non-profit groups are all required to file their own variations on the individual return.
  • In addition to a federal tax return, every U.S. state, even those without a state income tax, has a state taxing authority that oversees the annual collection of state tax.
  • Usually, taxes are due on April 15th every year. In 2021, the deadline to file taxes for the 2020 tax year was delayed to May 17, 2021.

Due to Hurricane Ida, some residents and business owners in Louisiana and parts of Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey have been granted extensions on their deadlines for filings and payments to the IRS.

Understanding the Individual Tax Return

The individual tax return is one of several forms used to report taxable income in the U.S. Businesses, corporations, and non-profit groups all are required to file their own variations on the individual return.

Every person who earns a certain minimum amount of income must file a tax return every year. All individual taxpayers file their returns on a version of IRS Form 1040 or 1040-SR. Married people may choose to file as individuals or as a couple.

Once complete, the taxpayer must submit the form by a deadline date. That date is usually April 15th of the year or the following weekday. The routine was disrupted in 2020, when the economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 epidemic caused the deadline for filing 2019 taxes to be delayed until July 15, 2020. In 2021, the deadline to file taxes was again delayed, to May 17, 2021.

Additional tax forms may be required, most commonly if the taxpayer wishes to itemize deductions rather than take the standard deduction.

Every U.S. state, even those without a state income tax, has a state taxing authority. The agency oversees the annual collection of all state taxes.

Taxpayers file individual state tax returns to the state in which they reside if the state taxes income. Most state tax returns assess and calculate their taxes based on line items copied over from the federal tax return.

Individual Tax Return Forms

Form 1040 is the two-page form used by nearly all individual taxpayers. It can be used to record income from wages, salary, tips, capital gains, dividends, interest, unemployment compensation, pensions, annuities, Social Security, railroad retirement, taxable scholarships, and the Alaska Permanent Fund dividends.

The 1040-SR, an optional version for seniors, has a larger type size and gives greater prominence to tax benefits exclusively for retirees.

Note that other versions of the individual tax return, including Form 1040-EZ and Form 1040-A, were retired after the 2017 tax year.

Other Forms to Report Individual Taxes

The individual tax return is not the only form that some taxpayers need to complete. Sales of stock, for example, must be reported on a Schedule D form and attached to the 1040.

Self-employed individuals and business owners are required to report and pay their taxes quarterly using Form 1040-ES. Payments due after completing Form 1040 are submitted with Form 1040-V.

We all make mistakes sometimes. Taxpayers who need to amend their individual tax returns use Form 1040-X.