What Is an Individual Tax Return?

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 a specific period, usually the previous year. The recording of pertinent information assists in assessing the amount of tax that is due or was overpaid. 

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

Countries around the world have taxing agencies that oversee tax collection. Some tax agencies provide individual taxpayers with pre-filled individual tax returns, while others require the taxpayer to fill and file the returns on their own. Some countries permit electronic filing of online returns, while others insist on a hard-copy submission.

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 has been delayed to May 17, 2021.

Understanding Individual Tax Returns

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

Both single and married taxpayers, with and without dependents, file returns. All file their returns on a version of IRS Form 1040. Every individual filer who earns a certain amount of income must file this type of tax return.

Individual taxpayers complete Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR, a relatively new form that is an option for senior taxpayers. 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 has been delayed to May 17, 2021.

The 2020 federal income tax filing due date for most Americans has been extended from April 15, 2021, to May 17, 2021. Payment of taxes owed can be delayed to the same date. Your state tax deadline may not be delayed.


For Texas taxpayers affected by the winter storms in February 2021, the deadline for filing 2020 taxes and paying any tax due has been moved to June 15, 2021. If you don't live in Texas but were affected by the storm, you may still be eligible.

Additional tax forms may be required, especially if the taxpayer wishes to itemize deductions rather than take the standard deduction. There is also Form 4868 if extensions are necessary.

Every U.S. state, even those without a state income tax, has a state taxing authority. This agency oversees the annual collection of state tax. Taxpayers file individual state tax returns unique to the state. 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 most 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, optional for seniors, has a larger type size.

Note that other versions for filing individual returns, Form 1040-EZ and Form 1040-A, are no longer in use, as they 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. Payment of estimated tax is returned with Form 1040-V to the regional IRS office which serves their state.

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