What Is IRS Publication 17?

IRS Publication 17 is an informational document published by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that outlines the rules governing the filing of federal individual income tax returns. The form provides information particularly about tax form 1040, which is used to file individual federal income tax returns.

IRS Publication 17 can be accessed on the IRS website.

Key Takeaways

  • IRS Publication 17 spells out the basic rules and guidelines for individual filing federal income taxes.
  • Publication 17 states who must file tax returns and outlines what information is required on tax form 1040.
  • The publication is updated each year as applicable and appears on the IRS website.

Understanding IRS Publication 17

In Publication 17, which is updated annually, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) outlines who must file a federal individual income tax return, the forms taxpayers must use when filling out the return, how many exemptions they can take, when the return is due, and how to file the return itself. The publication helps taxpayers identify their filing status, whether they can claim dependents, what type of deductions are available and what credits are available to reduce tax obligations.

The document covers a broad set of topics, most of which are explained in further detail in other IRS publications. Examples include the the treatment of mortgage interest expense, sales of property, dividend income, casualty and theft losses, and tuition expenses.

Publication 17 does not cover business taxes for the self-employed, which are covered in Publication 334 (Tax Guide for Small Business), Publication 535 (Business Expenses) and Publication 587 (Business Use of Your Home).

Form 1040

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). Another big change: Beginning with the filing in April 2019 of taxes for the 2018 tax year, Form 1040-A and Form 1040-EZ—simplified forms used in past years—have been eliminated.

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

The most commonly used lines on the previous years' 1040s remain on the new form. Other lines are now on new schedules (see below) and are organized by categories. Electronic filers may not notice any changes because their tax return preparation software will automatically use their answers to the tax questions to complete the new 1040 and needed schedules.