Which tax form should you use: 1040, 1040EZ or 1040A?
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Filling out a tax form is about as much fun as owing taxes to Uncle Sam. The complexity of the task intensifies as your tax life becomes more complicated.
That’s why you should use the simplest tax return form you can, especially if you’re still filling out your forms by hand.
But choose carefully. There are three personal income tax forms — 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ — with each designed to get the appropriate amount of your money to the IRS. Differences in the forms, however, could cost you if you’re not paying attention.
The EZ is the shortest and simplest form, Form 1040A is a bit more complex and the long Form 1040 is the most detailed and potentially difficult. But even if your tax life is simple and straightforward, it might be worthwhile to investigate the other two forms. Why? Generally, the longer the form, the more opportunities for tax breaks.
If you previously filed Form 1040EZ, but bought health insurance through an Affordable Care Act state or federal exchange, known as the marketplace, you can no longer file this simplest form.
When individuals purchase a policy through an exchange, they have an option to receive advance payment of the premium tax credit. This tax credit helps cover some of the insurance costs. The advance credit amount, however, must be accounted for when the policy recipient files his or her tax return.
If the advance premium amount was too small, the taxpayer will get the extra. However, if too large of an advance premium credit was paid, the taxpayer must make up the difference, either by paying any tax due or by having the amount taken from an expected refund.
Such calculations are made on Form 8962, which only can be filed with Form 1040A or 1040. If you received advance payments of the premium tax credit, you must file one of these longer forms instead of the 1040EZ.
Even if you did not get the premium credit in advance but got health care through an exchange and want to claim it when you file, you must complete 1040A or 1040.
Even if you can file 1040EZ, it might not be the best move.
Take the case of 2016 tax filer Joe P. Taxpayer. Joe finished college last year and got his first full-time job making $40,000. He’s single, renting and has no investment income. A perfect 1040EZ filer, right? Sure, if you’re Uncle Sam, because Joe will overpay his taxes by using the short form.
Why? The Form 1040EZ doesn’t offer Joe some valuable tax breaks found on the other two returns.
Joe has a student loan. By filing Form 1040A, he can subtract from his income the $2,500 interest he paid on that debt. He can’t do that with the shortest form. Joe also started planning for his retirement by putting the maximum $5,500 into a traditional individual retirement account. Because his new employer doesn’t offer a company retirement plan, Joe’s deductible IRA contribution can reduce his taxable income further, but only if he files the longer form.
By choosing the 1040A over the 1040EZ, suddenly Joe owes taxes on just $32,000 instead of on his full $40,000 salary. And he’s dropped into a lower tax bracket — the 15 percent one instead of the 25 percent tier — even before he reduces his taxable income further by taking the personal exemption that every taxpayer is allowed and his standard deduction amount.
Joe also would get the chance to reduce his actual bill if he files the longer 1040A. If Joe took a course to improve his job skills and was not reimbursed by his employer for the cost, he could claim the Lifetime Learning tax credit; it’s also available on the long Form 1040. The better tax news for Joe is that a credit allows you a dollar-for-dollar reduction of what you owe the IRS. But the only tax credit shown on the 1040EZ is the earned income tax credit, available only to low-income taxpayers.
So, opting to file Form 1040A instead of 1040EZ saves Joe a bundle. And there are even more tax-saving opportunities found on the long Form 1040. They might not apply to Joe, but they could cut your tax bill — if you take the time to look over each of the forms. Here are the basic guidelines for the three individual tax returns.
The simplest IRS form is the Form 1040EZ. And ever since the IRS doubled the earning limit on filers who use it, the EZ has been available to even more taxpayers.
- Your filing status is single or married filing jointly.
- You’re younger than 65. Your spouse also must meet the age requirements if you file a joint return. If you or your spouse’s 65th birthday is Jan. 1, then for filing purposes you are considered to have turned 65 last year and therefore cannot file this form.
- You (or your spouse if filing jointly) were not legally blind during the last tax year.
- You have no dependents.
- Your interest income is less than $1,500.
- Your income, or combined incomes for joint filers, is less than $100,000.
The ease of the one-page 1040EZ is appealing, but it limits the number of ways to save on your tax bill.
As already mentioned, this shortest personal return restricts filers to claiming just one credit: the earned income tax credit, or EITC, a tax break designed to help out individuals who don’t make much money.
You also need to look at those other two individual tax returns to take advantage of additional income adjustments and tax credits.
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The 1040A form is the next step up the tax-form ladder. As with Form 1040EZ, the earning limit on filers wanting to use the 1040A has increased, so more taxpayers should be able to use it.
Individuals choosing the 1040A can file using any of the five available filing status options: single, married filing jointly or separately, qualifying widow or widower, or head of household. People who file the 1040A also can claim, in addition to the EITC, several tax credits — the child, additional child, education, dependent care, elderly or disabled, and retirement savings credits — that are not available with the EZ.
- Your taxable income, or combined incomes, is below $100,000.
- You have capital gain distributions, but no other capital gains or losses.
- You do not itemize deductions.
Form 1040A also gives you the chance to claim several adjustments to income. These items are sometimes referred to as above-the-line deductions, because you claim them just before the bottom line of the form, the one where you enter your adjusted gross income. By reducing your total gross income, your taxable income will be lower and your tax bill should be smaller, too.
Adjustments allowed on Form 1040A include educator expenses, certain IRA contributions, student loan interest, and some college tuition and fees.
Finally, choose Form 1040 if your earnings are larger, you itemize deductions or you have more complex investments and other income to report. This usually means added tax paperwork needs to be filed, too.
Additional paperwork also is associated with the many tax credits that show up only on the long Form 1040. The extra work, however, is offset by the added savings these credits, such as the one for taxes you paid to a foreign country or the one that helps cover some adoption costs, can produce for 1040 filers.
The longest tax return also offers more than a dozen above-the-line deductions that you can claim directly on the form itself (versus the four adjustments found on the 1040A). These allow you to reduce your gross income, thereby reducing the amount of income that’s ultimately taxed. The adjustments include, among other things, breaks for alimony payments you made, self-employment taxes you paid or moving expenses you incurred.
These income deductions are found at the bottom of the 1040’s front page, meaning you don’t have to hassle with Schedule A and its itemizing limits. You will, however, have to fill out an additional form or schedule to claim a couple of these breaks.
- Your income, or combined incomes for joint filers, is more than $100,000.
- You itemize deductions.
- You have self-employment income.
- You received income from the sale of property.
Keep in mind that just because you got a particular income tax form in the past, that doesn’t mean you have to use it. If your situation has changed — say, you now have enough deductions to make itemizing worthwhile — then file a different form.
It could be tax money in your pocket.
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2015 Form 1040EZ Printable PDF File And Instructions
January 2, 2016 by Income Tax Pro
2015 Form 1040EZ Printable PDF File Now Available From IRS
Update: 2015 1040EZ Form and 2015 1040EZ Instructions links above are the correct links to use as of March 7, 2017. This is a popular but outdated post so we wanted you to know. You can find more 2015 Forms and Instructions on our 2015 1040 Form page.
The IRS has already updated many of this year's income tax forms including the 2015 Form 1040EZ. The instructions booklet for 2015 Form 1040EZ, however, has not yet been updated. If you are in a hurry to draft your 2015 Form 1040EZ, we can only suggest that you search the 2015 Publication 17 book to guide you. IRS Pub 17 is not meant to replace form specific instructions such as those for the Form 1040EZ. Pub 17 does however include the IRS income tax tables and other useful information.
The IRS urges all taxpayers to make sure they have all of their income tax return filing information on hand before submitting their 2015 forms. Forms W-2 from employers, Forms 1099 from banks and sub-contract work, and other important tax documents are generally not due until February 1, 2016. For most people, drafting your Form 1040EZ might be helpful. Submitting it early to the IRS might not be helpful. The IRS will not begin processing paper or efiled income tax returns until January 19, 2016.
Not a Form 1040EZ filer? You can obtain the printable PDF files for Form 1040A and long form Form 1040 here.
File a 1040ez Return or Full 1040? See the Difference
Knowing which 1040 to use can sometimes be a little difficult. Fortunately, our online tax preparation software takes on the decision-making process, determining exactly what needs to be filed in each situation. In most cases, a filer's return will use either a 1040EZ, 1040A, or the 1040 tax form. While we make this determination automatically, we know that some visitors may be interested in knowing more about what each of these cover. Below we have provided a basic outline of each as well as some the specifications for using them:
This is the most basic of all of the end of year tax return forms. Individuals who are filing either single or married filing jointly can use this. To use this, a bankruptcy could not have been filed for after October 15th; the total household income must be under $100,000. No deductions or special circumstances, such as children, student loan interest deductions, mortgage, can be claimed. In fact, it does not allow any deductions to be itemized; as a result, the standard deduction must be taken. However, the Earned Income Credit (EIC) can be claimed using this.
Download a 1040ez Form for Tax Year:
The 1040A is often referred to as the “Short Form.” It allows for many of the special circumstances that the 1040EZ does not accommodate, including: student loan interest, classroom expenses, college tuition, IRA contributions and more. This form is for anyone regardless of filing status; those who are married but filing separately are also eligible. As with the EZ, expenses cannot be itemized, the standard deduction must be taken. However, extra deductions can be claimed such as: child tax credit, Hope and Lifetime Learning educational credit, credit for the disabled or elderly, or child/dependent care expenses. The EIC can also be claimed with this form.
Under $100,000 must be made from: wages, Social Security benefits, pensions, interest or annuities, unemployment, taxable grants, or Railroad Retirement benefits. There are other provisions such as incentive stock options that must not be taken during the year in order to qualify. The benefit to this 1040 form is that it is shorter than the traditional 1040 and often takes less time to complete and averages less time for the IRS to process.
Download a 1040a "Short" Form for Tax Year:
If you want to correct an error or oversight that you made when you filed a tax return using Form 1040, Form 1040EZ, Form 1040A, Form 1040NR or Form 1040NR-EZ, use a Form 1040X to amend your return. There are several reasons for amending a tax return. You might need to change your filing status from single to married or alter the number of dependents that you claimed. Discovering an additional Form W-2 or Form 1099 may make it necessary for you to report additional income or withholding. Making changes to the tax deductions, personal exemptions or tax credits that you claimed would also require you to file an amended return.
If you decided to amend your tax return with a Form 1040X, remember that this 1040 form can only be filed after your initial tax return has been processed. A paper copy must be filed; online filing is not available for this form. This is a generic form, so be sure to write the tax year that you are correcting at the top of the form. If you need to fix your returns for multiple years, you will need to file a separate Form 1040X for each year that you are correcting.
Download an Amended 1040 Form for Tax Year:
Commonly referred to as the “Long Form”, this is the most complex of the three but allows for the most deductions and special circumstances. Anyone who does not qualify for either the EZ or the A must use this. It includes all filing statuses. It also includes all types of wages and income. Those who are self-employed, in partnerships, shareholders in S corporations or households with income over $100,000 must use this. Those who are currently employed but did not have either Medicare or Social Security taxes withheld must file this as well.
Besides all the deductions and credits listed above, there are additional deductions such as mortgage interest, foreign taxes paid, allowing for claims of losses in federally declared natural disasters and more. If an adoption was done during the year, this 1040 form must be used to file the credit. If you want to itemize your deductions, or have received less common forms such as a K-1, 1042, 1120 or 1041, this is the form that must be used. In general, this is what is used when the filer no longer qualifies for either the EZ or A.
A note regarding printed forms - It is possible for tax law changes to occur after the US Treasury produces its annual 1040 forms. In this instance, if you do not plan to use an electronic tax software program such as ours, you'll need to wait until the Treasury issues replacement forms. For example, in 2013 the IRS altered the 1040 form based on changes enacted by Congress the previous year, in the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA). This was not available until January 30th of that year.
Besides determining which 1040ez to use, there are also a number of attachments (known as schedules) which, depending upon your situation, may be necessary to include with your return.
A taxpayer may need to complete one or more schedules to calculate and report various taxable items. The total computed on all schedules is then transferred to and filed with the Form 1040. When using our online tax software, if we determine that these are necessary for your filing our software will include them with your tax return at no additional cost to you.