Your Guide to Tax Forms

Alden Wicker

Next: Choose Your 1040

You’ll need to choose the 1040 that is right for you. This is the most basic form that everyone fills out in order to give the IRS a complete picture of your financial and tax situation. While everyone does fill out a 1040, there are three different kinds, tailored to the simplest or the most complicated tax situations. You should pick the simplest form suitable to your personal circumstances, but no simpler.

Self-Employed or High Income: 1040

The mother of all tax forms. It’s the one people start out with once they have anything more than some basic income to report. Unfortunately, once you use this form there’s a good chance you’ll need others as well, so we’ve linked them for you below. Go through the list of situations below, and if any of them apply to you, download the 1040 form to fill out. If none of these situations apply to you, congratulations, you have simpler taxes, and read on for the form that you need instead.

Use this form if: 

  • Your taxable income is $100,000 or more.
  • You are itemizing deductions or claim certain tax credits or adjustments to income.
  • You are reporting self-employment or miscellaneous (1099-MISC) income.
  • You are reporting gambling winnings.
  • You are deducting mortgage interest.
  • You had debt cancelled in 2012.
  • You received tips that you did not report to your employer. (Read this.)
  • You are reporting income from sale of property.
  • You received income as a partner in a partnership, shareholder in an S corporation, or are a beneficiary of an estate or trust.
  • You owe household employment taxes (like for a housekeeper, maid or gardener). Download the IRS’s Schedule H instructions to find out if you owe these taxes.
  • You are claiming the adoption credit or received employer-provided adoption benefits. Read Form 8839 instructions.
  • You are an employee and your employer did not withhold Social Security and Medicare tax. See Form 8919 for details.
  • You had a qualified health savings account funding distribution from your IRA.
  • You are a debtor in a bankruptcy case filed after October 16, 2005.
  • To see the other, less-seldom used instances where you need a 1040 form, read this form.

Simpler: 1040A

If you read the above situations and none of them apply to you, then congratulations, you don’t need to use a 1040 (which is great news). You might use the 1040A instead, which is somewhat simpler. Do any of these situations apply to you? If so, download the 1040A.

Use this one if:

    • You are claiming any dependents. Learn more about who qualifies as a dependent.
    • You–or your spouse, if filing jointly–were over age 65 as of January 1, 2013.
    • You only had income from these sources:

-Interest and ordinary dividends
-Capital gain distributions
-Taxable scholarship and fellowship grants
-Pensions, annuities or IRAs
-Unemployment compensation
-Taxable Social Security and railroad retirement benefits
-Alaska Permanent Fund dividends.

-Child tax credit
-Additional child tax credit
-Hope and Lifetime Learning education credits
-Earned income credit
-Child and dependent care expenses
-Credit for the elderly and disabled
-Credit for retirement savings contributions

  • You claim adjustments to income for IRA contributions, tuition and fees or student loan interest.
  • The only deductions you are taking are educator expenses, the IRA deduction, the student loan interest deduction and/or the tuition and fees deduction.
  • You—or your spouse if filing jointly—are blind.
  • Your taxable interest was over $1,500.