Must I File a Tax Return?

Today TaxMama hears from Rick in Las Vegas who tells us. “I know that if you don’t owe any tax you don’t have to file even if you have income. How about if you do owe tax, but your withholding was in excess of what you owe? Is it a requirement that you file?”

Dear Rick,

That’s an interesting question. Your premise isn’t exactly right.

IRS says that you do not need to file a tax return if your income is below certain thresholds – not simply ‘you don’t owe any tax’.

Do you have to file a tax return if you do have taxable income, but your withholding is higher than your tax liability? The law says you must file the tax return. After all, unless you file, IRS can’t release their share of your withholding into the general fund for three years. The money is locked up in limbo in case you’re entitled to a refund.

However, as a diligent taxpayer, I certainly don’t mind if you don’t file to retrieve your refund. It’s certainly patriotic of you to leave your refund there for our legislators to mismanage.

Fundamentally, anytime you do not file a tax return for any year, you leave that year open to audit forever. When you do file a tax return, IRS may only open that year for audit for the next three years. (6 years if the tax return has substantial understatements.) So TaxMama® always advises folks to file a tax return whether you need one or not.
And remember, you can find answers to all kinds of questions about filing requirements and other tax issues, free. Where? Where else? At

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