Which Tax Form to File?

If you are preparing your tax return manually, consider using the simplest form(s) for your needs. This will save you time in preparing your return, and the IRS will be able to process your tax return more quickly.

U.S. citizens and resident aliens can choose among three types of forms for filing their federal income tax:

  • Form 1040 (the standard tax form)
  • Form 1040A (contain a smaller set of lines for reporting income and deductions)
  • Form 1040EZ (shortest form and fastest filing time)

Form 1040EZ

You can use Form 1040EZ, the shortest and easiest federal tax form, if:

  • Your taxable income is under $100,000
  • Your interest income is under $1,500
  • Your only income is from wages, interest, unemployment compensation, and Alaska Permanent Fund dividends
  • You and your spouse are under 65 years old
  • Your filing status is single or married filing jointly.
  • You do not have any adjustments to income
  • You are claiming only the standard deduction
  • You may claim the Earned Income Credit
  • You are not claiming any other tax credits

More Form 1040EZ resources:


Form 1040A (the short form)

Most taxpayers qualify to use Form 1040A, often called the “short form.” This form allows you to claim the most common adjustments to income. You cannot use Form 1040A if you want to itemize your deductions.

  • Your taxable income is under $100,000
  • Any age, any filing status
  • You have income from wages, interest, dividends, capital gain distributions, IRA or pension distributions, unemployment compensation, Social Security benefits, scholarships or fellowships, or Alaska Permanent Fund dividends
  • You can claim the following adjustments to income: IRA contributions, student loan interest, tuition and fees deduction, and classroom expenses
  • You claim the standard deduction
  • You can claim the following tax credits: Child and dependent care credit, Credit for the elderly and disabled, American Opportunity credit, Lifetime Learning credit, Retirement savings contributions credit, Child tax credit and additional child tax credit, and the Earned income credit
  • You did not exercise any incentive stock options.

Parents of college students may want to consider filing Form 1040A instead of Form 1040 in an effort to help their college student qualify for a larger financial aid package under the simplified needs test.

More Form 1040A resources:

Form 1040 (the long form)

Any taxpayer can use Form 1040. Even though it takes longer to fill out, Form 1040 can handle any tax situation no matter how complex. You must use Form 1040 if:

  • You have taxable income of $100,000 or more
  • You are itemizing your deductions (such as mortgage interest or charity)
  • You have income from a rental, business, farm, S-corporation, partnership, or trust
  • You have foreign wages, paid foreign taxes, or are claiming tax treaty benefits
  • You sold stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or property
  • You are claiming adjustments to income for the penalty on early withdrawal of savings, moving expenses, or health savings accounts
  • You need to calculate surtaxes, such as Social Security and Medicare taxes on unreported tips, household employment taxes, or the 10% tax on early distributions from a retirement plan.

If you have any doubt whatsoever, please use Form 1040. You can never go wrong by using this tax form.

More Form 1040 resources:

Other IRS Forms You Might Need

In addition to filing your annual tax form, you also may need to file other documents with the IRS or Treasury Department.

Gift Tax

You’ll need to file Form 709, United States Gift Tax Return, if you gave more than $14,000 during the year to an individual. Links to Form 709 (PDF), IRS Instructions, and Publication 950, Introduction to Estate and Gift Taxes. The gift tax return is due on the same day as your Form 1040.

Usually this is April 15, or October 15 if you request an automatic 6-month extension.

Foreign Bank Accounts
You must file FinCEN Form 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, if you have more than $10,000 in foreign banks, brokerage accounts, or other financial institutions located outside the United States. See the overview of Reporting Foreign Bank Accounts for more details. The foreign bank account report is filed directly with the US Treasury Department and is due June 30.

Additional Help in Preparing Tax Forms

Find Common IRS Tax Forms and Instructions
Should You E-File or Paper File?
Reviews of Tax Prep Software
Reviews of the Best Tax Prep Books