Children and Taxes: When Do They Have to File?

As young children grow into young adults, they take on more and more adult-like responsibilities. One such responsibility that is a common rite of passage for children who are seeking some independence is that of taking on a job. Whether it is a part time, after school job, or a full time summer job, your child will be bringing in an income. Even more, your child may have income from other sources, such as interest on a bank account, or yields from a trust. This leads to yet another adult responsibility: that of paying taxes. But is it really necessary for children to pay taxes, and when do they have to file? Here are some guidelines for you to keep in mind:

Earned income requirements. Earned income may be defined as any taxable income earned through employment. This includes standard hourly wages, tips, salaried income, and any other form of income that comes from working for an employer, as well as self-employment income, and disability payments. The IRS requires that you file taxes if your earned income is greater than $5800. Additionally, any self-employment income over $400 must be reported, and prompts the need to file taxes. This is regardless of whether that income comes from one job or many. And this applies to children, too.

Unearned income requirements. Unearned income is any income that does not derive directly from employment. This includes social security, interest payments, unemployment, and dividends. While it is less likely that your child will actually bring in unearned income over the year, it is important to know that unearned income is also subject to tax law, and any unearned income over $950 must be reported in a federal tax return statement.

Must children file separately? No, it is not necessary that your child file as an independent; nor does your child's need to file a tax return mean that you can no longer claim your child on your own taxes. According to the federal tax guide your child's total income is less than $9500, and it is composed solely of interest and dividends, then you can file your child's taxes along with your own; however, that will most likely result in a larger tax burden for you. The most widely recommended way of handling child tax returns is to file them separately; and individual tax return will do.

It should be noted that there is no age requirement for filing taxes. Basically, anyone who earns money is subject to federal taxation.  Therefore, when it comes to your children and taxes, your safest bet is always to consult with a qualified tax preparer or to use an online service so that if you need to you can file for Turbo Tax extensions, receive guidance, and have help if you are ever audited.


  1. It's always good to make sure you consult with a tax advisor or tax attorney if your child has income from a business or other sources just to be safe.

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