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Knowing which tax form to file

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When filing your own tax returns, it can be confusing to figure our which form you should use.  If you are using tax preparation software, most often this choice is made for you, but if you’re doing it the old-fashioned way, you need to know which form to file.

The IRS recently issued Tax Tip 2013-04, which helps you to choose the correct form to file.  The actual text of the Tip follows (I’ve cleaned up a few formatting issues):

Choosing Which Form to File

IRS e-file makes it easy for taxpayers to choose which tax form to file.  Tax software automatically chooses the best form for your particular situation.  Most people e-file these days, but if you prefer taking pen to paper, the IRS has some tips to help you choose the right form.

Taxpayers who choose to file a paper tax return should know that the IRS no longer mails paper tax packages.  The quickest way to get forms and instructions is by visiting the IRS website at  You can also order forms and have them mailed to you by calling the RIS forms line at 1-800-TAX-FORM (829-3676).  You may also pick up tax forms from a local IRS office, and some libraries and post offices carry tax forms.

Here are some tips that will help paper tax return filers choose the best tax form for their situation:

You can generally use the 1040EZ if:

  • Your taxable income is below $100,000;
  • Your filing status is single or married filing jointly; and
  • You are not claiming any dependents.

If you can’t use Form 1040EZ, you may qualify to use the 1040A if:

  • Your taxable income is below $100,000;
  • You have capital gain distributions;
  • You claim certain tax credits; and

You claim adjustments to income for IRA contributions and student loan interest.

If you cannot use the 1040EZ or the 1040A, you’ll probably need to file using the 1040.  The reasons you must use the 1040 include:

  • Your taxable income is $100,000 or more;
  • You claim itemized deductions; and
  • You are reporting self-employment income.

IRS Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax, provides helpful information about which form is best for you.

Access to IRS forms and instructions or information about e-filing, including IRS Free File, is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week on  Tax products often appear online well before they are available on paper.  You’ll find downloadable tax products on by clicking on the “Forms and Pubs” link on the Home Page.

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  1. clydewolf says:

    Form 1040 works for all situations, but you do have to be able to read.

    With E-filing, Form 1040A has outlived it’s usefulness.

    1. jblankenship says:

      Great points, Clyde.

      I wonder how many hand-prepared forms there are any more…? I’ve done it myself many a time, but haven’t done it for YEARs.


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