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When Your Child Should File a Tax Return

You might assume that a young person doesn’t have to file a tax return until he or she has reached adulthood, moved out of the family home, and is generally self-supporting. Yet IRS rules regarding who must file are based on the amount and source of income rather than age.

Here’s a closer look at the filing requirements affecting dependents (meaning someone else pays more than half of their support, including college tuition, room, and board) such as teens and college students, as well as their parents.

Generally, a tax return must be filed if an individual has earned income above $6,200 (in 2014), unearned income from interest or dividends above $1,000, or a combination of earned and unearned income totaling more than $1,000 with at least $350 unearned. The filing threshold for net self-employment income is $400.


Unearned interest and dividend income (up to a maximum of $10,000) received by a dependent may be reported on a parent’s tax return. Otherwise, a separate return must be filed by the dependent or by a parent on the child’s behalf.

Many young workers who earn less than the filing threshold will want to file if they had income tax withheld from pay and are eligible for a refund.

Source: Internal Revenue Service, 2013

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