Form 1040 Instructions

I’m glad you’re curious about IRS Form 1040 and its instructions.  That means you’re at least considering doing your own taxes?  Or maybe it means you want to understand the income tax?  Or you want to check something your accountant said or did…whatever the reason hooray for you!

What is the Form 1040?

Well it’s the form used by American taxpayers to file their federal income tax return every year.  Actually there are 3 versions of the 1040; a simple one, a medium one, and a complex one.  Goldilocks would feel right at home.

If you do your taxes with online tax companies you’ll basically be filling out one of the three versions of the 1040, with the Form 1040 instructions built into the software.  You answer questions based on rules spelled out in the 1040 Instructions and the software fills out the form for you.  Some people like to fill out the paperwork themselves, and continue, old style, to fill out and mail paper tax forms.

How Can the Form 1040 Instructions Help me?

Even if you’re taking advantage of today’s wonderful tax software available from many different companies (TurboTax, TaxAct, H&R Block, etc) you still might be able to make use of the Form 1040 Instructions.  For example, you might not be totally sure of how to answer some questions.  Or you might not understand the implications of different answers.  Not sure whether to file married filing separately or married filing jointly?  The Form 1040 Instructions can shed more light on the matter.

Form 1040 Instructions Explain the Difference between 1040, 1040EZ and 1040A

Not that you have to know the difference if you’re just using software, since the program will choose the corrrect Form 1040 for you, but it’s actually a common question:

What form 1040 should I use?

OK the Form 1040 Instructions spell it all out quite clearly here.  They range in complexity from the very simple form 1040 EZ to the full long form 1040.  The 1040 A is somewhere between those two.

Basically it’s a matter of how many credits, deductions and exemptions you’re claiming.  If you claim almost nothing and you don’t have any dependents (aka kids) then you might be able to use the wonderfully short and simple Form 1040EZ.

You can be single or married filing jointly but no other filing status if you want to use the 1040 EZ.  You have to also be under 65.  Your interest income must be less than $1500 and your wages must be under $100,000.  You can’t owe any household employment tax for that nanny or maid you hired last Spring.  You can’t claim any deductions or credits.

Of course it’s not a problem if your tax life is so simple but you use the full Form 1040 anyway.  The IRS won’t care.

Other things the Form 1040 instructions Help you with

Some people just want to know if they have to file an income tax return…if you make under $9,750 (for 2013) then you don’t even have to file.  I guess the IRS figures you’re so poor they’ll let you off the hook for income taxes.  $9,750 is not considered income?  Not sure what the reasoning is.  But in any event, the form 1040 instructions are what give you the threshold amount for that tax year.

The Form 1040 instructions also give you line-by-line instructions, which is nice when you need more information.  With most tax prep programs, you can choose to look at your tax return just as it would appear on the actual IRS paper forms.  If you were unsure of something when you answered a particular question you can look up the corresponding line on the 1040 form and then go to the Form 1040 instructions to read more about how to fill in that line.