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1040 Tax Form: What It Is and How To Fill It Out

1040 Tax Form

The IRS 1040 tax form is the most basic annual federal income tax form, and almost everyone who earns an income in the US will need to fill one out. Understanding how to properly complete your Form 1040 simplifies the process and reduces the risk of a tax audit. Explore what the 1040 form is, the different types of 1040 that you might need, and the steps for how to fill out your 1040.

Key Takeaways

  • Form 1040 is a basic tax form that you use each year to report your income, claim deductions and credits, and determine your tax liability for federal tax purposes.
  • If you earn an income in the US, you’ll most likely need to fill out Form 1040.
  • In addition to the basic 1040 form, there are other 1040 forms for senior citizens, nonresident aliens, and other special categories.
  • Form 1040 includes a number of schedules for reporting additional income and claiming tax deductions and credits.
  • Using tax preparation software can help you accurately fill out Form 1040 and automatically calculate your tax liability.

Table of Contents

What Is a 1040 Tax Form?

The 1040 income tax form is an IRS official form that you use to file your individual annual federal income taxes. It includes sections for reporting your income, claiming deductions and credits, other taxes owed, and determining your final amount owing or tax refund.

Depending on how you earn your income, some filers may also need to complete additional schedules to claim certain deductions and credits, and report additional income. In addition to the basic 1040 tax return form that most US taxpayers use, there are also variations for senior citizens (Form 1040-SR), nonresident aliens (Form 1040-NR), and filers who need to amend their federal tax return form (Form 1040-X).

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Form 1040: Who Needs to File It?

Almost all US taxpayers need to file Form 1040. This applies to people who work as employees, are self-employed, or earn income from investments. If you’re self-employed and make more than $400 from your business annually, you need to file Form 1040. However, if you’re an employee or earn passive income (dividends, interest, rental income), the gross income or threshold for filing is larger. For example, single filers under the age of 65 are required to file Form 1040 if they make more than $12,200 in gross annual income. The IRS has several thresholds, depending on your age and filing status.

Types of Form 1040

In addition to the basic 1040 form that most individual taxpayers will need, there are specific types of Form 1040 that may be necessary depending on your tax situation and your age, filing status, or income type:

Form 1040-SR

Form 1040-SR is for people aged 65 and older. It’s almost exactly the same as the standard 1040 form, but it’s printed in a larger font for readability. It also includes a chart to help taxpayers determine the amount of the standard deduction that they’re eligible to claim since there is an extra standard deduction amount for senior citizens.

Form 1040-NR

Form 1040-NR, or the Nonresident Alien Income Tax Return, is for those who are nonresident aliens but earning an income in the U.S. Since it includes sections for income from trade and business in the U.S., as well as tax on income not effectively connected with a U.S. business, and income exempt from U.S. tax by treaty, it’s longer than the standard Form 1040.

Form 1040-ES

Form 1040-ES is used for reporting and paying estimated tax. If you earn income that is not subject to federal income tax withholding, such as rental income or self-employment income, you’ll use this version of the 1040 form to calculate and pay that income tax.

Form 1040-V

If you owe money on your taxes and are paying by check or money order, you’ll need to fill and send in Form 1040-V when you pay. This 1040 form is a statement you send to the IRS along with your payment to ensure everything is properly identified and recorded by the agency.

Form 1040-X

Form 1040-X lets you make amendments if you previously filed a Form 1040. If you need to adjust your income, claim deductions and credits, or correct other errors on your individual income tax return. It’s shorter than the standard Form 1040 since it doesn’t require you to fill out everything—just change the parts that you want to fix.
Looking for more support with your annual income tax return filing? Discover how FreshBooks takes the pain out of tax preparation for helpful tips on filing your annual income taxes.

Which Form 1040 Schedules Should I Use? 

In addition to the basic income reporting on Form 1040, there are a number of additional tax schedules you can use to report business income, declare additional income, and claim further deductions and credits.

Schedule 1

If you have additional income and adjustments to income that you did not report on the first page of Form 1040, you’ll use Schedule 1 to declare these. These can include things like alimony, business income, and educator expenses.

Schedule 2

If you pay additional taxes on some parts of your income, you’ll use Schedule 2 to declare this. Schedule 2 is broken into 2 parts: the first is for alternative minimum tax and premium tax credits on health insurance that you’ve purchased through the marketplace. The second part of Schedule 2 is for other taxes like self-employment tax, tax on IRAs, additional taxes on Medicare, excess social security taxes, and investment income tax.

Schedule 3

Schedule 3 is where you’ll report any credits and payments for things like child tax credit, dependent care expenses, general business credit, overpayment of past taxes, and residential energy credits. Schedule 3 is split into two parts: the first is for refundable credits, and the second is for non-refundable credits.

Schedule A

Schedule A is used to report itemized deductions. If you’ve chosen to claim itemized deductions instead of the standard deduction, you’ll need to use Schedule A to claim each deduction separately. This includes everything from medical expenses to mortgage interest and charitable donations.

Schedule B

If you’ve made more than $1,500 in income from interest and dividends, you’ll report it on Schedule B. Any interest or dividend income under that amount only needs to be entered on the standard Form 1040, on lines 2 and 3. 

Schedule C

If you’re a contractor, freelancer, or someone else who owns a business, you’ll use Schedule C to report your profits or losses from that business.

Schedule D

Schedule D is for any capital gains and losses you’ve made from your investments.

Schedule E

If you’re a landlord or if you earn income from pass-through entities like estates, trusts, and royalties, you’ll use Schedule E to report any profits earned income credit or losses from these.

Schedule F

Schedule F is used by farmers to report profit or loss from farming income.

Schedule H

Schedule H is for household employment taxes. If you employ household workers like a nanny or care worker, you’ll use Schedule H to report withheld federal income taxes like Medicare and Social Security for that household worker.

Schedule J

Farmers and fishermen have the option to distribute their tax liability by averaging the last 3 years of taxes. If you fit into that category, you’ll calculate that tax estimate on Schedule J. 

Schedule R

Senior citizens and those with a disability can claim senior and disability tax credits on Schedule R. 

Schedule SE

Any self-employed people, independent contractors, or business owners who made more than $400 from their business will need to use Schedule SE to calculate their self-employment tax.

Form 8812

Use form 8812 to claim the Child Tax Credit or Credit for Other Dependents. You’ll also use this form to calculate a refund if the total amount of the Child Tax Credit you can claim exceeds your income tax liability.

How To Fill Out a 1040 Form 

Step 1: Gather all your tax documents

This can include W-2s and anything else that shows a record of your income. You’ll also want to put together receipts, invoices, and any records of costs that you can deduct from taxable income on your taxes.

Step 2: Fill out your information

The first page of Form 1040 covers your basic information like name (and spouse’s name if you’re filing together), address, Social Security number, and if you have any dependents.

Step 3: Report your income

Once you’ve filled in basic information, the first page will have lines for you to report your gross income amounts and sources. This includes everything from wages to capital gains from investment income. Some additional income types like business income and divorce alimony will require you to fill out Schedules later on in Form 1040.

Step 4: Calculate your deductions

After you’ve calculated your total gross income, you can report deductions to figure out your taxable income. These fall into two categories: above-the-line deductions and below-the-line deductions. Above the line are simple deductions like contributions to health savings accounts and student loan interest that you can deduct directly from your income. Below-the-line deductions include the standard deductions and itemized deductions.

You can claim either itemized or the standard deduction. The standard deduction is a set amount that you can claim on Schedule A, whereas itemized deductions depend on your expenses. Most people choose the standard deduction, but if your itemized expenses exceed the standard deduction amount then you may choose to itemize instead.

Step 5: Calculate your total tax liability

On the second page of Form 1040, you’ll calculate your total tax liability based on your income and deductions. If your tax payments and refundable credits exceed the amount of tax owed, you will receive a refund. If you’re filing by hand you can use the IRS tax tables, or if you’re filing online some of these calculations can be done automatically by your tax software. After you’ve calculated the final amount, read through everything to ensure it’s accurate and submit your return to the IRS.

Tax Preparation Made Easy With FreshBooks

Knowing how to file Form 1040 helps simplify your income taxes, and can reduce the risk of an audit that might come with a filing mistake. The basic Form 1040 is for reporting income, claiming deductions, and calculating your tax liability, while 1040 schedules help you report additional income and claim further deductions. 

Keeping accurate records throughout the tax year makes it easier to file during tax season. FreshBooks accounting software helps you keep track of income, expenses, and receipts so you can quickly declare your income and claim deductions. Try FreshBooks free for convenient tax support today.

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FAQs About 1040 Tax Form

Looking for more information about the federal income tax form 1040? Browse questions on the difference between 1040 and W-2, proof of income, and more.

Is a 1040 the same as a W-2?

No, Form 1040 and a W-2 are 2 separate federal tax forms.

Your employer will send you a W-2 (Wage and Tax Statement) that details your income and withholdings, which you will use when you fill out Form 1040. A copy is also sent to the IRS.

 The 1040 federal income tax form is the form you send to the IRS when you file your taxes.

How do you get Form 1040?

If you’re filing your Form 1040, you can download it from the IRS website or find it on your tax software. If you’re looking to retrieve an old 1040 that you already filed, you can now order copies of your tax returns for the past 3 years from the IRS website.

When should you use a 1040?

You should use Form 1040 when you file your annual income taxes. You’ll use it to report your income, any deductions and credits you’re claiming, and your total tax liability. Almost everyone needs to file Form 1040, whether you’re self-employed, an employee, or living off investment income.

What is the difference between W-2, W-4, and 1040?

A W-2 is a form your employer sends you that details your income and tax withholdings, a W-4 is a form you fill out for your employer explaining your withholding status, and 1040 is the form that you send to the IRS when you file your annual income taxes.

Is 1040 the same as 1099?

No, Form 1040 and Form 1099 are two different federal tax forms. Form 1040 is a form that you fill out and send to the IRS reporting your income, deductions, credits, and tax due. Form 1099 is used to report non-employee income (like independent contractors) to you and to the IRS; you’ll use that information when you fill out Form 1040.

Is 1040 proof of income?

You can use Form 1040 as proof of your last year’s income if you need to show it for a mortgage loan, rental, etc. FreshBooks accounting software lets you keep track of previous tax returns as well as other proof of income like pay stubs, W-2, and Form 1099.

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Sandra Habiger, CPA

About the author

Sandra Habiger is a Chartered Professional Accountant with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Washington. Sandra’s areas of focus include advising real estate agents, brokers, and investors. She supports small businesses in growing to their first six figures and beyond. Alongside her accounting practice, Sandra is a Money and Life Coach for women in business.