Dear Savvy Senior,

What is the IRS standard tax deduction for 2021? I didn’t file a tax return last tax year (2020) because I lost my job and my income in March due to COVID. But I got a part-time job in 2021 and am wondering if I made enough money that requires me to file this year.

– Part-Time Retiree


Dear Retiree,

Whether or not you are required to file a federal income tax return this year depends not only on how much you earned last year (in 2021), but also on the source of that income, as well as your age and your filing status.

Here’s a rundown of this tax season’s IRS tax-filing requirement thresholds. For most people, this is pretty straightforward.

If your 2021 gross income — which includes all taxable income, not counting your Social Security benefits, unless you are married and filing separately — was below the threshold for your filing status and age, you may not have to file. But if it’s over, you will.

  • Single: $12,550 ($14,250 if you’re 65 or older by Jan. 1, 2022)
  • Married filing jointly: $25,100 ($26,450 if you or your spouse is 65 or older or $27,800 if you’re both over 65)
  • Married filing separately: $5 at any age
  • Head of household: $18,800 ($20,500 if 65 or older)
  • Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child: $25,100 ($26,450 if 65 or older)

To get a detailed breakdown on federal filing requirements, along with information on taxable and nontaxable income, call the IRS at (800) 829-3676 and ask them to mail you a free copy of the “1040 and 1040-SR Instructions for Tax Year 2021,” or you can get it online at


Check Here Too

You also need to be aware there are other financial situations that can require you to file a tax return, even if your gross income falls below the IRS filing requirements.

For example, if you earned more than $400 from self-employment in 2021, owe any special taxes like an alternative minimum tax, or get premium tax credits because you, your spouse, or a dependent is enrolled in a Health Insurance Marketplace plan, you’ll need to file.

You’ll also need to file if you’re receiving Social Security benefits and one-half of your benefits plus your other gross income and any tax-exempt interest exceeds $25,000, or $32,000 if you’re married and filing jointly.

To figure all this out, the IRS offers an online tax tool that asks a series of questions that will help you determine if you’re required to file or if you should file because you’re due a refund. It takes approximately 12 minutes to complete.

You can access this tool at — click on “Do I Need to File a Tax Return?” Or you can get assistance over the phone by calling the IRS helpline at (800) 829-1040.


Check Your State

Even if you’re not required to file a federal tax return this year, don’t assume you’re also excused from filing state income taxes. The rules for your state might be very different.

Check with your state tax agency before concluding you’re entirely in the clear. For Pennsylvania, the agency is the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue at or (717) 787-8201.


Tax Prep Assistance

If you find you do need to file a tax return this year, you can free file through the IRS at if your 2021 adjusted gross income was below $73,000.

Or, if you need some help, contact the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (or TCE) program.

Sponsored by the IRS, TCE provides free tax preparation and counseling to middle and low-income taxpayers, age 60 and older. Call (800) 906-9887 or visit to locate services near you.

You can also get tax-preparation assistance through the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide service. Call (888) 227-7669 or visit for more information.


Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of The Savvy Senior book.

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