Tax Form 1040: Everything You Need to Know


  1. Regular part-time and full-time employees who receive paychecks use the 1040 tax form to pay income taxes. Freelancers and independent contractors use the 1099-MISC form.
  2. Investing pretax dollars in a retirement savings account can help you reduce your taxable income so you owe less in taxes.
  3. Good tax software can help you determine if you’ll save more money by taking a standard deduction or by itemizing each tax credit.

Tax season is in full swing, and if you’re a small business owner or one of the millions of Americans who balance a side hustle with a primary gig, figuring out all the forms you need to get in order can be a daunting task.

This FAQs guide is all about the 1040 tax form, what it’s for, who needs it and where you can find it.

What is the 1040 tax form?

Form 1040 is the U.S. Individual Income Tax Return form, the purpose of which is to report your taxable income to the government, as well as to claim any tax deductions or credits. The rate at which you are taxed depends on how much taxable income you have: The higher your taxable income, the more you pay in taxes. The amount in taxes you either owe or get back depends on a combination of your taxable income, deductions and credits, and how much you’ve already paid in taxes throughout the year.

How can I decrease my taxable income?

The easiest way to pay less money in taxes is to decrease your taxable income without decreasing your earnings. Contributing to a tax-advantaged account, like a 401(k) or IRA, is the most accessible way to decrease your taxable income. Money you put into tax-advantaged accounts is essentially subtracted from your taxable income, so it not only helps you grow your money through compound interest, it also shelters your money from the tax man.

Who needs an IRS 1040 tax form?

Anyone who has taxable income for the last tax year needs to fill out Form 1040. Taxable income can be regular income from a job or income from investments, unemployment, rental properties, alimony, and some types of trusts. If you have a highly complex income situation, you may want to consult with your lawyer or accountant before filing taxes, as failure to report income on your taxes can result in an audit.

Is the 1040 tax form for federal or state taxes?

You must pay both state and federal taxes for each tax year. Form 1040 is for income tax, which is a federal tax. In addition to income tax, you must pay state taxes, but other tax forms cover those.

What is the difference between a 1040 tax form and a 1099 tax form?

How do I get a 1040 tax form?

Before filing your tax return, you should make sure you have all the forms you need. If you haven’t gotten a 1040 form for the last tax year yet, you can download it from the IRS website. If you have a disability and require accessible versions of the 1040 or any other tax forms, there are also links to accessible files and instructions. 

Can I download tax forms online?

How can I avoid filling out tax forms?

There are two main ways to avoid filling out tax forms. First, you can use tax preparation software that allows you to answer questions in a user-friendly format rather than by filling it out manually on a tax form. The other option is to take all your income and deduction documentation to a tax professional and have them file your return for you. Both software and a tax professional may cost you money to file your returns, but if you receive a sizable tax return, you should be able to pay for your services from that.

Are there free tax preparation services?

Yes. If your yearly income is below $69,000, you can file your federal and most likely your state taxes for free. The IRS has a complete list of resources for free lower-income tax filling here. AARP also maintains a repository of free filing options available to people at certain income thresholds.

If your income is over $69,000, you can still file your federal taxes for free. Free forms for people above this income threshold are also available on the IRS website.

What is a standard deduction?

The standard deduction is available to all people who file taxes, and it’s the best route to take if you don’t have any other tax credits or major deductions. Even if you do have deductions, it is likely the standard deduction will limit your taxable income more than your itemized deductions.

Married people who are filing jointly are eligible for a $24,800 deduction, heads of household are eligible for an $18,650 deduction, and both single filers and married people filing separately are eligible for a $12,400 deduction. Good tax software will allow you to input your itemized deductions and tax credits to see if they total more than the standard deduction.

Will I get a bigger tax return filing jointly or filing separately from my spouse?

As with anything in taxes, there are exceptions, but most married couples are better off filing jointly. The standard deduction for couples filing jointly is $24,800, and the deduction for married couples filing separately is $12,400.

Filling taxes separately can be financially beneficial in less common situations, like when a couple wants to keep tax liability separate, when one partner has extensive deductions that are limited by adjusted gross income, or when one or both partners receives income-based repayment for unpaid student loans.

What’s the right form for filing an income tax return?  

Form 1040 is also referred to as the income tax form. If you are a regular part-time or full-time employee who receives paychecks, the 1040 is what you need. If you have to report income from multiple jobs or sources, you may need other forms, such as Form 1099-MISC.

How do I report self-employment income on my tax return?

If you are a contractor or freelancer, you still have to report your self-employment income to the IRS. Such workers often owe money on income they have already received because taxes have not been preemptively removed, the way they are for standard employees of an organization or company. To report your self-employment income, you’ll need Form 1099-MISC, which you should receive from any companies that have paid you for services. A separate form is required for each organization you’ve done work for during the last tax year.

How can I receive my tax refund payments?

The IRS allows tax filers to receive their tax refunds either in check form or as a direct deposit to a checking account. Some tax software, like TurboTax, will offer users additional options, like advanced loans. These payments offer instant access to some of your money in exchange for insanely high interest rates or transaction fees, much like what rip-off check cashing and payday loan stores offer.

Why 401(k) Matching Can Change Your Small Business

What to Do If Your Accountant Makes an Error