When you start working as a teenager, your employer normally takes payroll taxes out of your pay and sends the money to the Internal Revenue Service. Employers must do this for most employees, regardless of age. However, even though taxes have been withheld from your pay, you will have to file a tax return if your gross earnings for the year are large enough.
Tax Filing Basics
Age isn't a factor in determining whether or not you must file a tax return unless you are at least 65 years of age. The main factors that you have to consider when you are a teenager are your filing status and your gross income. The IRS sets income limits for each filing status. These limits change yearly. The ones used here are for the 2010 tax year only. IRS Publication 17 or the instructions for your tax return will provide current figures. If you make as much or more than the limit that applies to you, you must file a tax return even if you are a teenager. If not, you may still need to file taxes in order to get any tax refund you are entitled to.
The majority of teenagers are claimed as dependents by parents or other relatives. If this describes your situation, you may have up to $950 of unearned income or $5,700 of earned income before you must file a tax return. These limits are the same whether or not you are married. However, if you are blind, the limit is increased by $1,400 for dependent singles and by $1,100 for married dependents.
Some teenagers, particularly those who have graduated high school and are working full time, may not be claimed by someone else as a dependent. If you file as single and you are not a dependent, the threshold at which you are required to file is $9,350. If you are married and file a joint return, the limit is $18,900, but if you are married and file separately it is $3,650.
Sometimes teenagers have income from self-employment. If you earn $400 or more from self-employment, you have to file taxes regardless of how much your overall income is. The same is true if you owe uncollected Social Security taxes or withdraw money from a tax-deferred account such as a Coverdell ESA or an IRA.