Form 1040 instructions: how to properly file your individual tax return

Every year the government tries to simplify Form 1040. Since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the IRS got rid of many unneeded spaces and only left 24 lines. While filling out the 1040 has been made easier, mistakes are still common and can lead to high penalties, delayed refunds, and even your return being rejected. But don’t worry, we’re here to make the IRS Form 1040 and its instructions clear as day. 

What is the IRS Form 1040?

The IRS Form 1040 is a mandatory tax form for individual taxpayers to file their annual income tax returns. It helps calculate the amount of fees owed and/or the refund a taxpayer will receive. 

Usually, taxpayers have to file the form by April 15th. But this year (2020), the government postponed Tax Day from April 15th to July 15th.

What does IRS Form 1040 look like now? 

After last year, the IRS did their best to simplify it. Let’s take a look at the changes:

  • Rounding off to whole dollars. The IRS removed entry spaces for cents. For example, $3.43 and $ 4.50 became $3 and $5. 
  • Reduced number of schedules. Numbered schedules reduced from 6 to 3.
  • IRA and pension reporting. Now taxpayers need to report their IRA distributions, pensions and annuities on separate lines.
  • Space for an email address. As of this year, the IRS has added a line for adding an a personal email address
  • Extended tax provisions. The government extended certain tax benefits that expired at the end of 2017.
  • New form for seniors. The IRS created Form 1040-SR to make it easier for seniors to fill out and file the form. 

However, as a whole the form remains unchanged and still consists of two parts. The first part includes the taxpayer’s information: filing status, first and last name, SNN and address. Spouses and dependents should also be mentioned. Following that income should be reported, including all deductions and credits. Depending on an individual’s tax situation, they may also need to attach extra schedules to the 1040 Form.

Who needs to fill out Form 1040? 

In general, just about everyone who has some sort of income has to file Form 1040. The taxable income can vary from $12,200 to $27,000, depending on the taxpayer’s age and filing status.

But that’s not all. The 1040 has to be filed if:

  1. special taxes are owed;
  2. a taxpayer or their spouse received a health savings account;
  3. a taxpayer’s self-employment income is at least $400;
  4. at least $108.28 was earned by a non-taxable church or church-controlled organization;
  5. advance payments were received from the Marketplace premium tax credit;
  6. advance payments were received from the health coverage tax credit (HCTC). 

Which IRS Form 1040 should be filed: the 1040 or 1040-SR? 

In 2019 the IRS introduced a Tax Return for Seniors the 1040-SR. Only if a taxpayer is 65 years old or older, are they allowed to use this form. Otherwise, they have to use Form 1040. 

Both forms are pretty much the same. The only difference is the font size. Form 1040-SR has a bigger font and more spaces to make filing it out easier for seniors. 

Note: Form 1040-A and Form 1040EZ were eliminated.


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What is the IRS Form 1040 Schedule?

The file should only be scheduled if a tax return is more complicated than a simple report about standard deductions, IRA distribution, salary, etc. For example, if a taxpayer has additional fees or wants to claim specific deductions. Below is a list of appropriate schedules to file along with the federal tax return.  

  1. Schedule 1 is used – if there is additional income or loss of income, award money that was received or claiming deductions (self-employment tax, educator expenses, student loan interest deduction, etc.). 
  2. Schedule 2 is used – if AMT or other taxes (household employment taxes, additional tax on IRAs, etc.) are owed, or if an excess APTC needs to be made.
  3. Schedule 3 is used – if a nonrefundable credit (the foreign tax credit, education credits, or general business credit) or a refundable credit (net premium tax credit or health coverage tax credit) is being claimed. 

How to complete the IRS Form 1040

One of the easiest and most efficient ways to file the form is by electronically filing with pdfFiller. In doing so, the IRS will immediately receive the completed tax papers – saving more time for requesting a tax refund. Let’s take a look at how to fill the form out step-by-step:

    1. Insert your personal information

You need to check one of 5 filing statuses:

  • Married filing separately;
  • Single;
  • Head of household;
  • Married filing jointly;
  • Qualifying widow(er).

Write down your name, address, SSN and your spouse’s info if you’re filing jointly. In case you have dependents, you need to mention it and enter their names, SSNs and your relationship to them.

      2. Report your income

The first 7 lines are related to income, including salaries, interests, dividends, pensions, Social Security benefits, etc. There you list all the types and amounts of earnings you received in 2019 and calculate the total. If it’s required, fill out and attach additional forms and schedules. For example, if your total taxable interest in line 2b, is more $1,500, you have to attach a completed Schedule B.  

In line 8a, report on any adjustments to your income. Then subtract these adjustments (line 8a) from your total income (line 7b) and write the result down in line 8b. This amount is your adjusted gross income (AGI). Don’t forget that adjustments require you to attach a Schedule 1. 

     3. Calculate your deductions 

List your standard deduction or the amount of your itemized deductions in line 9.

This amount reduces your taxable income. So enter everything you are claiming: medical and dental expenses, fees and interest you paid, gifts to charity you made. The whole nine yards. 

The Standard deduction for this year:

  • Single or married filing separately – $12,200 
  • Married filing jointly or Qualifying widow(er) – $24,400 
  • Head of household – $18,350

If you have itemized deduction, fill in and attach Schedule A. To figure your Qualified Business Income Deduction (line 10), use Form 8995 or Form 8995-A as applicable.

Enter the total amount of all your deductions in line 11. To get your taxable income, subtract deductions (11a) from AGI (8b). 

     4. Check your tax and credit

The lines 12 to 18 are for credits and taxes. So, if you qualify for them, put down the amounts of individual credits, for example, child tax credits or tax for other dependents. There is an additional section (18a-18d) where you mention additional fees that you haven’t included yet and the amount you owe (estimated tax penalty). While completing the form, you have to make some calculations and input the results in the corresponding fields. So be attentive and enter the total amount into line 19.

      5. Your refund amount

So far so good, this section is about the refund you can receive. If your payments (line 19) is greater than the total sum of taxes (line 16), you can request a refund. Subtract tax from payments and that’s the money you overpaid. Record it in order to get it back. 

      6. Your amount owed

If the amount of tax is higher than the amount of payments, you need to pay more. Subtract payments from tax and enter the result into line 23 and penalties into line 24, if applicable. 

       7. Date and sign it

Before you finish filling out the form check it twice to make sure you did it correctly and only then date and sign it. E-signing with pdfFiller just takes a second and is just as official as a wet signature. Make sure you’ve added all the required forms and schedules. 

Note: you have to save all your tax records depending on the action, expense or event which a document records. Figure out how long you should keep them here.

How to order the IRS Form 1040

You can find necessary forms (including form 1040) in pdfFiler’s vast library. Filing online is the fastest way to handle your taxes in 2020 and beyond. A single mistake made while filling out the form by hand can lead to a delayed return or even rejection. You can’t just cross out a miswritten letter, number or word. If you notice you made a mistake while filling out your form, you should print out a clean copy and fill it out once again. However, by filing electronically, you have the chance to delete those mistakes and simply re-type what you need. It only takes a few seconds. Make a change this year and e-file your forms with pdfFiller! 


Can Form 1040 be filed online and what are the benefits of submitting electronically?

A single mistake made while filling out your 1040 by hand can lead to high penalties, delayed refunds and even the rejection of your return. You can’t just cross out a miswritten letter, number or word. If you notice you made a mistake while filling out your form, you should print out a clean copy and fill it out once again. However, by filing electronically, you have the chance to delete those mistakes and simply re-type what you need. It only takes a few seconds.

Another advantage of electronically filing tax forms is that they are received by the IRS immediately. It provides you with more time to request a refund. Once you’ve completed and filed your Form 1040 online, you can easily get back to any work or family responsibilities that you may have.