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IRS Forms: 1040

What You Need to Know About 1040 Tax Return Forms

Jo Willetts, EA

Director, Tax Resources

Published on: January 28, 2021

A 1040 tax form is the main form for a tax return that gets filed with the IRS when you are a US citizen or resident with taxable income to report.

The very first 1040 tax form was published in 1914, a year after the 16th amendment, which authorized Congress to impose a federal tax on personal income, was ratified in 1913. At the time, fewer than 1% of Americans were subject to federal income tax. As the tax base widened during World War II, the tax code grew more complex.  

Originally one page, the 1040 tax return form swelled to two pages with supplementary forms and schedules that could be attached as needed. The 2017 tax reform attempted to imitate the simplicity of the original tax return from a century ago, while at the same time addressing the complexities of the modern tax code and renaming several key forms as well.

Why would I file a Form 1040 instead of 1040A or 1040EZ?

As of 2018, Forms 1040A and 1040EZ are no longer available although you can still use them to file tax returns for prior years. The shortening of the 1040 tax form through the 2017 tax reform caused these forms to become redundant.

The chief purpose of Form 1040-SR is to help seniors by providing a form with larger print. Form 1040-SR is the same as the Form 1040, only with larger print and the full standard deduction table, which includes additional amounts for taxpayers 65 or older or who are blind.

Is Form 1040 the correct tax return form for me?

For most taxpayers, 1040 is the appropriate tax filing form to use. However, if any of the following situations apply to you, the 1040 tax form may be the wrong form or require additional forms:

  • You own a business. Self-employed taxpayers have a variety of filing options to choose from. If you operate as a sole proprietor or single-member LLC taxed as one, you must use Schedule C, which goes with your 1040 tax return. However, if you operate as an S or C corporation or as a co-owner in a partnership, multiple-member LLC, corporation, or cooperative, there are other business tax forms that must be filed first before you file your personal 1040 tax return.
  • You live and/or work in a US territory or possession. If you are a resident of American Samoa, Guam, US Virgin Islands, or the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), each of these territories have their own corresponding tax return suffix (e.g. 1040-VI). The only exception is form 1040-PR, which Puerto Rico residents submit if they are self-employed. There are additional special rules if you reside or work in a US territory or possession for all or part of the tax year.
  • You are not a resident of the United States. If you are an immigrant and do not meet the requirements to file as a resident alien, you must use Form 1040-NR.
  • The taxpayer or spouse is age 65 or older. The Form 1040-SR was designed with larger, easier to read print than the Form 1040. Taxpayers 65 or older can file either Form 1040 or 1040-SR and taxpayers under 65 can only file Form 1040.

About the Author

Jo Willetts, Director of Tax Resources at Jackson Hewitt, has more than 35 years of experience in the tax industry. As an Enrolled Agent, Jo has attained the highest level of certification for a tax professional. She began her career at Jackson Hewitt as a Tax Pro, working her way up to General Manager of a franchise store. In her current role, Jo provides expert knowledge company-wide to ensure that tax information distributed through all Jackson Hewitt channels is current and accurate.

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