This past summer I interned at a company and just got my W-2 Form. I am a 17 year old high school student which qualified for 2 Federal exemptions, 0 State exemptions, and 0 Local exemptions. I made $5,040 in "Wages, tips, and other compensation". For taxes, I had $414.28 in Federal income tax withheld, $312.48 of Social security tax withheld, and $73.08 of Medicare tax withheld.

Is it worth it to file a tax return?

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    Note that your state laws may also be different than federal. Where I live, you would need to file state taxes because the state limit is $3000 (IIRC). Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 3:55
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    Note -- you may be able to file online for free: irs.gov/filing/free-file-do-your-federal-taxes-for-free
    – rrauenza
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 6:05
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    In addition to what @rrauenza mentioned, quite a few 3rd party services also have free filing (state and federal). Their paid products are usually only required when you have special scenarios (stocks, a business, mortgages, etc.). In your scenario, you should not have to pay anything to file. I highly suggest an online service, especially if you're filing for the first time since it holds your hand pretty well.
    – Xrylite
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 20:41
  • It's also worth noting that if you make very little, the form is tremendously easy to fill out. When I had similar intern wages, I had to fill in one number about 3 times, write the standard deduction (which I looked up in the booklett), and then zeros in every other field until I got to the number which told them to send me a check. It was a very small amount of work compared to the number of dollars I was getting back in return.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 19:45
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    @rrauenza TurboTax and probably others have "basic" filing package that is free and should be sufficient for something like that.
    – ventsyv
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 16:15

6 Answers 6


With $5k in income, you'd probably get all $400 in federal tax back, since the standard deduction would reduce your taxable income to $0.

You might qualify for refundable tax credits, too, which is basically free money, if you file and take the standard deduction.

It's up to you whether $400+ is worth it to you to file; that amount is equivalent to about 55+ hours of minimum-wage work or one day of $100k+/yr work.

This answer ignores the question of whether you are required to file; for that, see the instructions.


You are officially NOT required to file taxes for 2018, in other words the government doesn't care if you file a tax return or not. That being said, it would be foolish of you not to file- because you've paid $414 into the system which WILL be returned to you if ask for it back. With the elimination of the personal exemption in 2018, the standard deduction applies to all of your income (see the 2018 form 1040 Instructions, page 38: "Standard Deduction Worksheet for Dependents"), so your taxable income is $0 with $0 tax owed. With the simplification of the filing process, a $414 refund is the obvious choice. Most online tax preparers will do your taxes for free, so you don't even need to worry about the paperwork or making a mistake (online tax filers act as an intermediary, and they will "handle problems with the IRS" for you).


Here's the thing. Paycheck withholding does not settle your taxes.

Tax is paid on April 15 when you actually file. Until then, withholding is your money and this is a textbook example of that.

What's the point of withholding, then? Without it, the less financially educated/responsible taxpayers would simply spend their whole paycheck, and when quarterly* tax payment time comes around, they'd go "wow, I forgot to save any, sorry IRS", and IRS would have to sue them and garnish their wages etc. Much simpler to "force"** everyone to do withholding every paycheck to put the money on deposit to settle their taxes later.

All that money withheld - paychecks, quarterlies, etc. -- Is Your Money Still. It is simply on deposit with IRS to assure you pay your taxes.

Then between sometime in January and April 15 the next year, you file your taxes. Now the piper gets paid. You figure your actual tax (in your case $0.00), look at how much you've deposited so far ($414), and you either have to pay the difference or get a refund. In your case you get a refund.

Now if you want to leave that money on the table, IRS will be happy to keep it.

If you change your mind later, you can file your taxes up to 3 years after the April 15 due date. There is no penalty for filing late if you are owed a refund. You'll even get interest on the money.

* People must make their own deposits quarterly if they don't get paychecks because they are self employed or business owners. They use Form ES. But the deal is, they must pre-pay at least 90% of their final tax bill, or they face penalties.

** it's actually possible to specify any number of exemptions, but they will start noticing if you go higher than 71. Seriously, I've done it. Also they will notice when you violate the 90% rule and slap you with penalties, so you better know what you're doing!

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    For wage-earners (as opposed to self-employed people), paying taxes quarterly is essentially impossible; Federal (and State) income taxes are required to be withheld by the employer from wages paid to the employee. Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 4:29
  • @DilipSarwate I didn't say not, but agreed, it wasn't very clear. Edited. Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 5:42
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    @stannius I have always assumed you can start filing as soon as IRS finalizes the forms and you have reliable numbers. Mind you, I file on paper... if you "e-file" obviously you can't do that until IRS chooses to enable it. Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 17:01
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    @Harper I did a little more research and I don't think there's a set formula. It seems the IRS just decides the date tax that season opens and announces it. Given that, I don't think it's possible to be any more precise than "January" as you originally wrote.
    – stannius
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 17:07
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    @stannius I tweaked the language just the same. Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 17:13

For most people, the minimum amount of earned income to require filing a return is $12,000. There are, however, different rules for a dependent which you almost certainly are (of your parents). In this case (see same link), the question is whether your total income is more than $350 above the W-2 income you mentioned in your question. (That $350 might come from bank accounts or investments in your name.)


Is it worth it? Well, that depends on what you think is worthwhile. You are most likely claimed as a dependent on your parents' income-tax return, which will affect how much tax you have to pay as opposed to how much tax your employer withheld from your salary/wages and sent to the government on your behalf. Most likely, too much will have been withheld from your salary and you will get a refund of the excess but only if you file a tax return and request that the excess be refunded to you. If you choose to not file a tax return, you won't get the refund. So, it is up to you to decide whether you want to request a refund or not. Note, by the way, that Social Security and Medicare taxes are not refundable; only the income tax.


Not only should you get back the $414.28 in federal income taxes withheld, you should also get back the $312.48 and $73.08 of Social Security and Medicare tax withheld in the form of the Earned Income Tax Credit. For someone with no children, the rate of the EITC up to $6780 of income is 7.65%, which is the same as your share of Social Security and Medicare.

You should do your taxes to get the exact amount, but my guess is that you'd get a refund of almost $800. I'm guessing that your taxes will be pretty simple, so $800 says that you should file for a refund.

You may be required to file state and local taxes even if you do not have to file a federal tax return.

  • Err, I did Turbotax two days ago, the $414 was included in the Federal refund estimate, but not the other taxes.
    – Rob Gates
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 17:49
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    Also, "childless workers must be at least 25 and not older than 64 to qualify for a subsidy" from the link you submitted. I am 17.
    – Rob Gates
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 17:50

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