Certain lines on IRS tax forms are preceded by an arrowhead. For example, lines 10c and 11 on 2020 Form 1040:

Lines 10c "Add lines 10a and 10b. These are your total adjustments to income" and 11 "Subtract line 10c from line 9. This is your adjusted gross income", 2020 Form 1040

on every line in the Refund/Amount You Owe sections on 2020 Form 1040:

Lines 34-38, 2020 Form 1040

and line 9 on 2020 Form 1040 Schedule SE:

Lines 9 "Subtract line 8d from line 7. If zero or less, enter -0- here and on line 10 and go to line 11", 2020 Form 1040 Schedule SE

What do these arrowheads mean (edit: and why do some lines have them, and others do not)? It doesn't seem as though the meaning is any of the following:

  • to annotate a line that is captioned "This is ___"
  • to annotate a line that is required
  • to annotate a line that is a computation
  • to annotate a line whose value is used elsewhere
  • It's to help ensure people enter data in the correct box. Nothing more. – RonJohn Feb 1 at 1:29
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    @BenMiller-RememberMonica one line answers are also frowned upon. Honestly, IMNSHO it's a trivial question. – RonJohn Feb 1 at 3:09
  • @RonJohn Answers in the comments are frowned upon, too. If the question can truly be answered in one line, post it as an answer. If you think your answer is not complete enough and you are worried it will attract downvotes, then you can either expand it or decide not to post it at all. This is covered in the meta answer. :) – Ben Miller - Remember Monica Feb 1 at 3:10
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    @RonJohn I don't catch them all. Perhaps you can leave a reminder comment on that one for him. And in fact, I see that you just did. Thanks! – Ben Miller - Remember Monica Feb 1 at 3:22

The arrows on Form 1040 signify two things:

  1. They are used to highlight important, named summary lines that you may need to find later. For example, on the 2020 Form 1040, you'll find it for things like "Total income" (Line 9), "Adjusted gross income" (Line 11), "Total tax" (Line 24), "Total payments" (Line 33), "Refunded to you" (Line 35a), and "Amount you owe now" (Line 37).

  2. The arrow is also used to highlight checkboxes and other non-dollar amount fields that they don't want you to miss. On this year's form, it is used, for example, on the "Schedule D not required" checkbox, all of the refund Direct Deposit fields, and the Third Party Designee selection checkboxes.

These arrows have been on the 1040 form for a very long time. Take a look at the 1950 version of 1040:

1950 total tax paid

Here you can see how the arrow was signifying that you should total the numbers above, but enter that total to the right. That is where the arrow came from.

Also on the 1950 form you can see it used to highlight an important non-monetary field:

1950 number of exemptions

In summary, the arrows highlight the most important fields, either so you don't accidentally skip them or to make it easier for you to find them when you review your finished form.

  • Thanks. I guess I thought there was a single reason behind the arrowheads that I was failing to grasp, as opposed to two reasons. – user106227 Feb 6 at 17:30

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