What Is an Individual Tax Return?

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An individual tax return is a tax filing made by individuals, including married couples, as opposed to separate business entities. This generally applies to income taxes for federal and state tax returns.

Key Takeaways

  • An individual tax return is a form you file to pay individual income taxes, including for those married filing jointly.
  • Individual tax returns are filed using Form 1040 or 1040-SR.
  • Business tax returns, which apply to businesses treated as separate entities, differ from individual tax returns.
  • For pass-through business entities, like sole proprietorships, income gets reported as part of the business owner’s individual tax return.

How an Individual Tax Return Works

An individual tax return is a form that individuals fill out to report their income taxes. In this case, an “individual” ranges from single filers to those who are married filing jointly. Individual returns differ from business tax returns, which are filed by companies that are separate entities from the owner.


Sole proprietors and other types of owners of pass-through business entities, like some LLCs, would still file individual tax returns.

You would likely file an individual tax return if you are one of the following:

  • A single filer
  • Married filing jointly
  • Married filing separately
  • A head of household
  • A qualifying widow or widower

The core of a federal individual tax return is generally IRS Form 1040 and, in some cases, Form 1040-SR. This form is used to report information such as wages to determine your taxable income and the total amount of tax owed.

Single filers and married couples need to fill out other relevant tax forms, such as any necessary Schedules. For example, if you itemize deductions, you would also include Schedule A as part of your individual tax return. There, you would specify deductions, such as for charitable contributions and home mortgage interest.

Some individuals with businesses must also include business income as part of their individual tax returns. This includes freelancers who operate a sole proprietorship and single-member LCCs, in some cases. That often means filing Schedule C to report business income and expenses, all of which get filed with other individual forms as part of an individual tax return.

In comparison, if you have a business that’s taxed as a separate entity, such as a C corporation, then you would fill out a separate business tax return that’s not filed with your individual tax return.

An Example of an Individual Tax Return

Isabel is an accountant at a tax firm where she earns $80,000 a year. When it's time to file taxes, Isabel fills out Form 1040. On the form, she provides her name, address, date of birth, and Social Security number. She then fills out various sections related to income, deductions, credit, and taxes. By the end of the form, Isabel knows whether she'll owe taxes or receive a refund.

Individual Tax Returns and State Taxes

When it comes to state taxes, an individual tax return often includes information similar to what’s used for a federal income tax return. However, states have their own forms and may have slightly different tax rules that affect what information is included in filings.


California allows for some moving expense deductions, so if you qualify, you would want to include that information in your state individual tax return. However, that same expense is generally not allowed as part of federal tax returns.

Individual tax returns might also be filed for certain local tax jurisdictions, though these taxes can often be paid and accounted for as part of state tax filings.

What an Individual Tax Return Means for You

Understanding what an individual tax return is can help you file your taxes accurately and figure out the best tax strategies for your situation. 

For example, if you have a side hustle or are thinking of starting your own business, you may want to consider whether or not to make that a pass-through entity. Say you decide to go this route by using the default sole proprietorship status that results from simply operating a business (including freelance and gig work). That income then becomes part of your individual tax return.

Or you might decide to create a corporation that's taxed as its own entity. Different types of business structures can each have their advantages, so what tax return you use depends on your circumstances and preferences.

Some people may not even need to file an individual tax return based on your income and filing status. Even if you don’t have to file, you can still benefit from doing so. For example, filing an individual tax return is necessary for receiving certain tax benefits, like the earned income tax credit.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the types of individual tax returns?

There are two types of individual tax returns: the 1040 and the 1040-SR. The 1040-SR is for taxpayers who are 65 and older.

How do I fill out an individual tax return?

You can fill out an individual return by using tax prep software or filling out a From 1040 or 1040-SR by hand. Generally speaking, you'll need to provide your address, Social Security number, date of birth, income, and expenses and information related to tax deductions and credits. A common way to fill out an individual tax return is to use tax prep software.

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  2. IRS. "About Schedule A (Form 1040), Itemized Deductions."

  3. IRS. "About Schedule C (Form 1040), Profit or Loss From Business (Sole Proprietorship)."

  4. IRS. "Forming a Corporation."

  5. California Tax Service Center. "New to California."

  6. Intuit TurboTax. "IRS Form 3903: Are Moving Expenses Tax Deductible?"

  7. New York City Department of Finance. "Taxes."

  8. USA.gov. "Do You Need To File a Tax Return?"

  9. Benefits.gov. "Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)."

  10. IRS. "About Form 1040-SR, U.S. Tax Return for Seniors."

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