Under the Internal Revenue Code returns can be classified as either tax returns or information returns, although the term "tax return" is sometimes used to describe both kinds of returns in a broad sense.
Tax returns, in the more narrow sense, are reports of tax liabilities and payments, often including financial information used to compute the tax.
In common usage, people often refer to a refund of overwithheld taxes as a "tax return." This is incorrect terminology, as it should properly be called a tax refund. The term "tax return" specifically refers to the documents filed with the IRS such as Form 1040.
Information returns are reports used to transmit information about income, receipts or other matters that may affect tax liabilities. For example, Form W-2 and Form 1099 are used to report on the amount of income that an employer, independent contractor, broker, or other payer pays to a taxpayer. A company, employer, or party who has paid income (or, in a few cases, proceeds that may ultimately be determined not to be income) to a taxpayer is required to file the applicable information return directly with the IRS. A copy of the information return is also sent directly to the payee. These procedures enable the IRS to make reasonably sure that taxpayers report income correctly.
Examples of common Federal tax returns (and, where noted, information returns) include:
Form 706, U.S. Estate Tax Return;
Form 709, U.S. Gift (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return;
Statutory excise taxes
Form 720, Quarterly Federal Excise Tax Return;
Form 2290, Heavy Vehicle Use Tax Return;
Form 5330, Return of Excise Taxes Related to Employee Benefit Plans;
Employment (payroll) taxes
Form 940, Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return;
Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return;
Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return;
Form 1040A, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return;
Form 1040EZ, Income Tax Return for Single and Joint Filers with No Dependents;
Form 1041, U.S. Income Tax Return for Estates and Trusts (for 1993 and prior years, this was known as “U.S. Fiduciary Income Tax Return”);
Form 1065, U.S. Return of Partnership Income (for 1999 and prior years, this was known as “U.S. Partnership Return of Income”) (information return);
Form 1099 series (various titles) (information return);
Form W-2 (information return);
Form 1120, U.S. Corporation Income Tax Return;
Form 1120S, U.S. Income Tax Return for an S Corporation;
In the United States, taxpayers may file an amended return with the Internal Revenue Service to correct errors reported on a previous income tax return. Typically a taxpayer does not need to file an amended return if he or she has math errors as the IRS will make the necessary corrections. For individuals, amended returns are filed using Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.
The legal obligation to file Federal tax returns in general is imposed under . The more specific legal obligation to file Federal income tax returns is imposed under .
The standard U.S. individual tax return is Form 1040. There are several variations of this form, such as the 1040EZ and the 1040A, as well as many supplemental forms.
U.S. citizens and residents who realize gross income in excess of a specified amount (adjusted annually for inflation) are required by law to file Federal income tax returns (and pay remaining income taxes if applicable).
Gross income includes most kinds of income regardless of whether the income arises from legitimate businesses. Income from the sale of illegal drugs, for example, is taxable. Many criminals, such as Al Capone, are indicted not (or not only) for their non-tax crimes, but for failure to file Federal income tax returns (and pay income taxes) on their ill-gotten gains.
The IRS occasionally has seen "Fifth Amendment" returns from people who accurately report their annual income and tax liability but refuse to reveal the source of the funds on the grounds that such a statement would tend to incriminate the individual.
Many Americans find the process of filling out the tax forms more onerous than paying the taxes themselves. Many companies offer free and paid options for reducing the tedious labor involved in preparing one's tax return.
A taxpayer who finds a mistake on a previously filed individual income tax return can file corrections with Form 1040X.