taxes

Know the tax rules when claiming head-of-household filing status

Judy O'ConnorDear Tax Talk,
How does one go about claiming head of household? Does an individual need to be married to qualify under the head-of-household tax bracket? And must they have dependents?
-- Jennifer

Father taking a selfie with his daughter | Hero Images/Getty Images

Hero Images/Getty Images

Dear Jennifer,
It seems that you are referring to the filing status "head of household," and the answer to your first question is no, you do not need to be married. In fact, the requirement is that you have to be unmarried or "considered unmarried." Additionally, you must have paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for the year and must have a "qualifying person" live with you in the home for more than half the year. There is an exception if the qualifying person is your dependent parent, as they do not have to live with you.

Why is it so important to correctly determine your filing status? Well, if you meet the requirements for claiming head of household, you may have a lower tax rate than filing as single or married filing separately, plus there is a higher standard deduction available to you.

IRS definition of 'considered unmarried'

These requirements must be met to be "considered unmarried" on the last day of the tax year.

  • You file your own separate return.
  • You paid more than half the cost of keeping up your home for the year.
  • Your spouse cannot have lived in your home the last 6 months of the year.
  • Your home was the main home of your child, stepchild or foster child for more than half the year.
  • You must be able to claim an exemption for the child, though there is an exception if you cannot claim the child because the noncustodial parent claims the child using special rules for this situation.

If you have made it past that hurdle, then you can move on to seeing if you meet the requirement of paying more than half the cost of keeping up a home. This category includes:

  • Mortgage interest and property taxes if you own the home.
  • Rent if you do not own the home.
  • Utilities.
  • Maintenance and repairs.
  • Property insurance.
  • Food eaten in the home.
  • Other household expenses.

The final requirement is to have a "qualified person" live with you for more than half the year with the exception of a dependent parent, who does not have to live with you. The IRS has specific requirements for this category that depend on how the person is related to you, whether or not they are married, and whether or not you can claim an exemption for them. There are other special rules. IRS Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction and Filing Information, includes Table 4, "Who is a Qualifying Person Qualifying You to File as Head of Household?" I strongly recommend that you take a look at this to make sure you have met all of the requirements listed. It is an extremely useful tool as there are many issues to consider in this category.

Thank you for this great question, and all the best to you.

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