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Filing status

You need to understand what filing status is. Here’s what to know.

What is filing status?

Your filing status is used to determine filing requirements, your standard deduction, whether you are eligible for certain tax credits, and the amount of tax you owe for the year to the IRS.

Deeper definition

There are five filing statuses, and it’s important that you choose the correct one for your situation. If your situation allows you to fit comfortably into more than one status, choose one that requires you to pay the least amount of taxes.

  • File as “single” if you are unmarried, divorced, legally separated or widowed as of the last day of the calendar year in question. You must file single if you have dependents but are not the primary caregiver for more than half of the year.
  • File as “married filing jointly” if you and your spouse file one combined tax return and take joint responsibility for the income reported. Most couples choose this status because it lowers their tax liability.
  • File as “married filing separately” if you and your spouse are both high-income wage earners and have multiple itemized deductions. If you choose to file separately and itemize deductions, your spouse cannot claim the standard deduction. You also will give up certain tax breaks, like child tax credits.
  • File as “head of household” if you are unmarried as of the last day of the year. Also, you must be paying for more than half the costs of maintaining your home and have a qualifying dependent that has lived with you for at least six months.
  • You’re considered a “qualifying widow(er) with dependent child” if you are widowed, have not remarried and have a dependent child who lives with you. This status will apply for the year in which your spouse died and up to two years after his or her death.

Want to know how much you’ll pay in taxes? Use Bankrate’s income tax calculator.

Example of filing status

The IRS reports that the status mistake most often made by filers is claiming “head of household” when the person should have filed another status. It’s an easy mistake to make, particularly if you are filing jointly or are a qualifying widow(er). While your income makes you the head of your household, your tax burden would be less by filing a different status.

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