The filing status you choose on your return could make the difference between owing the U.S. government or Uncle Sam sending you cash to pocket.

There are five official IRS filing statuses:

•   Single

•   Married, filing your return jointly

•   Married, with each partner filing a tax return separately

•   Head of household

•   Qualifying widow/widower with dependent child

Filing status
Status Qualifications
Single You are unmarried, divorced or legally separated, either according to your state law or under a separate maintenance decree.
Married, filing your return jointly You and your spouse were married during the tax year and agree to file your taxes together. You don’t have to be married for all 365 days. Your marital status on the last day of the year determines your status for the entire year. For example, if your wedding was Dec. 28, you can file a joint return for that tax year. Conversely, if your spouse died and you did not remarry, you are considered married for the whole year for filing purposes.
Married, with each partner filing a tax return separately You and your spouse decide that each of you wants to be responsible only for your own taxes. This also may be the way to file if you suspect your spouse may be using questionable tax-filing tactics. Choosing to file separately also is allowable (and preferable) if it cuts your tax bill, but many times that’s not the case since some tax breaks are allowed only for couples who file jointly. Be sure to figure your tax both as filing jointly and separately to ensure you get the best tax benefit.
Head of household You are unmarried and have provided more than half the cost of keeping up a home for yourself and a qualifying relative. Tax rates for head-of-household filers are more favorable than those in the single or married-filing-separately categories. In some cases, married persons who have not lived with their spouses may qualify for this status.
Qualifying widow/widower with dependent child A special and temporary filing status. When a spouse dies, a taxpayer may file a married joint return for the tax year in which the husband or wife died. After that, a widow or widower who supports a child and does not remarry will probably want to use the qualifying widow (or widower) status. It is allowed for the two years following the year a spouse dies and applies the same rate as that afforded married joint filers. This is generally more beneficial than the head-of-household rates.