Dear Tax Talk,
I live in the U.S. with a TN visa (nonimmigrant NAFTA Professional). This is my first time filing taxes here for 2011, and I have no idea what to do. I’m single, 27 and support my mother in Mexico (send money every month). She is around 60, and I’m her only source of income. What tax filing status should I use? Single? Head of household with one dependent?

Any help will be appreciated. Thanks.
— Dante

Dear Dante,
The tax rules relating to dependents can be quite confusing. There are basically two types of dependents: a qualifying child or qualifying relative. Your mother obviously would fall under the rules for qualifying relative. To claim someone as a qualifying relative, they have to meet four tests:

  1. Not a qualifying child test.
  2. Member of household or relationship test.
  3. Gross income test.
  4. Support test.

The first test is pretty straightforward; your mother obviously meets this point. In the case of a parent, she does not have to live with you based on the relationship criteria of the second test.

To meet the third test, a person’s gross income for the year must be less than $3,650. This means your mother’s U.S. gross income must be less than $3,650, which certainly sounds like the case in your situation.

Lastly, you must provide more than half of the support for the person. In determining support, you have to include the fair value of lodging. If your mom owns her own home and the value of lodging is worth $500 a month, then you have to provide more than $500 a month to her in order to meet this test.

If your mother qualifies as your dependent, then you can claim head of household status even though she does not live with you. You can find more detail and support for claiming an exemption for your mom in IRS Publication 501.

Since your mother is a nonresident alien who does not have and is not eligible to get a Social Security number, your dependent must apply for an individual taxpayer identification number, or ITIN. For details on how to apply, see Form W-7, Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.

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