When you file your tax return, you must check one of the following filing statuses: Single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household, or qualifying widow(er). Who qualifies to file a return as a head of household, which is more favorable than single?
To qualify, you must maintain a household, which for more than half the year, is the principal home of a ‘qualifying child’ or other relative of yours whom you can claim as a dependent (unless you only qualify due to the multiple support rules).
A Qualifying Child?
A child is considered qualifying if he or she:
- Lives in your home for more than half the year
- Is your child, stepchild, adopted child, foster child, sibling stepsibling (or a descendant of any of these)
- Is under age 19 (or a student under 24)
- Does not provide over half of his or her own support for the year
If a child’s parents are divorced, the child will qualify if he meets these tests for the custodial parent — even if that parent released his or her right to a dependency exemption for the child to the noncustodial parent.
A person is not a ‘qualifying child’ if he or she is married and cannot be claimed by you as a dependent because he or she filed jointly or is not a U.S. citizen or resident. Special ‘tie-breaking’ rules apply if the individual can be a qualifying child of (and is claimed as such by) more than one taxpayer.
Maintaining a Household
You are considered to ‘maintain a household’ if you live in the home for the tax year and pay over half the cost of running it. In measuring the cost, include house-related expenses incurred for the mutual benefit of household members, including property taxes, mortgage interest, rent, utilities, insurance on the property, repairs and upkeep, and food consumed in the home. Do not include items such as medical care, clothing, education, life insurance, or transportation.
Special Rule for Parents
Under a special rule, you can qualify as head of household if you maintain a home for a parent of yours even if you do not live with the parent. To qualify under this rule, you must be able to claim the parent as your dependent.
You must be unmarried to claim head of household status. If you are unmarried because you are widowed, you can use the married filing jointly rates as a ‘surviving spouse’ for two years after the year of your spouse’s death if your dependent child, stepchild, adopted child, or foster child lives with you and you ‘maintain’ the household. The joint rates are more favorable than the head of household rates.
If you are married, you must file either as married filing jointly or separately, not as head of household. However, if you have lived apart from your spouse for the last six months of the year and your dependent child, stepchild, adopted child, or foster child lives with you and you ‘maintain’ the household, you are treated as unmarried. If this is the case, you can qualify as head of household.
We can answer questions if you would like to discuss a particular situation or would like additional information about whether someone qualifies as your dependent.