Who Qualifies to Use the Head of Household Filing Status On an Income Tax Return?

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Answered by: Selena, An Expert in the Filing Status Category
Taxpayers who file using the head of household filing status receive a larger standard deduction than those who file using the single status. In 2010, head of household filers were eligible for a $8,400 standard deduction. This amount was directly subtracted from the taxpayer's total income, reducing their overall tax liability for the year. Which taxpayers qualify for this filing status? The Internal Revenue Service has issued several conditions that individuals must meet before they are considered to be a head of a household for tax purposes.

The first requirement is that the taxpayer must be either unmarried or separated at the end of the tax year. This means that married couples cannot use the head of household filing status for one spouse and the single filing status for the other spouse in an attempt to reduce their taxes owed. Separated spouses can only file as a head of a household if they have not lived together for the last six months of the year. An exception is made for military spouses whose mates are away for an extended period due to their service.

The other qualification that must be met to file as head of household on a tax return is that the taxpayer must have provided a home for a qualifying child. According to the IRS, biological children, stepchildren and foster children are all qualifying persons for this purpose if they can be claimed as exemptions by the taxpayer. An exception is provided for parents if the only reason they are unable to claim an exemption for their children is due to the conditions as set forth in a divorce decree.

There are three qualifying tests for determining if a taxpayer can claim any person as an exemption. The taxpayer must not be able to be claimed as a dependent by another person. The dependent must not file a joint return with his or her spouse, if applicable. The dependent must be a legally recognized citizen or resident alien of the United States. There are a few exceptions to the citizenry rule for children that have been adopted from certain countries.

A few other rules must be applied in order to specifically claim a child as an exemption. The qualifying child must be either a direct relation of the taxpayer or a foster child. The child must be younger than 19 if he is not in college and younger than 24 if he is attending college. The taxpayer must provide at least half of the child's financial support during the year.

If an unmarried parent has a qualifying child that meets all of the above guidelines, she will be able to file her income tax return as a head of a household. Many taxpayers who qualify for this filing status may also be eligible for certain tax credits that are offered to parents such as the Earned Income Credit and the Child Tax Credit. These individuals should speak with an experienced tax professional for specific advice that relates to their personal situation.

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