August 5, 2022
head of household

Do you provide over half the cost of living for your household? You may want to consider filing your taxes as head of household, which could qualify you for a higher standard deduction. Head of household filing status also provides lower tax rates than filing as single or married and filing separately.

How can you qualify as Head of Household?

There are a few qualifying criteria to meet in order to file under head of household status:

  1. You must be single, divorced, or separated by the last day of the tax year.
  2. You are responsible for over half of your household’s living expenses.
  3. You have a child or qualifying dependent.

What are dependent qualifications?

Your dependent will be one of the following: a qualifying child or a qualifying relative.

Qualifying Child

To claim a qualifying child, the child must be part of your family. Some qualifying relationships include:

  • Your biological child
  • Your stepchild
  • Your foster child
  • Your sibling or half sibling
  • Step sibling
  • A descendent of either of the above (which includes grandchildren, nieces, and nephews)

The child must also be of a certain age. The IRS states that one of the following must be true of the child’s age:

  • They’re 18 or younger at the end of the year and younger than you or your spouse.
  • They’re 23 or younger at the end of the year, was a student and younger than you or your spouse. To qualify as a student, the child must be full-time for at least five months of the year in question.
  • The child can be over the age limit if they are diagnosed by a doctor as permanently disabled.

Another important key factor to claiming a dependent is that the child must live with you for more than half of the tax year. The IRS provides particular exceptions for temporary absences (such as extended hospital stay, college, or juvenile detention). Other exceptions include children of divorced or separated parents and children that were kidnapped.

Should the child in question get a job and provide at least half of their own financial support, you cannot claim them as a dependent.

The child can’t file a joint tax return with someone and be claimed as a dependent. The exception to this rule is if the child and their spouse file a joint return only to claim an income tax or estimated tax refund.

Last, but not least, the child must be a U.S. citizen, resident alien, U.S. national or a resident of Canada or Mexico.

Qualifying Relative

A second, broader category of dependents falls under the “qualifying relative” category. Although it is implied by the name, no familial relationship is actually required under this provision. In fact, a qualifying relative can be anyone who:

1) lives with the taxpayer all year,

2) made less than the exemption amount ($3,950 for 2014),

3) relied on the taxpayer for more than half their support and

4) is not a qualifying child of another taxpayer.

An important distinction between the qualifying child and qualifying relative categories are that the qualifying relative has no “age test”, but does have a “gross income test”.

Gross Income Test

Applying the gross income test correctly requires you to identify the type of dependent and the type of income received by that person. When applicable, the gross income test uses an income threshold that matches the exemption amount for the applicable year. In 2014 for example, that threshold (exemption) is $3,950.

First, the gross income test is primarily a concern for a qualifying relative, as the qualifying child dependent does not have to satisfy a gross income test. The following example is illustrative of this distinction:

In 2014, Junior (age 17) worked part-time for his father’s landscaping business and earned $5,000 for the year. Even though Junior’s income exceeded the $3,950 threshold amount, because he is under 19 years old and meets both the residency and support tests, his income does not disqualify him from being a qualifying child. However, if Junior was 22 years old in 2014 and not a full-time student, he would not qualify as a dependent under either category because he fails both the age test for a qualifying child and the income test for the qualifying relative.

Second, the type of income derived must be considered in the gross income test. Tax-exempt income, such as social security benefits or municipal bond interest, is not considered income for the gross income test. So for example, if a taxpayer provides more than half the support for her aged parent and the parent receives $15,000/yr in untaxed social security benefits, the parent would still qualify under the income test as a qualifying relative.

What kind of expenses are you responsible for as the Head of Household?

Taking responsibility for living expenses includes, but is not limited to:

  • Rent or mortgage
  • Utility bills
  • Insurance
  • Property taxes
  • Groceries
  • Repairs
  • Other household bills (internet, phone, etc.)

As head of household, you are required to be responsible for the listed expenses for over half of the tax year.

If your dependent is a parent, they are not required to live in the same household as you. The stipulation is that you maintain their cost of living. It’s important to note that if you are married and living in separate households, this does not qualify you for Head of Household status. You must be unmarried.

What does the IRS mean by “unmarried?”

Unmarried means that you’re filing a separate return and your spouse didn’t live with you for the last half of the year. Two people cannot file as head of household on the same return.

If you share a child (biological, stepchild, or foster) with your former spouse, your home should be the primary residence of the child to qualify for head of household status. If you are unable to claim the child as a dependent, this could make qualifying a bit more difficult.

Pros of filing as Head of Household

This filing status offers a better standard deduction amount than most others, even with a lower tax bracket. The deduction may not be as favorable as joint filing, but it’s a considerably larger deduction than filing single by roughly 50%. The standard deduction for 2021 head of household status was $18,800.

Tax debt and filing assistance for Head of Household status

Tax debt with the weight of other financial burdens can be a stressful ordeal. As a head of household filer, you may qualify for relief. Give Optima a call for a free consultation today at 800-536-0734.

Received an IRS notice? Try out the Optima Tax App to analyze your notice in the palm of your hand.