Who Can I Claim As a Dependent For Exemptions, Tax Credits and Head of Household Status

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I have received a number of questions of late regarding eligibility rules for claiming someone as a dependent on their tax return. Obviously this is an important topic because being able to claim someone as a dependent provides a number of tax benefits/exemptions and ultimately a lower tax bill. Further, tax payers may also get access to tax credits like the child tax and earned income credits through their dependents. Finally, claiming someone as a dependent can allow unmarried taxpayers to be eligible to file as head of household which means access to much more favorable tax brackets and a higher standard deduction.

IRS publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information, provides a lot of detailed information on this topic. Key points when it comes to figuring out whether you can claim someone as a dependent include:

A dependent is someone who is a qualifying child or a qualifying relative. You are allowed one exemption for each dependent. For the latest tax year you can deduct $3,800 for each exemption you are eligible for. This includes yourself, your spouse if married filing jointly, and for eligible dependents. There are various tests (dependent taxpayer, joint return and citizen/resident) and rules to claim someone as a dependent which are summarized in the table below. If two or more people claim the same dependent, the IRS will audit both the returns to determine who has the strongest case for the claim. The losing party will be required to pay additional taxes and possibly a penalty.

Note that, while you can claim an exemption for your spouse if filing a joint return, your spouse is never considered your dependent.

Claiming an Exemption For a Dependent

Head of Household –  Unmarried individuals who qualify for head of household filing status can claim an exemption for their qualified dependents if they meet the following criteria:

Qualifying Person Qualifying You To File as Head of Household

To file as head of household you must meet all the following requirements: 1) You are unmarried or considered unmarried on the last day of the year. 2) You paid more than half the cost of keeping  up a home for the year. 3) A qualifying person lived with you in the home for more than half the year.

Parent-Child Exemptions - If a parent or another qualifying person claims you as a dependent, you may not claim your personal exemption on your own tax return. This is important for first time tax filers who were originally dependents on their parent’s tax return.

Source: IRS publication 501 provides more details and examples on the above and is worth reviewing if you want further clarification.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Phyllis October 20, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Mydaughter is a full time student with a scholarship that pays for all her tuition. The criterion for Head of household and her as a dependent states’ the child cannot contribute more than 1/2 of her support. Does the scholarship count at 1/2 support?? I claim head of household, what % of my home expenses can be contributed for providing her support. She is temporarily not living here as she lives on campus. But i pay for clothing, medical insurance, car insurance and room and board

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latdin February 15, 2013 at 10:16 pm

If a son uses his disable mother, father and brother as a qualifying relative will they be eligiable for Earned Income Credit even if they receive social security all year that is not taxed. I have they will only receive 250 dollars a piece.

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Shibby February 2, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Let’s just say I’m 25 years old, my parents are divorced, and I am finally able to file taxes. (W2 I think) Is it possible for one of my parents to claim me AND for me to file my own taxes? Also, would it be wiser to not file my taxes and just let my parent pay me back what I would’ve gotten back from my taxes this year?

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Andy February 2, 2013 at 4:51 pm

A dependent is someone who is a qualifying child OR a qualifying relative. You are allowed one exemption for each dependent.

So even though you may not meet the age test for qualifying as a child you could still be a qualifying relative. The answer is one, and only one, of your parents can claim you. You need to run the numbers to see which is better for your financially, but normally doing your own return is better.

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Andy January 23, 2013 at 2:24 pm

You can claim her as a dependent, but if she also files a return, you cannot claim an exemption for her if she is also claiming a personal exemption on her tax return. I.e no double dipping.

If her gross income was $3,800 or more, she cannot be claimed as a dependent.

The above referenced publication (501) or IRS publication 929 – Tax Rules for Children and Dependents will provide you with more detailed information.

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Victoria January 23, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Our 18 year old daughter lives with us, attends school full time and works part time. However she does not pay for any of her living expenses. She works part time to receive gas money or shopping money. But we cover all her expenses. Are we still able to claim her as a dependent or do we lose that as she will need to file her own taxes now?

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