The head of the household status can lead to a lower taxable income and greater potential refund than the single filing status, but to qualify, you must meet certain criteria. To file as head of household, you must:
- Pay for more than half of the household expenses
- Be considered unmarried for the tax year, and
- You must have a qualifying child or dependent.
Some of these terms, such as "considered unmarried" and "qualifying child or dependent" may seem a bit confusing, but the IRS has provided a series of guidelines to help taxpayers understand whether or not they qualify to file as head of household.
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Maintaining a household
The first requirement for filing as head of household is that you must have paid for more than half of the expenses involved in maintaining your household during the tax year. This means that you must have paid more than half of the total household bills, including rent or mortgage, utility bills, insurance, property taxes, groceries, repairs, and other common household expenses.
If you receive financial assistance toward your household expenses from a parent or other individual, you can still qualify to file as head of household as long as you are paying for more than 50 percent of the bills with your own earnings, savings, or capital.
The IRS also requires all taxpayers who file as head of household to be "considered unmarried" as of the last day of the tax year. To be considered unmarried means:
- You file a separate return
- You paid more than half of the cost of keeping up your home for the tax year
- Your spouse did not live in the home during the last 6 months of the tax year
- Your home was the main home for your child, stepchild, or foster child for at least 6 months of the tax year
- You must be able to claim the child as a dependent
Keep in mind that if you and your spouse lived in separate homes due to a temporary circumstance, such as military service, business trips, a stay in a medical treatment facility, or attendance at college, the IRS still considers you married for that tax year.
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The requirement for a qualifying child or dependent extends beyond just your own son or daughter. To be considered a qualifying child, the child must meet the criteria in each of the following categories:
- The child must be your biological or adopted child, stepchild, foster child, sibling, step-sibling, half-sibling, or a descendant (child, grandchild, great-grandchild, etc.) of one of these relatives.
- The child must have lived within your home for more than six months during the tax year.
- The child needs to be younger than you.
- As of the end of the tax year, the child must be under 19 if he is not a student, or under 24 if he is a full-time college student.
- The child must not have paid for more than half of his living expenses during the tax year.
In some cases, you may be eligible to file as head of household even if you are unable to claim your child as a dependent. For divorced or separated parents, if the child lived in your home for more than half of the year, you may file as head of household, even if the divorce or separation agreement gives the other parent the right to claim the child as a dependent.
If your dependent does not meet the criteria to be a qualifying child, you may still qualify to file as head of household. The following relatives are considered qualifying dependents for the head of household filing status as long as you provided more than half of her financial support and she lived with you for more than half of the year:
- Your biological or adopted child, stepchild, foster child, sibling, step-sibling, half-sibling, or a descendant (child, grandchild, great-grandchild, etc.) of one of these relatives who is permanently and totally disabled, even if he or she does not meet the age requirements to be a qualifying child.
- Your mother or father.
- Your stepfather, stepmother, niece, nephew, a sibling of one of your parents, or your son-in-law, daughter-in-law, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, or sister-in-law.
Even if your father or mother did not live with you for more than half of the tax year, you may still qualify to file as head of household. If you paid for more than half of the living expenses for your parent's main home throughout the entire tax year and you are eligible to claim them as a dependent, then you may file as head of household.