How to use Head of Household Status to File your Taxes
The head of household filing status is one that few people understand. But it is important to understand all of your filing options to minimize the taxes you owe. If you meet the criteria to qualify, head of household status can result in lower taxes than single status. To qualify, a taxpayer must:
- Be unmarried during the tax filing year
- Have a dependent or qualifying child
- Pay over half of the expenses of the household
As with many tax issues, there are specific definitions for some of these that are important to understand when deciding if you qualify for head of household status. These are explained in more detail below.
Taxpayers filing as head of household must be “considered unmarried” at the end of their tax year. This means:
- You are filing a return separate from your spouse
- You paid over half the cost for maintaining your home during the year
- Your spouse didn’t live in that home at any time in the final six months
- This home was your primary home for a minimum of six months in the year
- Your child can be claimed as a dependent
Note that if your spouse is living separately because of temporary circumstances like an extended business trip, military service, college, etc, you are considered married by the IRS.
This requirement goes beyond your own child. For a dependent child to qualify, they must meet each of these criteria:
- Your child is required to be a biological child, a stepchild, a sibling, a foster child, a step sibling, or half sibling. Descendants of these are also qualifying.
- Your child is required to have lived in your home over six months of the year.
- You must be older than the child.
- The child is required to be less than 19 years old (24 if a fulltime student).
- Your child cannot have paid over half of their living expenses in the year.
There are some cases where you can file taxes as head of household although you cannot claim the child as a dependent. If you are separated or divorced and your child lived with you over half the tax year, you can use head of household status even though the child’s other parent claims your child on their taxes.
Even if the dependent in question doesn’t meet the qualifying child criteria, you might still be able to file taxes as head of household. If they lived in your house over half the year, and you provided over half of their financial support, these relatives are qualifying dependents:
- Your father or mother
- Your stepmother, stepfather, nephew, niece, sibling of a parent, daughter-in-law, son-in-law, mother-in-law, father-in-law, sister-in-law, brother-in-law
- Your stepchild, sibling, foster child, or biological child (including their descendants) if they are totally and permanently disabled, regardless of age
You might also be able to use head of household status if you provided over half the expenses for the main home of your parents during the full year and can claim them as a dependent, even if they didn’t live with you.
Maintaining the Household
To “maintain the household”, you are required to pay over half the expenses of maintaining the household. This includes mortgage or rent, property taxes, insurance, utility bills, repairs, groceries, and any other common expense.
Even if you get financial help from someone, you still qualify if you pay over half the bills with your own money.
You may save some money on your taxes if you qualify to file as head of household. If you think you may be eligible, spend some time understanding the requirements or seek out professional tax assistance.