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How to Use Head of Household Status to File Your Taxes

How to Use Head of Household Status to File Your Taxes
Ines Zemelman, EA
04 March 2022

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, a tax return for head of household can result in lower taxes than single status.  This article will help you to understand how to qualify for head of household filing status.

What qualifies you to file head of household or when can you file head of household:

  • 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.

Considered unmarried

Taxpayers filing as head of household must be “considered unmarried” at the end of their tax year. This is one of the important head of household criteria. 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

If the circumstances of your separation are temporary, the IRS will consider you married for tax purposes. Qualifying temporary separations include military deployment, staying in a medical treatment facility or going to college.

Qualifying Child

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.

Qualifying Dependent

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 (head of household expenses criteria) 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

You need to have paid more than half the costs of keeping up a home for the year. That includes your rent or mortgage payment, property taxes, utilities, repairs, maintenance and groceries. You can’t include things like clothing, life insurance or transportation. Receiving child support or alimony doesn’t prevent you from claiming head of household as long as you’re paying more than 50% of your household costs from your own income or savings.

Even if you get financial help from someone, you still qualify if you pay over half the bills with your own money.

Advantages of using Head of Household Status 

Does filing head of household get you more money? Claiming “head of household” as your filing status (head of household filing status vs single or married filing separately) benefits you in two ways. First, you’ll get a lower tax rate. For tax year 2021, for example, the 12% tax rate applies to single filers with an adjusted gross income that’s between $9,950 and $40,525. If you file as head of household, however, you can earn between $14,201 and $54,200 before surpassing the 12% tax bracket.

Head of household filers also benefit from a higher standard deduction. For the 2021 tax year, the deduction for single filers is $12,550, but it climbs almost 50% more to $18,800 for those filing head of household. Deductions reduce your taxable income for the year, which can bring your tax bill down or bump up the size of your refund.

Do I qualify to file as head of household if I am single?

Can you file head of household if you are single? If you both are unmarried and have children from previous relationships, each of you can file as heads of household as long as you’re adhering to the IRS guidelines (including each of you is paying for more than half of your home costs – e.g., you’re evenly splitting the rent and utilities and each of you pays for your own food).

If you have a child together, only one of you can claim HOH status with that child in mind (the IRS says that a child can be only one person’s dependent.)

In the case where only one of you has a child from a previous relationship, the biological parent can claim HOH status – and the other can claim single status. But if the biological parent doesn’t work outside the home, the earning partner could claim HOH status. In order to claim both the child and non-earning partner as qualifying dependents, the following would have to be true:

  • You provided more than half of their total support for the year.
  • They lived with you legally as members of your household for the entire year.
  • Neither had a gross income that exceeds $4,300.
  • Neither is someone’s qualifying child.

Can I File as Head of Household If There Are No Children?

If there are no children, you can still claim a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend as a qualifying dependent, as long as you meet the following is true:

  • The significant other lived with you legally the whole year.
  • You provided more than half his or her total support for the year.
  • His or her income does not exceed $4,300.
  • He or she is not someone’s qualifying child.

What makes you head of household If you are Married?

If you have a spouse, it’s likely more beneficial tax-wise to file jointly. But if you are filing separately, you can claim head of household status if you meet these three criteria:

  • Your spouse did not live with you the last six months of the year.
  • You provided the main home of the qualifying child and paid for more than half the home costs.
  • You are claiming your child as a dependent.

Conclusion

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.

Ines Zemelman, EA
Founder of TFX