The head of household filing status typically offers more generous tax benefits to unmarried taxpayers who maintain a home for a qualifying person, such as a child or other relative.
What is the head of household filing status?
Head of Household filing status typically allows parents or adults with qualifying dependents who provide over half the cost of keeping up a home for a qualifying person to claim a higher standard deduction and be taxed at lower tax rates than single taxpayers or those who are married filing separately.
What are the benefits of filing as head of household?
The head of household filing status provides two main benefits:
- More taxable income falling into lower tax brackets
- A higher standard tax deduction
If you file as head of household, your taxable income will usually be taxed at a lower rate than if you had filed a return as single or as married filing separately. For example, for tax year 2021, the 12% tax rate applies to single filers with taxable income between $9,950 and $40,525. Taxable income above this is taxed at 22%.
If you qualify and file as head of household,
- You can have taxable income between $14,201 and $54,200 before moving out of the 12% tax bracket and into the 22% tax bracket.
- For example, if your taxable income is $50,000, filing as head of household results in $1,032.50 less in federal income taxes compared to filing as single.
Heads of household also receive a higher standard deduction than single or married filing separately taxpayers.
- The standard deduction for heads of household comes to $18,800 in 2021.
- Single and married filing separately taxpayers may only claim a $12,550 standard deduction.
Who is able to file as a head of household?
To qualify as head of household, you must:
- Pay for more than half of your household expenses
- Be considered unmarried for the tax year, and
- You must claim a qualifying dependent.
Heads of household can include:
- Single parents,
- divorced and legally separated parents, and
- other adults who provide support for a child or other relative under qualifying circumstances.
What is required for 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 a qualifying 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
- Property taxes
- Other common household expenses
In the case of a parent, your parent doesn’t need to live with you, but you must maintain at least half the cost of their living arrangements.
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're paying for more than 50% of the bills with your own earnings, savings, or capital.
What does “considered unmarried” mean for head of household filing status?
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, step child, 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.
What is a qualifying child?
To be considered a qualifying child or dependent, 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 they're not a student, or under 24 if they're a full-time college student.
- The child must not have paid for more than half of their living expenses during the tax year.
In some cases, you may be eligible to file as head of household even if you're 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.
What is a qualifying dependent?
If your dependent doesn't 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 the cost of maintaining the home and they 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 they do 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 parent 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 the cost of maintaining a home for your parent's main home throughout the entire tax year and you're eligible to claim them as a dependent, then you may be able to file as head of household.
How does the head of household status compare to other filing statuses?
Head of household filing status has more favorable standard deduction amounts and tax brackets than single filers, but less so than joint filers.
Head of household vs single
Head of household filers can have a lower taxable income and greater potential refund than the single filing status. The head of household status can claim a roughly 50% larger standard deduction than single filers ($18,800 vs $12,550). Heads of household can also use wider tax brackets on lower taxable income levels.
Head of household vs married filing jointly
Joint filers can’t file as heads of household but receive better standard deduction amounts as well as wider tax brackets on lower taxable income levels. Joint filers have a standard deduction twice as large as single filers and roughly 33% larger than heads of household ($25,100 vs. $18,800 for 2021).
What are the tax brackets for the head of household filing status?
Heads of household have more generous tax brackets than single or married filing separately filers. To see the 2021 head of household tax brackets and rates, use a Tax Bracket Calculator or see tax bracket information by year.
What is the standard deduction when filing as head of household?
The standard deduction for head of household is $18,800 for 2021, which is greater than the Single or Married Filing Separately filing statuses, but less than Married Filing Jointly.
Can two people file head of household on their return?
Two people cannot file as head of household on the same return. They must either file under the joint filer status or married filing separately on separate returns.
Two people can claim head of household while living at the same address, however, but you both will need to meet the criteria necessary to be eligible for head of household status:
- You must both be unmarried
- You must both be able to claim a dependent as a closely related person
- That dependent must reside at the same residence for more than half the year (or, in the case of an elderly parent, they can live elsewhere but you must still have provided them with at least half of their support)
Can I claim my boyfriend/girlfriend as a dependent and head of household?
Even if your boyfriend or girlfriend meets the IRS definition of “qualifying relative” dependent, you still cannot use the head of household filing status because this person is not related to you in the required ways.
Learn more about the rules of whether you can claim a boyfriend/girlfriend as a dependent on your income taxes.
Can you claim head of household and not claim a dependent?
Generally, you need to have a qualifying child or dependent claimed on your return to file using the head of household status. However, if you're a custodial parent, you may be eligible to file using the head of household filing status even though you aren’t entitled to claim your child as a dependent if you meet the following requirements:
- You’re unmarried or considered unmarried on the last day of the year
- You paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home that was your main home and the main home of your child for more than half of the year
- Your child counts as a qualifying child for purposes other than the dependency exemption and the child tax credit
How head of household filing status helps
Filing as head of household can place you in a lower tax bracket than you might be under the single or married filing separately filing statuses.
Further, head of household status enables you to claim a larger standard deduction, usually allowing you to pay less in taxes.
This filing status looks to help single parents or people with qualifying dependents keep more of their money to pay for the added cost of maintaining a home for a qualifying person.
You may face different requirements for your state-level tax filing status.
If you need help determining your filing status, you can visit the IRS filing status tool to learn more.
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