The Head of Household Filing Status typically allows for a more generous tax situation to unmarried taxpayers who maintain a home for a qualifying person, such as a child or family relative.
• Head of Household filing status offers more generous tax brackets and standard deduction than filing single when maintaining a home for a qualifying person
• Qualifying persons can include a child or other dependent who meets certain eligibility criteria
• Heads of Household must pay more than half of the cost of keeping up a household and be considered unmarried on the last day of the year
• Can provide for higher income limits for certain tax credits
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.
TurboTax Tip: To be considered a head of household, you must file an individual return, be considered unmarried, not be claimed on someone else’s tax return and be able to claim a qualifying dependent on your return.
What are the advantages to filing as head of household?
The head of household filing status provides two primary benefits to you:
- More taxable income falling into lower tax brackets
- Higher standard deduction
If you file as a head of household, your taxable income will typically be taxed at a lower rate than you would filing a return as single or as married filing separately.
For example, in 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 to file as a 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 are only entitled to a $12,550 standard deduction.
Who is able to file as a head of household?
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 on the last day of the tax year, and
- You must have a qualifying child or dependent.
This tax filing status includes single parents and divorced or legally separated parents with custody of the child. Further, you can also be an adult who provides support for a parent 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 cost 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, insurance, property taxes, groceries, repairs and 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 are paying for more than 50 percent 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 unless the only reason that you can't claim the child is because the noncustodial parent can claim the child under certain rules.
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?
The eligibility of 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.
What is a qualifying 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 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 he or she does not meet the age requirements to be a qualifying child.
- Your parent.
- Your stepparent, niece, nephew, a sibling of one of your parents, or your son-in-law, daughter-in-law, parent-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 as your parent's main home throughout the entire tax year and you are eligible to claim them as a dependent, then you may be able to file as head of household. This can also include a care facility where they lived during the year.
How does the head of household status compare to other filing statuses?
Head of household filing status has a more favorable standard deduction amount and lower tax brackets than filing single, but not as favorable as married filing joint.
Head of household vs single
Head of household filers can have a lower taxable income and greater potential refund than when using 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 that allows more of their taxable income to fall into lower tax brackets.
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. 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 joint.
Can two people file head of household on their return?
Two people cannot file as head of household on the same return. If they are married then they typically must either file as married filing jointly on the same return or married filing separately on separate returns.
Two people can both claim head of household while living in the same home however, but 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)
- They both must have paid more than half of the cost of of keeping up the portion of the home for themselves and their dependent(s).
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 as a dependent to file using the head of household status. However, if you are a custodial parent, you may be eligible to file using the head of household filing status if you can't claim the child as a dependent only because the non-custodial parent can claim the child when meeting these rules:
- You’re unmarried or considered unmarried on the last day of the year
- The child received over half of their support from the parents.
- The child is in the custody of one or both parents for more than half of the year
- You sign a written declaration that you won't claim the child as a dependent for the year and the non-custodial parent includes it with their tax return
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 than when filing as single, 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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