When you prepare your federal income tax return, it's likely you want to seek every possible deduction to reduce the amount of tax you owe. One way to do this is by claiming your children and other qualifying relatives as dependents.
The article below is accurate for tax years prior to 2018. Some tax information has changed for tax years after 2017. Learn more about tax reform here.
For tax years beginning 2018, the 1040A and EZ forms are no longer available. They have been replaced with new 1040 and 1040-SR forms. For those who are filing prior year returns, you can continue to use form 1040A or EZ for tax years through 2017.
When you prepare your federal income tax return, it's likely you want to seek every possible deduction to reduce the amount of tax you owe. One way to do this is by claiming your children and other qualifying relatives as dependents. Each dependent claimed lowers your total taxable income by one exemption.
Each dependent must meet age, relationship, residency and support tests. Additionally, each person can only be claimed as a dependent on one income tax return per year. So if you share custody with a former spouse, only one of you can claim the child.
Step 1: Form 1040/1040A
Use either Form 1040 or Form 1040A to file your income taxes. Although Form 1040EZ is simpler to prepare, it doesn't permit you to claim dependents.
Step 2: Provide dependent information
On the first page to your tax return, you must enter the full names of your dependents, their Social Security numbers and their relationship to you. If you have more than four dependents, check the appropriate box and list their information on a separate page. Claiming a child generally requires that they live with you for more than half the year, they don't provide more than half of their own financial support and are under the age of 19, or under 24 if a full-time student. Claiming adults as your dependents is allowed if you satisfy similar requirements.
Step 3: Add the number of dependents claimed
You can claim one exemption for each dependent you claim plus one for yourself and one for your spouse. An exemption is a fixed amount that is subject to change each tax year and reduces your taxable income in the same way deductions do. In 2017 for example, the exemption amount is $4,050. You will multiply this amount by the number of exemptions you are allowed to take and enter the total on the second page of your tax return.
Step 4: Child tax credit
Evaluate whether you can claim the child tax credit. After entering all dependent information, the form allows you to check a box for each dependent that qualifies you to claim a child tax credit. Generally, you can claim the credit for any dependent children that are under the age of 17 at all times during the tax year. If you qualify, the credit offers a dollar-for-dollar reduction of your final tax debt for the year.