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5 Tax Tips for Single Parents

Updated for Tax Year 2015


Filing taxes as a single parent requires coordination between you and your ex-spouse or partner. Usually the custodial parent claims the child as a dependent, but there are exceptions. A single parent is allowed to claim applicable deductions and exemptions for each qualifying child. Even though you claim your child as a dependent, she may still have to file her own tax return if she has income, such as from an after-school job.

Determine where the child lives

Usually the parent who has custody of the child claims the child on his or her tax return. However, there may be an exception. Where the child spends the majority of his time can be a factor as to which parent can claim a deduction, credit or exemption, according to Bill Symons, accountant and president of Computer Accounting Systems in Oswego, New York. “The Internal Revenue Service can disregard the divorce decree or separation agreement when it comes to custody. When a child lives with one parent for more than half of the year, even if it's not the custodial parent, the IRS is likely to grant that parent the right to claim the child on the tax return. The IRS considers where the child sleeps as a strong determining factor.”

tax tips for single parents

Filing as head of household

Choosing to file as head of household usually allows you a higher standard deduction and reduces your taxable income. To qualify for head of household, you must:

  • Pay more than 50 percent of the household expenses;
  • Be unmarried on the last day of the tax year, and;
  • Have your child live with you for more than six months of the year, except for being at school.

TurboTax can help you determine whether you qualify for head of household status.

The dependent exemption

The IRS allows an exemption for each of your qualifying children until they reach 19 years old, or 24 if a full-time student for at least 5 months of the year, or any age if they are permanently and totally disabled at any time during the year. This amount is subtracted from your adjusted gross income, helping to reduce the amount of tax you pay.

To claim the exemption, the child must be your daughter or son, stepchild, foster child or legally adopted child at the end of the tax year. You can’t claim the exemption, however, if the child provided more than half of her own support for the year.

Claiming the child tax credit

If you file as non-married head of household making less than $75,000 in the tax year, you might also be eligible to claim the child tax credit. This credit can decrease your taxes by $1,000 per qualifying child. If there is a remaining credit balance left over after subtracting the credit from your income taxes, you can get that back as a tax refund. To qualify, your child will need to meet six tests: age, relationship, support, dependent, citizenship, and residence.

Include the dependent care credit

The IRS allows single parents to claim a percentage of child care expenses paid that allow them to work outside the home or look for work. Child care expenses can be claimed for children 12 years and younger. The amount allowed is up to $3,000 for one child and $6,000 for two or more children.

Only the custodial parent can claim the dependent care credit, even if the other parent claimed the dependent exemption. If the child turned 13 years old during the tax year, you may claim a credit only for the portion of the year that he was 12. When you use TurboTax to prepare your taxes, we’ll handle all of these calculations.

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The above article is intended to provide generalized financial information designed to educate a broad segment of the public; it does not give personalized tax, investment, legal, or other business and professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional who knows your particular situation for advice on taxes, your investments, the law, or any other business and professional matters that affect you and/or your business.

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