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Let's Talk Taxes
Head of Household: Your Taxes Explained
Andrey Popov/AdobeStock
AnnaMarie Houlis
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Journalist & travel blogger
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Tax season is among us. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that tax season opened on Monday, January 28, 2019, when the IRS began accepting paper and electronic tax returns.

For some of us, the start of tax season summons regrets of not saving all of those receipts the last 12 months — and it can be mildly anxiety-inducing, to say the least. For others, however, tax season could mean a big chunk of change coming soon, and that's exciting.

Whatever the case, tax season is inevitable. And you're going to need to figure out how to file. 

Head of Household, for example, is one of the most misunderstood tax filing statuses that can lead to great tax benefits for those who qualify if done correctly. Here's everything you need to know about filing your taxes as the head of household.

What Is the Head of Household?

The head of household, generally speaking, is the person whose earnings support the household.

Basically, to qualify for head of household status, you must be either unmarried (and pay more than 50 percent of the costs of keeping up a home for yourself and your dependent(s) or other qualifying individuals) or considered unmarried on the last day of the year.

You are considered unmarried on the last day of the tax year if you meet all the following requirements, according to the IRS:

  1. You file a separate return. A separate return includes a return claiming married filing separately, single, or head of household filing status.

  2. You paid more than half the cost of keeping up your home for the tax year.

  3. Your spouse didn't live in your home during the last six months of the tax year. Your spouse is considered to live in your home even if he or she is temporarily absent due to special circumstances.

  4. Your home was the main home of your child, stepchild or foster child for more than half the year.

  5. You must be able to claim the child as a dependent. However, you meet this test if you can't claim the child as a dependent only because the noncustodial parent can claim the child using the rules described later in Children of divorced or separated parents (or parents who live apart) under Qualifying Child or in Support Test for Children of Divorced or Separated Parents (or Parents Who Live Apart) under Qualifying Relative.

If you are considered unmarried, you may be able to file as head of household or as a qualifying widow(er).

To figure out if you paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home, you must first determine the total cost, including the following expenses:

  • Mortgage interest
  • Rent
  • Utilities
  • Insurance
  • Property taxes
  • Repairs and maintenance
  • Other household expenses (such as food eaten within the home)

"If you were considered married for part of the year and lived in a community property state, special rules may apply in determining your income and expenses," according to the IRS.

Who Are Qualifying Persons?

1. Qualifying child

"The requirement for a qualifying child or dependent extends beyond just your own son or daughter," according to TurboTax. To be considered a qualifying child, the child must meet the following criteria:

  • The child must be your biological 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.
  • At of the end of the tax year, the child must be under 19 years old if he or she is not a student, or under 24 if he or she 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," according to TurboTax. "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."

2. 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," according to TurboTax. The following relatives are considered qualifying dependents for the head of household filing status so long as you provided more than half of his or her financial support and he or she lived with you for more than half of the year:

  • Your biological 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 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 father or mother did not live with you for more than half of the tax year, you may still qualify to file as head of household," according to TurboTax. "If you paid for more than half of the living expenses for your parent's main home throughout the entire tax year and you are eligible to claim him as a dependent, then you may file as head of household."

What is the Difference Between "Single" and "Head of Household" on Taxes?

The Head of Household filing status has some significant tax advantages over the Single filing status. For one, if you qualify as the Head of Household, you will have a lower tax rate and a higher standard deduction than a Single filer. And, also, as the Heads of Household, you must have a higher income than Single filers before they owe income tax.

How Does the Head of Household File Taxes?

Collect the paperwork either in person or via online tax portals. Indicate that you're the head of your household by selecting the "head of household" box on the Filing status line at the top of Form 1040.

If the child who qualifies you for this filing status isn't claimed as your dependent in the Dependents section of Form 1040, enter the child's name in the entry space at the far right of the filing status checkboxes (next to "Qualifying Widow(er)"). Use the Head of a household column of the Tax Table or Section D of the Tax Computation Worksheet to figure your tax.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.

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