Being an adult is great. You get to be king or queen of your own castle — or head of the household, if you will.
It’s all fun and games until tax time rolls around, and then “head of the household” takes on an entirely different meaning.
Filing your taxes as head of household can seem vaguely intimidating, but it’s really nothing more than a designation by the IRS that may lower your tax bill and put more money in your pocket.
Definition of Head of Household
Head of household is a filing status the IRS uses to determine what tax bracket, tax credits and responsibilities apply to you during the course of a tax year.
To qualify as head of household, you’ll need to meet certain criteria.
1. You’re Not Married on the Last Day of the Year
Interestingly, you can be married the first 364 days of the year, but if you’re not legally married on Dec. 31, the IRS considers you unmarried for the entire year.
Don’t get any ideas about divorcing your spouse for a few days around the end of December just to file as head of household. If you turn around and get remarried any time during the following year, you’ll face tax consequences from the IRS.
The IRS also considers you unmarried for tax purposes if your home state has declared you legally separated from your spouse. Simply moving out of your shared home isn’t enough; you need to get in front of a judge to be granted a legal separation.
A court-decreed annulment also qualifies you as unmarried for tax purposes. You’ll need to fill out some extra paperwork, though, so be sure to check with the IRS or a professional tax preparer to find out exactly what you need to do.
2. You Paid More Than Half the Expenses for Keeping Up the Home During the Year
That means you must have paid more than half of all household bills, including rent or mortgage, groceries, utilities and insurance.
It’s OK if someone gave you money for something like child support during the year to help you cover the bills as long as you paid more than 50% of them with your own savings or money you earned.
3. You Must Have a Dependent Living in the Home With You for at Least Half the Year
Qualifying dependents include biological, step-, foster and adopted children, and your siblings. They must be under 19 if they are not a student, or under 24 if they are a full-time student. There is no age cap if the dependent child is permanently and totally disabled.
You can also claim parents, stepparents, grandparents and certain individuals who are related to you by marriage as dependents. The key is they must have lived with you for at least half the year, and you must have paid more than half of their financial support. You can still claim your parents if they don’t live with you as long as you pay for more than half of their living expenses.
Check the IRS website for a full list of qualifying dependents.
Filing Taxes as Head of Household
Most tax professionals advise taxpayers to file your tax return as head of household whenever possible to take advantage of available tax breaks that include:
- Larger standard deductions. People filing under a single or married filing separately status are entitled to a $12,550 deduction for the 2021 tax year. That figure jumps to $18,800 in 2021 if you file as head of household.
- Lower tax rate. Filing as head of household puts you in a different tax bracket than other filing statuses. That could mean you have less taxable income and lead to a lower tax bill or a larger tax refund.
- Higher income limits for stimulus checks: Like the other stimulus checks, reduced payment began for the third stimulus check at $75,000 for single users. However, if you’re the head of household, this phaseout doesn’t apply until your income is $112,500.
If you need help figuring out whether you qualify to file as head of household, try this interactive quiz on the IRS website to find out.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Head of Household
If you still have some questions about qualifying for head of household status, check our answers below to the most common questions.
Who Qualifies for Head of Household?
In order to qualify for head of household, you must be unmarried, legally separated, or divorced, cover more than half of the household’s expenses, and have a qualified dependent in the home. A qualifying dependent is most often a child under 19 years old (or 24 years old if they’re a full-time student), but can also include a person with disabilities or a financially-dependent family member who lives with you. Check the IRS website for a full list of qualifying dependents to see who qualifies.
What is the Difference Between Single and Head of Household?
While both single and head of household refers to unmarried individuals, the head of household must pay for more than half of the household’s expenses and support qualifying dependents. The benefit of filing head of household is a larger standard deduction, lower tax rate, and higher income limits for stimulus checks. For 2022, the standard deduction for single filers is $12,950, while the standard deduction for head of household is $19,400.
What Does it Mean to be the Head of Your Household?
This tax status allows you a larger standard deduction, lower tax rate, and higher income limits for stimulus checks.
Can you Claim Head of Household Without a Dependent?
No, a head of household status requires a qualifying dependent. You can, however, claim head of household without having a child. Other qualifying dependents include your mother or father, a relative who is permanently disabled, or other relatives that live with you and make less than $4,500 a year. Basically, if you financially support them and they live with you, they likely qualify as a dependent for head of household status.
Does Receiving Child Support Disqualify me from Claiming Head of Household?
As long as you’re paying for more than 50% of your household expenses out of your own income, you still qualify as head of household. Just remember that only one person can claim a dependent on their taxes
Can I File as Head of Household if I’m Married?
No, even if your spouse has no income, you can’t file as head of household if you’re married. You wouldn’t want to anyway. The standard deduction is higher for joint filers ($25,900) than head of household ($19,400).
Lisa McGreevy is a former staff writer at The Penny Hoarder and Whitney Hansen is a contributor and veteran personal finance writer.