Law & Legal & Attorney Tax Law

IRS Filing Status Rules


    • A taxpayer qualifies for single filing status if she is unmarried, divorced or legally separated from her spouse on the last day of the year. However, a person who qualifies for single status may also qualify for another filing status, such as head of household. Since the tax burden is usually less for the head of household status, it is to the taxpayer's advantage to file to carefully examine all the statuses for which he may qualify.

    Married Filing Jointly

    • Married couples have the option of filing a joint return. On a joint return a couple reports their combined income and takes their combined deductions. The total tax burden for couples filing jointly is usually lower than if they filed separately under other filing statuses. The couple may also qualify for tax benefits which they would not receive if they filed separately, according to the IRS website. The IRS may hold each of the spouses individually accountable for any penalties due on the joint return.

    Married Filing Separately

    • Spouses who want sole responsibility for paying their taxes may use the married filing separately status. Couples filing separately cannot take the earned income credit, various education credits or the deduction for tuition and fees. The child tax credit, first-time homebuyer credit and retirement savings contribution credit are 50 percent less for couples filing separately than for those filing jointly. Also, in most cases, you cannot take the credit for child and dependent care expenses.

    Head of Household

    • A taxpayer who is unmarried or "considered unmarried" may qualify for head of household status if she paid more than half the cost of maintaining a home during the year, and a qualifying person, typically a child or close relative who meets various age, residency and income criteria, lived with the taxpayer for more than six months of the year. To meet the standard of "considered unmarried," the taxpayer must file a separate return, pay more than half the expenses on his home, have his home as the main home of his child for more than half the year and be eligible to take a deduction for his child. Additionally, the spouse must not have lived in the taxpayer's home for the last six months of the year.

      Tax rates for head of household filers are generally lower than if they filed under the single or married filing separately statuses. They also have a higher standard deduction.

    Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child

    • A person whose spouse died in he last two years may warrant qualifying widow(er) with dependent child status. To qualify, the widow or widower cannot have remarried, must have a dependent child who lived with them the entire year, and must pay more than half of the expenses on her home and have been eligible to file a joint return the year her spouse died. Filing under this status lets a person get a joint return tax rate and the highest standard deduction.

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