Law & Legal & Attorney Tax Law

Single Vs. Head of the Household on Your Taxes

    Single Filer Requirements

    • Of all the filing statuses the IRS offers taxpayers, preparing your return as a single taxpayer is by far the easier one for which to qualify. All that the IRS requires is that you not be legally married by the last day of the tax year. This includes finalizing your divorce by the last day of the tax year or obtaining a legal separation from your spouse. The single filing status is not available to married taxpayers who choose not to file a joint return. Instead, these taxpayers must file as married filing separately.

    Head of Household

    • To file as head of household, there are a number of requirements you must satisfy first. You must be unmarried, or considered unmarried, by the last day of the tax year. The IRS considers you unmarried, despite the fact that you and your spouse don't have a legal separation agreement or divorce decree, if you live in separate households for at least the last six months of the tax year. However, the separate households you both maintain must not be temporary, such as for a long-term work assignment of one spouse. In addition, you must be responsible for more than half the cost of maintaining a home and claim a dependent who resides with you for more than half the tax year.

    Standard Deduction Implications

    • The IRS allows all taxpayers to claim a standard deduction that reduces taxable income. However, not all standard deductions yield the same tax savings. Although the deduction amount changes each year for inflation, a head of household filer always receives a larger standard deduction than single filers. In 2011 for example, a single taxpayer receives $5,800, while a head of household filer is eligible for a standard deduction of $8,500.

    Tax Rate Differences

    • The most significant difference between the two filing statuses is the tax brackets that each taxpayer must use to calculate tax liability. Federal tax law imposes the same six rates of tax on your taxable income, which are 10, 15, 25, 28, 33 and 35 percent. However, each rate applies to different ranges of taxable income. These income ranges vary depending on the filing status you use. For example, in 2011 a single taxpayer pays a 10 percent tax on his initial $8,500 of taxable income, but head of household filers enjoy the 10 percent rate on their initial taxable income up to $12,150.

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