Explore All Topics

Qualifying dependents 101: Rules for claiming dependents on taxes

5 min read

5 min read

Little (or not so little) people can make a big difference when it comes time for tax filing. For this reason, you should tune your ears into the criteria for a qualifying dependent. Take note – there are some sweet tax benefits that can come along with claiming dependents on taxes.

To claim qualifying dependents, you must dig into the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) dependent eligibility rules before you file. Read on to hear the details about claiming a dependent on taxes and other complementary IRS dependent rules. The rules can be a bit tricky, but don’t worry; we’re here to help you understand them!

Who can you claim as a dependent?

First thing’s first – we’ll cover what a tax dependent is. At a high-level, you can only claim dependents who are either a qualifying child or a qualifying relative. But who is that really? Let’s dive into the details, so it’s clear if your dependent qualifies or not.

Rules for any dependents (child or relative):

  • All dependents must be a United States citizen, resident of the United States, or resident of Mexico or Canada (with certain adopted children as an exception).
  • Dependents can’t file a joint return (unless it’s to receive a claim of refund of all taxes withheld or estimated taxes paid).
  • You also can’t claim a dependent if you or your spouse (if filing jointly) could be claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer, with exceptions.

Qualifying dependent (child) requirements

  • The qualifying person must be your child, stepchild, foster child, sibling, or half sibling (or the descendent of any of these)
  • The child must be under the age of 19 and be younger than you (or your spouse), or
    • Be under age 24, be a full-time student and be younger than you, or
    • Be permanently and totally disabled regardless of age
  • The child must have lived with you for more than half the year with exceptions for temporary absences
  • The child must not have provided more than half of their own support for the year

Qualifying dependent (relative) requirements

  • The person can’t be anyone’s qualifying child
  • The person must either be:
    • Related to you in one of the following ways as a:
      • Child, stepchild, or foster child
      • Sibling, half-sibling, or step-sibling
      • Step-parent
      • Child of your sibling or half-sibling
      • Sibling of your parents
      • In-law such as daughter or son-in-law, father or mother-in-law, as well as a brother or sister-in-law
    • Or, the person must live with you the entire year as a member of your household
  • The person’s gross income for the 2023 tax year must be below $4,700 (for 2023)

Common questions about claiming dependents on taxes

Qualifying dependents is a more complex tax issue, and we get a lot of questions about it. If you’re stumped about one of the more challenging aspects of claiming dependents, let’s clear the fog. Here are some of the most frequent questions, answered!

1. “Someone has already claimed me as a dependent. Do I have to file a tax return?”

Even if someone else, like a parent, claims you on their own tax return, you may still be required to file your own return. Filing requirements vary with annual income, marital status, Earned Income Tax Credit requirements, and other factors. (Related: “Do I need to file a tax return?”)

2. “My girlfriend and her children live with me. Can I claim them as dependents?”

You might be able to claim your girlfriend as a dependent if she is not required to file a tax return, and in-fact does not do so (unless merely to receive a refund of withholding).

Even though your girlfriend’s daughter would typically be your girlfriend’s dependent child, if your girlfriend doesn’t have a filing requirement and doesn’t file an income tax return (unless merely to receive a refund of withholding), your girlfriend’s daughter may be considered your qualifying child if the other requirements for that status are met.

Just ensure you follow the IRS dependent rules listed above, and you should be in the clear.

3. “How do the dependency rules factor into claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit?”

It’s important to note there isn’t a general requirement where a qualifying child be the dependent for Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) purposes as these rules are slightly different.

In order to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, you must have at least one “qualifying child” under the rules for qualifying children except that there is no support requirement. Also, a qualifying child must have lived with you in the United States for more than half the year and have a valid Social Security number for U.S. employment.

A child can be a qualifying child of only one taxpayer, with exceptions for divorced parents. That means tax benefits such as the Child Tax Credit and EITC can’t be split. If there are two or more adults in the house, such as a parent and a grandparent, specific rules govern which one may claim the child.

4. “If my dependent didn’t maintain residency with me for the entire year, can I still claim them as a dependent?”

Yes, it’s possible. For you to claim them under the qualifying child rules, a tax dependent must meet the above requirements. Some exceptions are available.

Dependent rules require that the dependent must have lived with you for more than half of the year. If your child was born or died during the year and lived with you, your home was the child’s home for the entire time.

Additionally, if you meet the dependency criteria, certain temporary absences won’t prevent you from taking the dependency exemption.

IRS approved temporary absences generally include:

  • Business
  • Education
  • Illness
  • Juvenile detention
  • Medical care
  • Military service
  • Vacation

5. “Can I claim my spouse as a dependent?”

Unfortunately, your spouse is never considered a dependent and you can’t claim dependent-connected benefits for your spouse.

Get help with claiming dependents

After reading this resource, we hope you have a better understanding about who and what qualifies as a dependent and the general rules for claiming a dependent.

For additional assistance with claiming a dependent on taxes, we can help! Whether you make an appointment with one of our knowledgeable tax pros or choose one of our online tax filing products, you can count on H&R Block to help you navigate the rules for claiming a dependent family member on your taxes.

Was this topic helpful?