Claiming head of household for taxes
If you’ve filed taxes in the past, you might be familiar with filing statuses. While terms like “Single,” “Married Filing Jointly,” and “Married Filing Separately” seem fairly clear, “Head of Household” may have you scratching your head.
Read on to get a handle on the nuances of who can claim Head of Household, including Head of Household requirements, and other important details for filing your tax return.
First, let’s start with a quick definition. Head of Household (HOH) is a filing status you can claim if you’re single or unmarried and maintain a home for a qualifying person, such as a child or relative. The Head of Household vs. Single status provides a larger standard deduction and more generous tax rates for calculating federal income tax.
Requirements for claiming Head of Household status
You know you are the heart of your household, but would the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) consider you the Head of Household? There are certain rules you must meet to claim the Head of Household tax filing status.
1. You must be unmarried on the last day of the tax year or “considered unmarried”.
Marital status is always determined on the last day of the taxable year. So, if you weren’t married during the year or are legally separated, divorced, or separate maintenance at midnight on December 31, you are considered unmarried in the IRS’ eyes.
To file as HOH and are “considered unmarried” you need to:
- File a separate return from your spouse
- Live apart from your spouse during the last six months out of the tax year (temporary absences such as a job assignment, military deployment, or temporary incarceration usually still count as living together)
2. You must have paid more than half of the cost of maintaining a household for the year.
To file as Head of Household, you must have also paid more than half the cost of maintaining a household for the year.
The costs within a taxable year used to make this determination include:
- Mortgage interest
- Real estate taxes
- Insurance on the home
- Property taxes
- Grocery expenses
You can’t count the following expenses:
- Medical treatment or medical insurance premiums
- Life insurance
- Restaurant expenses
- Mortgage principal
- Rental value of a home
- Services provided by you or other members of the household
If the total amount paid is more than the amount others paid, including government assistance programs or child support, then you meet the requirement of paying more than half the cost of maintaining the household for the year.
3. You must have maintained a household for a qualifying person:
Your home must have been the principal place of living for you and your qualifying person (who meets the qualifying child or relative test). Relationships include:
- Your qualifying child (such as your son, daughter, grandchild, adopted child, eligible foster child, or stepchild) who lives with you more than half the year and meets other requirements.
- Your qualifying relative who is your father or mother and meets other requirements.
- A qualifying relative other than your parent (such as a grandparent, brother, or sister) who meets other requirements including living with you more than half the year.
There’s one exception to this rule: If you plan to file your tax return as Head of Household because you think you meet the criteria to be considered unmarried for tax purposes, the qualifying person is limited to your child (including adopted child), stepchild, or eligible foster child.
If you plan to file as Head of Household with your parent as a qualifying person, the parent does not have to live with you more than half the year.
Financial benefits for Head of Household
With the rules related to Head of Household filing eligibility, you might wonder why you bother with it all. But there’s a good reason to see if you qualify. In fact, filing as Head of Household comes with financial benefits.
1. Lower tax rates:
Filing as Head of Household often benefits you from more favorable tax rates than other filing statuses. When you’re in a lower tax bracket, it can reduce your overall tax liability—and maybe even the amount of taxes you owe.
2. Higher standard deduction rates:
The standard deduction is a fixed amount that reduces your taxable income, so taking a higher deduction can lower your taxable income and ultimately reduce your tax liability. Your filing status impacts your standard deduction amounts.
Check out the table below that compares the standard deduction amounts for Head of Household vs. Single filers.
Standard deduction – 2023
$13,850 (per person)
Head of Household
$20,800 (per person)
For more about the Head of Household filing status, see Publication 501: Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information at www.irs.gov.
Can two people claim Head of Household?
A commonly asked question is, “Can there be two head of households at an address?” And the answer is “yes,” but the devil is in the details.
- There can’t be two head of households per household. This is because of the requirement that the Head of Household paid more than 50% of the total household expenses. Two people in one household can’t both pay more than 50%.
- There can be two households per home. This scenario works if both taxpayers paid more than 50% of the qualifying expenses in their respective households.
Consider this example showing how the second situation can work: Ned moves in with a friend named Freddy, and each has children. Ned and Freddy have their own bedrooms and bathrooms, don’t share groceries, or cover each other on insurance, and each pays rent and utilities. This is an instance of two separate households: Ned and Freddy may potentially both be eligible to file using the HOH filing statuses if they meet the IRS requirements.
Get help filing your taxes as Head of Household
Tax laws can be tricky and tax preparation can get complicated, so it’s essential to get expert guidance to ensure you understand the specific benefits available to you when filing as Head of Household.
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