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Rules for claiming tax dependents

5 min read

5 min read

It can be challenging to understand whether you should file your own tax returns or have someone else claim you as a tax dependent.

If you’ve ever questioned, “Can I claim myself as a dependent?” The short answer is “no.” Like many other tax topics, there’s a fair share of rules around claiming dependents on taxes, which we’ll unpack below. We’ll also share the qualifying child and qualifying relative definitions, too, so you can better gauge the nuances of each.

What is a dependent?

A dependent is often thought of as someone financially taken care of by a parent or guardian, but for tax purposes, we need to dig deeper.

Claiming dependents on taxes: Benefits, qualifications, and rules

Generally, to be claimed as a tax dependent, you must meet specific requirements related to relationship, age, residency, support, income, and more. These requirements vary based on whether the qualifying child or qualifying relative meets specific guidelines.  These guidelines can help you answer the question, “Who can I claim as a tax dependent?”

Qualifying child

Here are the criteria for being claimed as a qualifying child dependent:

  • You are a child, stepchild, foster child, sibling, half-sibling, stepsibling, or descendant of the taxpayer claiming you (most commonly your parent)
  • You lived with the taxpayer for more than half a year, with some exceptions
  • You are under 19 at the end of the taxable year and younger than the taxpayer claiming you, or
    • Are under 24 and a full-time student (at least five months), or
    • Are permanently and totally disabled
  • You didn’t provide more than one-half of your own financial support in a tax year
  • You are a U.S. citizen, resident, or national, or resident of Canada or Mexico
  • You can’t file a joint return (unless it’s to receive a claim of refund of taxes withheld or estimated taxes paid)

Qualifying relative

Here are the criteria for being claimed as a qualifying relative dependent:

  • You don’t qualify as a qualifying child of any other taxpayer
  • You lived with the taxpayer the entire year
  • You are related to the taxpayer in one of the following ways:
    • You are a parent, grandparent, father-/mother-in-law, step-parent
    • You are the aunt/uncle, niece /nephew, brother-/sister-in-law, or son-/daughter-in-law

Additionally, the same criteria must be met:

  • The taxpayer who claims you provided more than half of your total financial support
  • Your gross income was less than $4,700 in tax year 2023
  • You are a U.S. citizen, resident, or national, or resident of Canada or Mexico
  • You can’t file a joint tax return with a spouse, unless the return is filed only to claim a full refund of income tax withholding or estimated taxes paid

Claiming dependents on taxes: FAQs

We’re often asked questions related to claiming dependents on taxes. Follow along as we share answers to frequently asked questions so you can pinpoint your specific circumstance, so you know exactly how to file this tax season:

“Can I claim myself as a dependent?”

If you’re tax filing as an individual, you generally can’t claim yourself as a dependent. See the definitions above for details.

“Can you claim the personal exemption as a tax dependent?”

Personal exemptions don’t exist in the current tax code due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), but we hear the question from time to time as people remember the rules prior to the TCJA. Technically, the personal exemption amount is zero from 2018 through 2025. As a dependent, you can’t claim the personal exemption, even if the person you are the dependent of doesn’t file with you listed as a dependent.

“Can my parents claim me as a dependent?”

If you are a young adult who meets the dependency qualifications above, your parent can claim you as a dependent.

If you’re a parent wondering, “Who can I claim as a dependent?” you can claim a tax dependent if they meet the qualifying child or relative test parameters listed above.

“If my parents claim me, do I lose money?”

If a parent claims you as a dependent on their taxes, while they gain the ability to claim certain tax benefits associated with having a dependent, generally the dependent won’t lose out on money directly.

It’s important to note that each tax situation is unique, and the impact on your finances depends on various factors, including your income, tax credits, and tax deductions.

“Should my parents claim me as a dependent?”

When a parent or caregiver claims a tax dependent, they also can gain eligibility for certain tax benefits, like the Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Credit (also called the Earned Income Tax Credit), the Dependent Care Credit, or education-related credits. These benefits can help reduce the tax liability of the person claiming you as a dependent. Additionally, those who claim dependents who don’t qualify for the Child Tax Credit could potentially claim the Credit for Other Dependents.

Note: If you’re a student and your parent’s income is too high for them to benefit from education credits, it may be of value for them to not claim you on their tax return. (Related read: education credit income limits.) In this situation, if they don’t claim you as a dependent, you can claim the education credits on your return for your education expenses even though you are their dependent. In limited situations, the value of these education credits that you claim may be a greater value to you than the dependency exemption is to your parents.

“My child is over age 24, lives with me, and is a student. Can I claim them as a tax dependent?”

There are two dependent requirements where someone can claim an adult child who is 24 or older as a dependent:

  • If your child is permanently and totally disabled
  • If your child’s gross income is less than $4,700 for tax year 2023, and you provided more than half of their total support for the year

Claiming dependents: Final thoughts

It’s a good idea for parents and older kids to discuss dependency status before filing your tax return so everyone is on the same page. Then chat with a qualified tax professional to determine which course of action is right for you.

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 maximize your tax refund and get the most money back.

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