Income Tax Filing Status
Before you can file your tax return, you must first determine your filing status. Your filing status determines your correct tax, filing requirements, and standard deduction. It also determines whether you can or cannot claim certain other deductions and credits.
There are five filing statuses; however, you are only allowed to use one when filing your taxes. If you are unsure about which filing status is best for you, consult your tax preparer. They are also explained in detail below.
- Your filing status is single if, on the last day of the year, you are unmarried or legally separated from your spouse under a divorce or separate maintenance decree.
- This is your filing status if you do not qualify for any other filing status.
- The standard deduction is $6,300 for the 2016 tax year, with an additional $1,550 for each spouse age 65 or older, or blind.
Married Filing Jointly (MFJ)
- You can choose married filing jointly as your filing status if you are married and both you and your spouse agree to file a joint return.
- The standard deduction is $12,600 for the 2016 tax year, with an additional $1,250 for each spouse age 65 or older, or blind.
Married Filing Separately (MFS)
- This is your filing status if you are married and but file a separate return from your spouse. If you choose to file married filing separately, special rules apply. Because of these rules, you will usually pay more tax on a married filing separate return than any other filing status to which you qualify.
- If one spouse itemizes, you too must itemize your deductions.
- This status may be beneficial if you want to be responsible for your own tax, resulting in a lower tax obligation than a joint return.
- The standard deduction is $6,300 for the 2016 tax year, with an additional $1,250 for each spouse age 65 or older, or blind.
Head of Household (HOH)
You may be able to file HOH if you meet the following requirements:
- You are unmarried or considered unmarried on the last day of the year.
- You can file HOH if you paid more than half the cost of maintaining a home during the year.
- A qualifying person must have lived with you in the home for more than half the year, except for temporary absences, or when the person is out of the home for a period of time but intends to return.
- If the qualifying person is your dependent parent, they do not have to live with you, but you must have paid more than half the cost of maintaining a home that was the primary home of the parent for the entire year.
- The standard deduction is $9,300 for the 2016 tax year, with an additional $1,550 for each spouse age 65 or older, or blind.
You cannot file head of household using a person as your dependent only because:
- They lived with you the entire year, or
- You are entitled to claim them under a multiple support agreement.
For tax purposes, you are considered unmarried on the last day of the tax year if you meet all of the following tests:
- You file a separate return.
- You paid more than half the cost of maintaining your home for the tax year.
- Your spouse did NOT live in your home during the last 6 months of the tax year. Your spouse is considered to live in your home even if he/or she is temporarily absent due to special circumstances, such as being on a business trip, in the hospital or being deployed with the military.
- Your home was the main home of your child, stepchild, or eligible foster child for more than half the year.
- You must be able to claim an exemption for the child. You can still meet this test if you cannot claim the exemption only because the noncustodial parent is allowed to claim the exemption for the child.
Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child (QW)
- This status may apply if you have lost a spouse, have a dependent child, and meet other conditions.
- You have to have paid more than half the cost of maintaining a primary home for you and your child for the entire year, except for temporary absences.
- If you have not remarried, you can use this as your filing status for 2 years following the death of your spouse. This gives you the benefit of using the joint filing rates and the highest standard deduction amount.
- If you spouse died during the tax year, you may file a joint tax return using MFJ.
- The MFJ standard deduction may apply for the 2016 tax year, with an additional $1,250 for each spouse age 65 or older, or blind.
- Your marital status on the last day of the year determines your filing status for the entire tax year.
- A spouse can never be claimed as a dependent, even if he/she had no income.
- The names and Social Security Numbers (SSNs) of each person on your return must match those on file with the Social Security Administration (SSA). If a name is changed for any reason, it needs to be updated with the SSA.
- When newly married, each spouse should review, and probably change, their Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, to reflect the change in filing status.
- For federal tax purposes, the IRS will treat same-sex couples, legally married in jurisdictions that recognize their marriages, as married regardless of where they currently reside.
Updated for 2015 Tax Year