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Who Qualifies as a Dependent on Taxes?

While you may not be able to choose your family members, they can come in handy when tax season rolls around if you are able to claim them as a dependent. The IRS definition of a dependent for taxes falls into two groups of people; they are either a “qualifying child” or “qualifying relative.” Both of these groups have different eligibility rules.

Follow the test guidelines below to determine who can qualify as a dependent on your taxes. Additionally, the IRS website goes into further detail about the rules for claiming a dependent. Properly identifying your dependents can significantly impact your tax return by ensuring that you achieve accurate deductions for those that you care for.

Qualifying Child

  • Relationship. The child must be a son, daughter, stepchild, adopted child, foster child, or grandchild. They can also be a sibling, stepsibling, or niece or nephew.
  • Age. The child must be under 19 at the end of the year and younger than you (or your spouse if filing jointly), under age 24 if a full-time student and is younger than you (or your spouse if filing jointly), or any age if permanently and totally disabled.
  • Residency. The child must have lived with you for more than half of the year.
  • Support. The child cannot have provided more than half of their own support for the year.
  • Joint Return. The child cannot file a joint return.  A joint return can only be filed by the child and his or her spouse for the sole purpose of receiving a refund of income tax withheld or estimated tax paid.
  • Special Rule. Tiebreaker rules apply if it is determined that the child can be a qualifying dependent for more than one person. In that case, you must be entitled to claim the child according to IRS standards, which can be found on the IRS website.

Qualifying Relative

  • Not a Qualifying Child. The qualifying relative cannot be the qualifying child of you or another taxpayer.
  • Member of Household or Relationship. The person must either live with you for the entire year as a member of your household or be related to you. This can include a child that does not meet the qualifying child test, a relative such as a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or in-law, or someone unrelated to you that is a member of your household. 
  • Gross Income.  The qualifying relative’s gross income for the year must be less than $4,000. 
  • Support. You must provide more than half of the person’s total support during the calendar year. 

NOTE:

  • The standard deduction for a dependent is $4,050 for the 2016 tax year.  
  • A qualifying dependent must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or a resident of the U.S., Canada, or Mexico.  
  • A spouse can never be a dependent.   
  • If you can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return, you cannot claim anyone as a dependent. 
  • If you had a child on December 31, you can claim them as an exemption for the entire year. 
  • You are only allowed one exemption for each person that you claim as a dependent. 
  • A valid Social Security Number (SSN), Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), or Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number (ATIN) is needed to claim a dependent. 
  • Usually, the custodial parent, or parent who has physical custody of the child for the majority of nights during the year, is allowed to claim the exemption. However, there are instances when someone other than the custodial parent can claim the dependent. 
    • If the custodial parent signs a waiver – Form 8332, Release/Revocation of Claim to Exemption for Child of Custodian – the noncustodial parent can claim the exemption. This rule also applies to parents who were never married. 
    • For divorces finalized after 2008, the noncustodial parent cannot attach divorce paperwork to the tax return. Instead, Form 8332 or similar form with the custodial parent’s signature must be attached, and the custodial parent must state that they are releasing claim to the child without any conditions, such as the noncustodial parent only being able to claim the child if they pay child support. 
     

Refer to our Tax Glossary for a complete list of definitions and explanations of commonly used tax terms.

Updated for 2016 Tax Year