Taxpayers who qualify for the Head of Household filing status benefit from a higher standard deduction and lower tax rates compared to the single filing status. The criteria for head of household status are very specific. Please read over the following content carefully.
- You are unmarried or considered unmarried on the last day of the year.
- You paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for the year.
- One or more qualifying persons lived with you in the home for more than half the year. There are two exceptions to the residency requirement for temporary absences and for dependent parents. These exceptions are discussed below.
What Makes You Considered UnmarriedNormally, a taxpayer must be unmarried on the last day of the year. Unmarried means a person is not married (either because he or she is single, divorced, or legally separated under a separate maintence decree). (Internal Revenue Code section 7703(a).) State law determines whether a person is married or not married; except in the case of same-sex married couples and domestic partners, whose marriages are not recognized by the federal government under the Defense of Marriage Act.
A taxpayer may be considered as if he or she is unmarried for the purpose of qualifying for head of household status. To be considered unmarried, the taxpayer needs to be legally married and has lived in a separate residence from his or her spouse for at least the last six months of the year (July through December). Furthermore, the taxpayer would need to file a tax return separate from his or her spouse, would need to provide for more than half the cost of maintaining a home for himself or herself, and would need to have a child, stepchild or foster-child residing at his or her home for more than half the year. (Internal Revenue Code section 7703(b), and Publication 501.)
A married person who is considered unmarried under the above criteria is eligible to file as head of household (instead of married filing separately), and may be eligible to claim various tax deductions and tax credits that are denied to the married filing separately status, such as the earned income tax credit, the child and dependent care tax credit, and the tax credits for higher education (Publication 504). Further, a married person who qualifies for head of household can choose either the standard deduction or itemized deductions, regardless of which method of deduction is used by the other spouse (Publication 501 and Publication 504). Normally, married persons who file separately must both use the standard deduction or itemize their deductions.
Who is a Qualifying PersonTo qualify for the head of household filing status, a qualifying person needs to live with the taxpayer in the taxpayer's home for more than half the year. The types of relatives who can be qualifying persons for head of household status differs from the types of relatives that are allowed as dependents. Only certain types of close relatives can be qualifying persons for the head of household filing status:
- Child, step child, adopted child, foster child, brother or sister, or a descendant of one of these whom you can claim as a dependent under the qualifying children rules;
- Child, step child, adopted child, foster child, brother or sister, or a descendant of one of these whom you would be able to claim as a dependent under the qualifying children rules but choose not to claim as a dependent because you released the dependent's exemption to the noncustodial parent;
- Mother or father who can be claimed as a dependent under the qualifying relative rules;
- Brother, sister, grandparent, niece, or nephew whom you can claim as a dependent under the qualifying relative rules.
Note that under the qualifying relative rules, some dependents do not need to live with the taxpayer all year. In particular, for the purpose of claiming a qualifying relative dependent, there is no residency requirement for children, grandchildren, siblings, and parents. However, for head of household purposes the dependent must reside with the taxpayer for more than half the year. So in cases where a person qualifies as a dependent but not as a qualifying person for head of household, the taxpayer might not be eligible for head of household status.
Support TestTo qualify for head of household status, a taxpayer needs to pay for more than half the cost of keeping up a home for the year. The cost of keeping up a home includes such expenses as rent, mortgage payments, property taxes, property insurance, repairs, utilities, and groceries. Taxpayers can use Worksheet 1 in Publication 501 to determine if they meet the support test. Costs not included in the support test are clothing, education, medical care, vacations, life insurance and transportation.
Residency Test and Temporary AbsencesTo qualify for head of household status, one or more qualifying persons must reside with the taxpayer at the taxpayer's household for more than half the year. There is an exception for temporary absences. During the period of temporary absences due to "illness, education, business, vacation, or military service," the taxpayer and the qualifying person are still considered to be residing in the same household. To count as a temporary absence, "It must be reasonable to assume the absent person will return to the home after the temporary absence. You must continue to keep up the home during the absence" (Publication 501).
There is a special exception for dependent parents. A parent can be a qualifying person for the purpose of qualifying for head of household status even if the parent does not reside at the same home as the taxpayer. However, the taxpayer still needs to be able to claim the parent as a dependent and would still need to meet the support test. "If your qualifying person is your father or mother, you may be eligible to file as head of household even if your father or mother does not live with you. However, you must be able to claim an exemption for your father or mother. Also, you must pay more than half the cost of keeping up a home that was the main home for the entire year for your father or mother. You are keeping up a main home for your father or mother if you pay more than half the cost of keeping your parent in a rest home or home for the elderly" (Publication 501).
- Internal Revenue Code section 2(b), which defines head of household; see also the related Treasury Regulations section 1.2-2
- Internal Revenue Code section 7703, which defines marital status for tax purposes; see also the related Treasury Regulations section 1.7703-1
- Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information, especially the section on head of household
- Publication 504, Divorced or Separated Individuals, especially the section on head of household
- Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax, especially the section on head of household