Tax Filing Status Options
One of the tax filing requirements of the IRS is for the taxpayer to identify their "status". This helps to determine what deductions or tax credits they may be eligible for, what the standard deduction amount will be, and their tax bracket. There are five options which are: single, married and filing separate, married and filing jointly, head of the household (HOH), and widower with dependent child. In some cases, more than one status may apply, knowing the difference between them can help a taxpayer determine the most favorable for them.
Single Filing Status
In order to claim the "single" status and check the box on line 1, you must not currently be married; either never married, legally separated by a decree of divorce or a widower that has yet to remarry (Note - if there is a dependent child to consider, qualifying widow or widower status could be sought).
Married Filing Jointly
In most cases, this tax status selection is more favorable for married couples with a single or majority earner. This is due to the elevated tax rate and possible deductions. A joint return utilizes the incomes and expenses of both parties. Married couples do not have to live together to file jointly and couples going through a divorce can still file jointly until the finalization of the arrangement. To file jointly with your spouse, check the box on line 2. Remember using this tax filing status will make both parties accountable for the tax, as well as any penalties or interest due on the return.
Married Filing Separate
The primary benefit of filing separately is each taxpayer is only responsible for the accuracy and timeliness of his or her return. Depending on the adjusted gross incomes of the two parties and the corresponding tax rates, married couples filing separately usually means there is a higher tax rate as well as both spouses having to forego tax benefits like the earned income credit (EIC) or child tax credit(s).
When a married couple files separately, they both must itemize or claim their standard deduction. This means if one spouse itemizes and the other is left with nothing to itemize, that party wouldn't be able to claim any standard deduction to help reduce their tax bill. In using this filing status, be sure to list your spouse's SSN or ITIN on your 1040 and check the box on line 3.
Read more on the differences in filing married jointly or separate.
Head of The Household
The Head of the Household (HOH) filing status can often be the most confusing of the five options. This is attributed to the complex circumstances surrounding the individuals needing to file under this status as well as all of the criteria required to file this way.
To state it plainly, the HOH status is for unmarried taxpayers who are the provider of a residence for certain other people. Now, there are extenuating circumstances for both married persons who live apart, considered unmarried and those persons who are married to nonresident aliens. Both of these circumstances will be covered later on. This filing status can also be taken for people who were declared unmarried or legally separated by a decree of divorce or separate maintenance at the end of the year. This type of taxpayer needs to pass either of these tests laid out by the IRS:
Test 1- Did the taxpayer pay at least half of the cost for keeping a residence, which was the main residence a parent(s) whom they can claim as a dependent? In other words, the parent(s) do not have to live with a taxpayer, but they do have had to support them.
Test 2- Did the taxpayer pay over half of the cost for keeping a residence, which was lived in by them and at least one of the following for over half the year?
- Anyone who claims you as a dependent. But not:
- Your qualifying child that was claimed as a dependent due to rules under children of divorced parents
- A person that is claimed as your dependent only because they lived with you the entire year
- Any person who is claimed as your dependent under a multiple support agreement
Your unmarried qualifying child which is not your dependent Your married qualifying child who is not your dependent because they can be claimed as such on someone else's return Your child who is not your dependent nor your qualifying child because of rules under the Children of divorced or separated parents
Read more on the qualifications for HOH filing
Widow(er) With Dependent Child
The final option, located on line 5, is reserved for widows and widowers who meet all of the following criteria:
- Had a spouse die in the last two years and did not remarry before the end of the filing year.
- Have a child or stepchild who claims the taxpayer as a dependent (including adopted children, but excluding foster children).
- The child lived in the taxpayer's home for all of the filing year. If not, the only exceptions are school, vacation, business, medical care, military service, or detention in a juvenile facility.
- Paid over half the cost of keeping a residence.
Q&A: What do I do if my spouse files a joint return without my approval?
If a spouse files a joint return for both of you without your approval and you wish to change your filing status to married filing separately, you will need to file a printed return through the mail. Unfortunately, once a return is accepted using your Social Security Number, you will not be able to electronically file another return in the same tax year. You can accompany the return with a letter detailing the problem and selected change in filing status.