Determining Tax Filing Status
Determining Tax Filing Status Overview
The first step in filing your taxes is determining your tax filing status. Generally, your marital status on the last day of the year determines your status for the entire year. If you're unmarried, or legally separated from your spouse under a divorce or separate maintenance decree and you don't qualify for another status, your filing status is single.
However, your status isn't just limited to whether you're married. After all, the IRS allows the following five statuses:
- Married filing jointly
- Married filing separately
- Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child
- Head of household
Depending on which status you qualify for, you could be eligible for certain deductions and credits to reduce your tax exposure. Below is an overview of information to help in determining your tax filing status.
Marriage Filing Statuses
If you're married by the last day of the year, you and your spouse may file joint or separate returns. However, if you're legally separated from your spouse on the last day of the year, even though married for the rest of the year, you're still considered single for tax purposes.
If you experienced the unfortunate death of your spouse in the current tax year, you can still file a joint return with that spouse, so long as you haven't remarried before the end of the year. However, the current year would be the last year for which you may file a joint return with that spouse.
When it comes to determining your marriage status, the IRS relies on the laws of your state governing marriage and separation or divorce.
Qualifying Widow(er) With Dependent Child
If your spouse died during the previous two years, you may be able to file as a qualifying widow or widower. To do this, you must meet all four of the following requirements:
- You were entitled to file a joint return with your spouse in the year he or she died (it doesn't matter whether you actually filed a joint return);
- You didn't remarry before the end of the current tax year;
- You have a child, stepchild, adopted child, or foster child for whom you can claim a dependency exemption; and
- You paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home that was the main home for you and that child, for the whole year.
More detailed information on each filing status can be found in IRS Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information.
Head of Household Status
To qualify for head of household status, you typically must be unmarried and not entitled to file as a qualifying widow or widower with a dependent child. You must also have provided more than half the cost of maintaining your home as the main household for a qualifying person.
You may also qualify for head of household status if you, though married, file a separate return, your spouse has not lived in your home during the last six months of the tax year, and you provided more than half the cost of maintaining your home as the main household for a qualifying child for more than one half of the tax year.
Need Help Determining Your Tax Filing Status? Consider Calling an Attorney
There are certain advantages and disadvantages when it comes to different tax filing statuses. Which one works best for you is a decision best made with a tax professional -- but leaving it up to guesswork can end up cost you a lot. Sit down with an experienced tax attorney today to learn more about your options.