Rules and Qualifications for Claiming a Tax Dependent

Tax dependents are either qualifying children or qualifying relatives, and they can score you some big tax breaks.
Tina OremJun 28, 2021
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A tax dependent is a child or relative whose characteristics and relationship to you allow you to claim certain tax deductions and credits, such as head of household filing status, the Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Child and Dependent Care Credit.

Determining whether someone is a tax dependent can be difficult. Here’s a rundown, but keep in mind that this is a complex area of the tax code and there are exceptions to every rule. For all the details, check out .

Note: If you’re wondering about your stimulus payment, know that there are specific rules for it that may differ from what’s on this page. To see the details, see .

For tax purposes, there are two kinds of dependents:

To claim a child as a dependent on your tax return, the child must meet all of the following conditions.

This is the relationship test. The child must be your son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, half brother, half sister, stepbrother, stepsister or a descendant of any of those people.

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This is the age test. One of these three things has to be true to pass this test:

This is the residency test. The child must have lived with you for more than half the tax year. There are certain exceptions for temporary absences (such as if the child was away at college, in the hospital or in juvenile detention), for children who were born or died during the tax year, for kids of divorced or separated parents and for kidnapped kids.

In cases of divorce or separation, the custodial parent typically gets to claim the child as a dependent. However, sometimes the noncustodial parent can claim a child as a dependent if the custodial parent signs a written declaration that he or she won’t claim the child as a dependent.

If your child gets a job and provides at least half of her own financial support, you can’t claim the child as a tax dependent. However, support generally includes household expenses such as rent, groceries, utilities, clothing, unreimbursed medical expenses, travel costs and recreation expenses.

This is the joint return test. There’s an exception here if the child and the child's spouse file a joint return only to claim a refund of income tax withheld or estimated tax paid.

This is the citizen or resident test. The child has to be a U.S. citizen, U.S. resident alien, U.S. national or a resident of Canada or Mexico.

A qualifying relative can be any age. But to claim a relative as a tax dependent on your tax return, the person must meet all of the following conditions.

You can’t claim someone else’s qualifying child as your qualifying relative. So if your toddler lives with your parents, for example, and he meets all the tests to be their qualifying child, you can’t also claim him as your qualifying relative.

Only one of these two things has to be true:

Note that only one of the two things has to be true in order to get over the hurdle. That means that a person related to you doesn’t necessarily have to live with you in order for you to claim them as a dependent. This can be especially important for people supporting elderly parents who live somewhere else.

The person’s gross income for the year can’t be more than $4,300 in the 2020 or 2021 tax years. People who are disabled or have income from a sheltered workshop get an exception. Gross income includes money from rental properties, business income and taxable unemployment and Social Security benefits.

Support generally includes household expenses such as rent, groceries, utilities, clothing, unreimbursed medical expenses, travel costs and recreation expenses. If multiple people provide support for a person and because of that no one person is providing more than 50% of the support, the support providers can sign a Multiple Support Declaration designating who gets to claim the supported person as their tax dependent.

These people generally won’t count as your tax dependents:

Claiming a dependent can get you some big tax breaks. should ask you questions that will help determine whether you qualify.

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