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Many single parents could score some important tax breaks this filing season — if they know how get them.
The secret is their filing status, a classification that determines a person’s tax-filing requirements and eligibility for certain tax breaks. There are five options, and they largely revolve around marital status. Unmarried people typically choose the “single” filing status, but tax pros say a subset of those taxpayers — single parents — may have a more lucrative option: head of household.
Why file as head of household?
Filing as head of household could get you a bigger standard deduction, says Andrea Nyhan, a certified public accountant and tax principal at Gelman, Rosenberg & Freedman in Bethesda, Maryland.
Single filers get a $12,000 standard deduction for the 2018 tax year, but single people who qualify for head of household status get $18,000. That could mean a much lower tax bill.
On top of that, heads of household can get more favorable tax rates. Taxpayers with $50,000 of taxable income, for example, would fall into the 22% tax bracket if they opt for the single filing status, but with that amount of income their rate is just 12% if they qualify for head of household filing status.
“You want to keep more of your money for yourself and give less of it to the IRS,” says Michele Cagan, a certified public account and author of the blog SingleMomCPA.com. “If you file as head of household, you get to keep more of your money.”
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Who qualifies for head of household status
IRS Publication 501 has all the details, but in general, to qualify for the head of household filing status you must be unmarried on the last day of the calendar year and you must have provided at least half the financial support for a child, stepchild or foster child who lived with you for more than half the year.
“Basically you have to have someone in the household who's depending on you for financial support,” Cagan says.
If you’re supporting a full-time college student, you might still be able to file as head of household, she says, but it can get complicated if Junior is 19 or older and a part-time student or has a job, she says.
People taking care of adult parents might also qualify for head of household status, Nyhan notes.
“You have to basically be able to claim them as a dependent, so you had to provide more than half their support and you have to pay for their household expenses, meaning mortgage, rent, utilities, that kind of stuff,” she says.
“It gets tricky with what counts as support, so you definitely want to check with an accountant before you file the status,” Cagan adds.
More to consider
If head of household sounds like it’s for you, ask a qualified tax pro to go over the rules with you — and be prepared to answer some extra questions this tax-filing season. The IRS requires tax preparers to prove they verified that their clients meet the requirements for this filing status; otherwise, the preparer could face a fine.
“I have to talk to my client, make sure they qualify for head of household,” Nyhan notes. “They can't just say, ‘Oh, I’ve been head of household for five years.’”