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Six Important Facts about Dependents and Exemptions

IRS Tax Tip 2013-09, February 7, 2013

While each individual tax return is unique, there are some tax rules that affect every person who files a federal income tax return. These rules involve dependents and exemptions. The IRS has six important facts about dependents and exemptions that will help you file your 2012 tax return.

  1. Exemptions reduce taxable income.  There are two types of exemptions: personal exemptions and exemptions for dependents. You can deduct $3,800 for each exemption you claim on your 2012 tax return.

  2. Personal exemptions.  You usually may claim one exemption for yourself on your tax return. You also can claim one for your spouse if you are married and file a joint return. If you and your spouse file separate returns, you may claim the exemption for your spouse only if he or she had no gross income, is not filing a joint return and was not the dependent of another taxpayer.

  3. Exemptions for dependents.  Generally, you can claim an exemption for each of your dependents. A dependent is either your qualifying child or qualifying relative. If you are married, you may not claim your spouse as your dependent. You must list the Social Security Number of each dependent you claim on your return. See Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information, for information about dependents who do not have Social Security numbers.

  4. Some people do not qualify as dependents.  While there are some exceptions, you generally may not claim a married person as a dependent if they file a joint return with their spouse.

  5. Dependents may have to file.  If you can claim someone else as your dependent on your tax return, that person may still be required to file his or her own tax return. Whether they must file a return depends on several factors, including the amount of their gross income (both earned and unearned income), their marital status and any special taxes they owe.

  6. Dependents can’t claim a personal exemption.  If you can claim another person as a dependent on your tax return, that person may not claim a personal exemption on his or her own tax return. This is true even if you do not actually claim that person as your dependent on your tax return. The fact that you could claim that person disqualifies them from claiming a personal exemption.

Remember that a person must meet several tests in order for you to claim them as your dependent. See Publication 501 for the tests you will use to determine if you can claim a person as your dependent.

You can view or download Publication 501 at IRS.gov or order it by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676). You can also use the Interactive Tax Assistant at IRS.gov to find out if a person qualifies as your dependent. The ITA is a helpful tool that can answer many of your tax law questions.

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Page Last Reviewed or Updated: 22-Nov-2013