Top Frequently Asked Questions for Filing Requirements, Status and Dependents

How much income can an unmarried dependent student make before he or she must file an income tax return?

Answer:

An unmarried dependent student must file a tax return if his or her earned or unearned income exceeds certain limits. To find these limits, refer to Dependents under Who Must File in Publication 501, Dependents, Standard Deduction and Filing Information. You can also refer to Do I Need to File a Tax Return? to see if your income requires you to file.

Even if you don't have to file a federal income tax return, you should file if you can get money back (for example, you had federal income tax withheld from your pay or you qualify for a refundable tax credit). See Who Should File in Publication 501 for more examples.

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To qualify for head of household filing status, do I have to claim my child as a dependent?

Answer:

Generally, to qualify for head of household filing status, you must have a qualifying child or a dependent. However, a custodial parent may be eligible to claim head of household filing status based on a child even if he or she released a claim to exemption for the child. See Noncustodial parent is claiming an exemption for my child; do I still qualify as head of household?

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Is there an age limit on claiming my child as a dependent?

Answer:

To claim your child as your dependent, your child must meet either the qualifying child test or the qualifying relative test:

  • To meet the qualifying child test, your child must be younger than you and either younger than 19 years old or be a "student" younger than 24 years old as of the end of the calendar year.
  • There's no age limit if your child is "permanently and totally disabled" or meets the qualifying relative test.

In addition to meeting the qualifying child or qualifying relative test, your child must also meet all of the other tests to be your dependent:

  1. Dependent taxpayer test
  2. Citizen or resident test, and
  3. Joint return test

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My spouse and I are filing as married filing separately. We both contributed to the support of our son. Can we both claim him as a dependent on our separate returns?

Answer:

No, a child may only be claimed as a dependent on one return in a tax year.

For more information on which of you can claim your son, refer to Qualifying Child of More Than One Person.

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Are child support payments deductible by the payer and may the payer claim the child as a dependent?

Answer:

No and maybe. Child support payments are neither deductible by the payer nor taxable income to the recipient, and the payer of child support may be able to claim the child as a dependent:

  • The parent with whom the child lived for the greater part of the year is the custodial parent for federal income tax purposes. The custodial parent is generally able to claim the child as a dependent under the rules for a qualifying child if the other tests for claiming the child are met.
  • The noncustodial parent may claim the child as a dependent if the special rule for a child of divorced or separated parents (or parents who live apart) applies, which requires, in part, that the custodial parent sign a Form 8332, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent or a substantially similar statement. The noncustodial parent must attach a copy of the release to his or her return to claim the child as a dependent.

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Can a state court determine who may claim a child as a dependent?

Answer:

Federal tax law is what determines who may claim a child as a dependent. Even if a state court order allocates the ability to claim the child to a noncustodial parent, the noncustodial parent must comply with the federal tax law to claim the dependent. The noncustodial parent must attach to his or her return a copy of the release of claim to exemption by the custodial parent, either a Form 8332, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent or a substantially similar document.

Refer to Publication 504, Divorced or Separated Individuals for more information on the special rule for children of divorced or separated parents (or parents who live apart).

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I am divorced with one child. This year my ex-spouse, who is the noncustodial parent, is entitled to claim an exemption for our child. Do I still qualify as head of household?

Answer:

You may still qualify for head of household filing status even though you aren't entitled to claim an exemption for your child, if you meet the following requirements:

  1. You're not married or you’re considered unmarried on the last day of the year.
  2. You paid more than half of the cost of keeping up a home, that was your home and the main home of your child for more than one-half of the year.

See Publication 501, Dependents, Standard Deduction and Filing Information for details.

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I am adopting a child and don't yet have a social security number for the child. How can I claim the child as my dependent?

Answer:

As a prospective adoptive parent in the process of adopting a U.S. citizen or resident, you'll need a taxpayer identifying number (TIN) for the child who is being adopted to claim the child as a dependent. If as the prospective adoptive parent you don't have and are unable to obtain the child's social security number (SSN), you should request an adoption taxpayer identification number (ATIN) or individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN).

Please note that for tax years 2018 through 2025, you can't claim the child tax credit on either your original or an amended return if your child doesn't have an SSN valid for employment by the due date of your return (including extensions). If your child has an ATIN or an ITIN, your child may qualify you for the credit for other dependents.

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My spouse and I have provided a home for my niece and her son for the past seven months. She has no income and we provided all of her support during the year. Can I claim both her and her son as dependents?

Answer:

You may be eligible to claim both your niece and her son as dependents on your return. In order to claim someone as your dependent, the person must meet certain tests as shown below.

The dependent must be:

  1. Either your qualifying child or qualifying relative
  2. A U.S. citizen, U.S. resident, U.S. national or a resident of Canada or Mexico
  3. Unmarried or, if married, not filing a joint return or only filing a joint return to claim a refund of income tax withheld or estimated tax paid.

Additionally, you must meet the dependent taxpayer test. If you can be claimed as a dependent by another person, you can't claim anyone else as a dependent.

The requirements for qualifying child and qualifying relative as well as additional information regarding these tests can be found in Publication 501, Dependents, Standard Deduction and Filing Information.

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Frequently Asked Question Subcategories for Filing Requirements, Status and Dependents