Top Frequently Asked Questions for Filing Requirements, Status, Dependents, Exemptions

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, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information.

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.

Subcategory:

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, you must have a qualifying child or dependent. However, a custodial  parent may be able to claim head of household filing status with a qualifying 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?

Subcategory:

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 for claiming a dependent:

  1. Dependent taxpayer test
  2. Citizen or resident test, and
  3. Joint return test
My spouse and I are filing as married filing separately. We both contributed to the support of our son. Can we both claim a dependency exemption for him on our separate returns?

Answer:

No. A dependency exemption for a child may only be claimed on one return in a tax year.

Are child support payments deductible by the payer or can the payer claim a dependency exemption for the child?

Answer:

No, child support payments are neither deductible by the payer nor taxable income to the recipient.

However, the payer of child support may be able to claim the child as a dependent:

  • The child is the qualifying child of the custodial parent, and the custodial parent is generally allowed to claim a dependency exemption for the child, if the other tests for claiming the exemption are met. The parent with whom the child lived for the greater part of the year is the custodial parent for income tax purposes.
  • The noncustodial parent may claim an exemption for the child if the special rule for a child of divorced or separated parents (or parents who live apart) applies. This 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 it to his or her return.
If I claim my daughter who is a full-time college student as a dependent, can she claim her own personal exemption when she files her return?

Answer:

If you can claim an exemption for your daughter as a dependent on your income tax return, she can't claim her own personal exemption on her income tax return. Your daughter should check the box on her return indicating that someone else can claim her as a dependent.

Can a state court determine who may claim a dependency exemption for a child?

Answer:

Federal tax law is what determines who may claim a dependency exemption for a child. Even if a state court order allocates a child’s dependency exemption to a noncustodial parent, the noncustodial parent must comply with the federal tax law to claim the exemption. The noncustodial parent must attach to his or her return a copy of the release of claim to exemption by the custodial parent, either on 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).

I am divorced with one child. This year my ex-spouse, who is the noncustodial parent, will 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 claiming an exemption for your child, if you meet all of the following requirements:

  1. You're unmarried or considered unmarried on the last day of the year.
  2. You paid more than half of the cost of maintaining a household that is your home and the main home of your child for more than one-half of the year.
  3. Your child is either your qualifying child (whether you can claim the child as a dependent or not) or your qualifying relative whom you can claim as a dependent.

Subcategory:

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

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) to claim a dependency exemption and, if eligible, a child tax credit for the child who is being adopted. 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 you can't claim the child tax credit on either your original or an amended return if your child doesn't have an SSN, ATIN, or ITIN by the due date of your return (including extensions), even if your child later gets one of those numbers.  

  • An ATIN is available if a child who is a U.S. citizen or resident is lawfully placed in your household for legal adoption. To obtain an ATIN, use Form W-7A, Application for Taxpayer Identification Number for Pending U.S. Adoptions. For more information, refer to the Form W-7A and to Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number.
  • If the child isn't a U.S. citizen or resident, and if the child qualifies as a dependent, a TIN is still required. To obtain an ITIN, use Form W-7, Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. For more information, refer to Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
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 a dependency exemption for both your niece and her son 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 by anyone else as a dependent, then 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, Exemption, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information.

Frequently Asked Question Subcategories for Filing Requirements, Status, Dependents, Exemptions