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Choosing the Correct Filing Status

IRS Tax Tip 2017-07, February 1, 2017

When taxpayers file their tax return, it’s important they use the right filing status because it can affect the amount of tax they owe for the year. It may even determine if they must file a tax return at all. Taxpayers should keep in mind that their marital status on Dec. 31 is their status for the whole year.

Sometimes more than one filing status may apply to taxpayers. When that happens, taxpayers should choose the one that allows them to pay the least amount of tax.

When filing their tax return, taxpayers have IRS e-file as the easiest and most accurate way to file. Its tax software helps them choose the right filing status. Most people can use tax software and e-file for free with IRS Free File. This is a free service only available on the IRS website. Visit IRS.gov and click “Free File” on the home page.

Here’s a list of the five filing statuses:

  1. Single. Normally this status is for taxpayers who aren’t married, or who are divorced or legally separated under state law.
  2. Married Filing Jointly. If taxpayers are married, they can file a joint tax return. If a spouse died in 2016, the widowed spouse can often file a joint return for that year.
  3. Married Filing Separately. A married couple can choose to file two separate tax returns. This may benefit them if it results in less tax owed than if they file a joint tax return. Taxpayers may want to prepare their taxes both ways before they choose. They can also use this status if each wants to be responsible only for their own tax.
  4. Head of Household. In most cases, this status applies to a taxpayer who is not married, but there are some special rules. For example, the taxpayer must have paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for themselves and a qualifying person. Don’t choose this status by mistake. Be sure to check all the rules.
  5. Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child. This status may apply to a taxpayer if their spouse died during 2014 or 2015 and they have a dependent child. Other conditions also apply.

The “Filing” tab on IRS.gov can help with many taxpayers’ federal income tax filing needs. The Interactive Tax Assistant tool can help taxpayers choose the right filing status. More on this topic is in Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction and Filing Information. On IRS.gov/forms, people can view, download or print the tax products they need.

All taxpayers should keep a copy of their tax return. Beginning in 2017, taxpayers using a software product for the first time may need their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) amount from their prior-year tax return to verify their identity. Taxpayers can learn more about how to verify their identity and electronically sign tax returns at Validating Your Electronically Filed Tax Return.

Additional IRS Resources:

IRS YouTube Videos:

  • Filing Status – English | Spanish | ASL
  • Welcome to Free File – English (Obsolete)
  • First Time Filing a Tax Return? English | Spanish | ASL (Obsolete)
  • Interactive Tax Assistant English | ASL

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