When it comes to your tax return, your filing status plays a pretty big role. Your filing status is one of the things that determines your overall tax liability, and more importantly, what you'll get back.
Why Filing Status is Important
Apart from determining how much you owe in taxes, your filing status can affect the types and numbers of deductions, credits, and exemptions you're able to claim.
If you're unsure about your status, don’t worry. Whether you're filing single or married, jointly or separately, making sure you have the correct filing status is easy!
Find Your Tax Filing Status
When you complete your tax return, you are required to select a filing status:
- Married Filing Jointly
- Married Filing Separately
- Head of Household
- Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child
While some might sound more straightforward than others, we'll break down each one so you can be sure you select the right status.
The IRS doesn't care if you have a significant other, only if you're married. Unless you are legally married, you are considered single by the federal government. This includes divorced or legally separated individuals as well as registered domestic partners. Make sure to check with your state’s specific laws for state filing purposes.
In addition, your tax filing status is determined by your situation on December 31st of the year for which you are filing. In other words, it doesn't matter if you were married earlier in the year. If you're single by New Year's Eve, your correct status is Single.
Married Filing Jointly
One decision you and your spouse will have to make is how you’ll file your taxes. For most couples, filing jointly is usually the way to go because it often decreases what you and your spouse both owe. Also, some tax benefits such as education credits and the earned income credit are not available to married taxpayers who file separately.
If you marry at any point before the end of the taxable year, you have the option to file jointly. Married Filing Jointly is generally the best way to file your return because it often means lower taxes.
However, it does not make sense in every case.
Married Filing Separately
Even if you're married, you still have the option to file separately from your spouse. This often occurs when you live apart from your spouse for an extended period of time but you are still legally married.
This does not mean that instead of one joint filing, you’ll wind up with two identical single filings. In some cases of Married Filing Separately, it is because one spouse may have had different expenses that would result in a bigger refund if they file separately. Also, some married filers just prefer to keep all of their tax and finances separately from each other.
Head of Household
This one is a little tricky. If you are filing as Head of Household, you must be unmarried, have at least one qualifying dependent, and pay more than half the cost of maintaining a home for that dependent. Dependents can include children, grandchildren, stepchildren, nieces and nephews, or anyone else under 19 (24 if a full time student) who lives with you for over half the year. Dependents can also include adults supported by you, such as your parents and adult children.
While it's a little trickier, there are a number of benefits to filing Head of Household, including a larger standard deduction and more favorable tax brackets than single filers have.
Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child
Just as with filing Head of Household, filing as a Qualifying Widow or Widower with Dependent Child has specific requirements.
If you were married to a spouse who died in 2014 or 2015 and you provide for at least one dependent, you are eligible to file as a Qualifying Widow(er) on your 2016 federal income tax return.
However, you will not be able to use this filing status if you remarry. The dependent must be your son or daughter, including step- and legally adopted children.
How Should I File?
The experts at H&R Block can look at your personal situation and help you decide on the filing status right for you. And if you’d rather file your taxes yourself, know you are still backed by our 100% accuracy and maximum refund guarantees. In an office or online, don’t just get your taxes done. Get your taxes won with H&R Block.