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What are my tax filing status options?

7 min read

7 min read

Let’s get to the basics and explore your tax filing status. Believe it or not, one of the most common mistakes taxpayers make is choosing the wrong filing status for taxes. Understanding your status can help ensure you pay only what you owe in taxes and get back the tax refund you’re due.

One quick clarification as we talk about status: This post covers your filing status. If you’re looking for details about estimated tax or withholding tax because of your backup withholding status, check out our post on estimated tax payments and backup tax withholding.

Tax filing status meaning — and why it’s important

tax filing status

Taxes can be confusing, especially when it comes to jargon. “So, what is tax filing status?“ you ask?  Let’s dive right in. Your income tax filing status informs the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) about you and your tax situation.

Typically, your tax return filing status depends on if you’re unmarried or married by the end of each calendar year – December 31.  Whatever your status is on that date applies for the entire tax year.

Your filing status may be more important than you think! In fact, it determines:

  • If you’re required to file a federal tax return
  • If you should file a return to receive a refund
  • Your standard deduction amount
  • If you can claim certain tax credits
  • The amount of tax you owe

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!

Tax return status determines how you’re taxed

You may have heard about tax brackets or tables when it comes to income taxes. These tables show how taxes are applied based on your filing status. All the tax brackets for the various income tax statuses range from 10% to 37%, but the points at which you move from one rate to the next change based on your filing status. -If you choose the wrong filing status, you very likely won’t be taxed accurately. Also, because the amount of the standard deduction is different for each filing status, choosing the wrong one could result in paying more taxes than you have to.

Five tax filing status options

Choosing the correct filing status is very important as you complete your personal income tax return. If you’re wondering “What’s my filing status?”, read on to learn more about the United States IRS filing tax status with some information about each one.

When you complete your tax return, you are required to select a filing status:

  • Single
  • 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.

1. Single

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 individuals who never married, divorced or legally separated individuals, and widows and widowers.. 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.

2. Married Filing Jointly

If you’re wondering “What is marital status and what does it have to do with taxes?” Believe it or not, a lot. 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.

Also, if your spouse died in the tax year you’re filing for, you can likely file joint returns.

3. Married Filing Separately

If your marital status is “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. In other cases of Married Filing Separately, it’s because one spouse may have a financial situation that would result in a bigger refund if they file separately. For example, if one spouse has low income and high medical bills, it could work in their favor to file a separate return to claim these expenses as itemized deductions. This is because their spouse’s income could make it difficult to reach the threshold for claiming medical expenses. These expenses must be more than 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI) for you to claim them. In this example, you can only claim the amount that’s more than 10% of your AGI.

Also, some married filers just prefer to keep their tax and finances separate from each other.

Using this filing status doesn’t mean that instead of one joint filing, you’ll wind up with two identical single filings.

4. Head of Household with a Qualifying Person

This one is a little tricky. 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.

To use the head of household filing status, these must be true:

  • You must be either single or considered unmarried on the last day of the year.
    • Married taxpayers count as single for tax purposes if they haven’t lived in the same home as their spouse for at least the last six months of the year.
  • You must have paid more than half of the cost of having a home for yourself and your qualifying children or other qualifying dependents. This may include children, grandchildren, stepchildren, nieces and nephews, or younger siblings under 19 (24 if a full-time student) who live with you for over half the year. Dependents can also include adults supported by you, such as your parents and adult children.
    • If you maintain a home for your dependent parent, you might qualify to use the head of household filing status even if your parent doesn’t live with you.

Divorced taxpayers who don’t qualify to use the head of household status should file as single. Learn more about filing taxes after a divorce.

5. Qualifying Widow(er) with a Dependent Child

Just as with filing Head of Household, filing as a Qualifying Widow or Widower with a Dependent Child has specific requirements.

For up to two years after a spouse’s death, the widow(er) can continue to use the Married Filing Jointly tax rate by filing as a Qualified Widow(er) with a Dependent Child. If you remarry, you can’t claim this filing status anymore.

Filing statuses can get complicated

No, “It’s complicated” isn’t a filing status, but certain big life changes can make it hard to determine your correct tax filing status. In fact, some people find themselves eligible for more than one status. In this case, you can choose the filing status that allows you to owe the least amount of tax.

  • An example that could make you question your own filing status is determining whether your child is still your dependent as your child gets older.
  • Another example is divorce or separation. Depending on the specifics of their situation, parents who are in the process of divorcing or separated might be able to file under three filing statuses: married filing jointly, married filing separately, or head of household with a qualifying person.
  • A time you might qualify for multiple tax filing statuses is if you’re single with a child or other qualifying relative. In this case, you might be able to file as either single or head of household.

More tax filing requirement help

Guessing what your filing status is or assuming it’s the same as last year could cost you, especially if your marital status has changed.

The experts at H&R Block can look at your personal situation and help you decide on the filing status right for you. If you have any tax questions about your filing status, taxable income, tax credits and deductions, amended returns, tax identity theft concerns, or otherwise, connect with one of our tax pros to get the help you need.

And if you’d rather file taxes online, know you are still backed by our 100% accuracy and maximum refund guarantees.

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