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Can you claim your spouse as a dependent?

3 min read

3 min read

Taxes can be confusing, especially where rules and terminology are concerned. If you’re married, it may seem all the more complex. So, what are the rules for tax dependents and spouses on income tax returns? To be sure, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has strict rules about claiming tax dependents on your tax return, so read on as we outline the details for your tax filing information.

Is a spouse a dependent?

We get the question, “Can I claim my spouse as a dependent?” from time to time – and here’s the short answer: you can’t claim spouses as dependents on your federal income tax return. If you maintain a residence with your spouse and financially support them, your spouse may be a dependent in a financial sense but not for tax purposes.

Essentially,  you can’t claim someone as a dependent for the tax year unless that person is your qualifying dependent: either a qualifying relative or qualifying child. While that means you can’t claim your spouse, it could be good news if you have qualifying kids or relatives as certain tax credits are available to taxpayers who claim dependents. Find details about claiming a dependent on taxes.

Filing considerations for spouses

While you cannot claim your spouse as a dependent, there are a couple of considerations for spouses to think about when preparing income taxes.

Married Filing Jointly vs. Married Filing Separately: dependent considerations

While you can’t claim your spouse as a dependent when Married Filing Separately or Jointly, your tax status is a big decision. Namely, if you choose Married Filing Separately, dependent-related tax credits are generally not available to you. For example, the Child Tax Credit, Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) , Child and dependent care credit, Adoption credit, Lifetime Learning Credit, and American Opportunity Credit aren’t available to most filers. Learn more about the Married Filing Jointly vs. Married Filing Separately filing statuses.

Get your withholdings right — together

When you submit your Form W-4 to the payroll department, your employer uses the information to withhold the correct federal income tax from your pay. The withholdings on your W-4 depend on your filing status, job status, earnings, spouse’s income, and dependents. It’s important to get this number right because if you withhold too much, you end up with a large tax refund, but more tax is taken out of each paycheck. If you withhold too little, you might owe a large sum of income tax.

Here’s another reason it’s important for spouses to be on the same page with withholdings: You’ll want to be coordinated because your credits and deductions are tied to just one of your W-4 Forms—and you have to determine which of you will claim them. Generally, it’s best to allow for child-related tax credits on the Form W-4 of the highest paying job. If you and your spouse each allow for child-related tax credits on your W-4, it will likely result in not enough withholding and having to pay an additional amount to the IRS at the end of the year. Learn more about how to fill out a W-4 form. 

Get help with filing taxes

It’s a good idea to get expert tax help to ensure you’ve claimed every tax deduction and credit you deserve when filing your state and federal income tax return.

Whether you make an appointment with one of our knowledgeable tax pros or choose one of our online tax filing products, you can count on H&R Block to help maximize your tax refund and get the most money back.

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