What’s Your Filing Status?

January 16, 2018 : Teresa L. Clark

One of the most common mistakes taxpayers make is choosing the wrong filing status. A short lesson on the tax filing statuses could help ensure you pay only what you owe in taxes and get back the tax refund you’re due.

If it’s been a while since you filled out a tax form using a pen, you might have forgotten about the filing status tax tables. 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.

So, choosing the correct filing status is very important. If you’re wondering “What’s my filing status?”, read on to learn more about the IRS filing statuses with some information about each one.


Those who aren’t married can file as single. Your marital status on Dec. 31 of the tax year determines your filing status.

This means taxpayers who weren’t divorced on Dec. 31 must continue to use one of the filing statuses for married couples, which are usually married filing jointly and married filing separately. In some cases, married and single individuals might be able to file as head of household.

Married filing jointly

Usually, married people file as a joint income tax status because of the added tax benefits. This includes being able to claim certain credits. Also, if your spouse died in the tax year you’re filing for, you can likely file as married filing jointly.

Married filing separately

Filing separately can sometimes lower a tax bill. For example, if one of the spouses has low income and high medical bills, it could work in their favor to file separately 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.

Head of household with a qualifying person

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 child or other qualifying relative.
    • 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.

To learn more, see IRS Publication 17 or talk to one of our tax pros to learn more.

Qualifying widow(er) with a dependent child

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.

It’s 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. A common example is when spouses with children are in the process of getting a divorce or have separated.

Depending on the specifics of their situation, parents who are divorcing or separated might be able to file under three filing statuses: married filing jointly, married filing separately, or head of household with qualifying person.

Another time you might qualify for multiple tax filing statuses is if you’re single with a child or other qualifying relative. You might be able to file as either single or head of household.

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. If you have questions about your filing status, or any other income tax issue, contact one of our tax pros to get the help you need.

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Teresa L. Clark


Teresa L. Clark came to H&R Block in January 2010 after working as a civil servant for more than 13 years. Since that first tax season she has written blog posts and talking points, edited content of all shapes and sizes, facilitated media interviews for the experts in The Tax Institute at H&R Block and supported the DIY team. Clark has a master's degree in integrated marketing communications from the University of Kansas and is a member of the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi.

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