How to Meet the IRS Definition of a Dependent

How to Meet the IRS Definition of a Dependent
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You may meet the Internal Revenue Service definition of a dependent even if you work and file your own tax return, as long as you satisfy several IRS tests for someone to claim you as a qualifying child or relative. This can have major benefits for the person entitled to claim you as a dependent, since it allows her to take a tax deduction, called an exemption. The dependent exemption was $4,000 in 2015, up from $3,950 in 2014.

General Requirements for Dependents

Some IRS dependent rules apply to all individuals.

  • You must be a citizen or resident alien of the United States, a U.S. national or a resident of Canada or Mexico for someone to claim you.
  • No other taxpayer can claim you on his tax return.
  • If you are married, you may not file a joint tax return, unless it is just to get a refund.

Tests for Qualifying Children

In addition to meeting the general qualifications, dependent children have to satisfy several specific "qualifying child" tests:

  • Age test: Qualifying children must be under age 19 as of the end of the year. The IRS raises the age limit from 19 to 24 if a child is a student enrolled in college for at least five months of the year. There is no age limit for children with disabilities.
  • Place of residence: The taxpayer's home must be a child's primary residence for more than half the year.
  • Income or support: The child can't provide more than 50 percent of her own support.
  • Relationship test: The taxpayer claiming a child must be a relative. A child related by blood or marriage qualifies, as do adopted children and siblings. Foster children also count. Children who are descendents of any of these children are eligible as well.

Tests for Qualifying Relative

In order for you to be considered a dependent as a qualified relative or adult, you can't also be a qualifying child. You must meet three additional IRS tests:

  • Gross income test: A qualifying relative can't have more than a certain amount of income. The figure is adjusted annually. In 2015 it was $4,000, up from $3,950 in 2014. There are exceptions -- for example, if the dependent is disabled and receives additional income from a sheltered workshop, he may still qualify.
  • Support test: The taxpayer claiming a qualifying relative must provide more than 50 percent of his support.
  • Relationship or residence: A qualifying relative must be related to the taxpayer biologically or by marriage. Parents and grandparents qualify. A non-relative may qualify if he lives with the taxpayer as a member of the household for the whole year.
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