Filing your taxes as head of household lets you claim a higher standard deduction than if you were to file as a single individual, or if you filed a separate married return. You could fall into a more favorable tax bracket as well, paying a smaller percentage of your income to the Internal Revenue Service. However, you have to meet multiple IRS requirements to do so -- you must be considered unmarried, pay most of your household's expenses and have a qualified dependent.
You’re Not Considered Married
Your marital status is a key factor in determining whether you qualify as head of household. If you're single, you're a shoo-in for meeting this requirement, but even if you're hitched, you might still be considered unmarried in IRS terms if you meet a few more requirements:
- You were separated or divorced on December 31.
- You and your spouse lived in separate households continuously beginning no later than July 1.
- You're not filing a joint return with your spouse.
- You meet all other head of household requirements.
Check with an accountant or tax professional if you’re still legally married and live in one of the nine community property states -- Arizona, California, New Mexico, Louisiana, Washington, Wisconsin, Nevada, Idaho or Texas. Special rules for income and expenses in these states can affect head of household requirements.
You Pay Most of Your Household Expenses
Qualifying as head of household requires that you pay the majority of expenses associated with your home. If you have a roommate, you might still be head of household if you pay for at least 51 percent of your household expenses and meet all other requirements. Qualifying expenses include your rent or mortgage interest, utilities and groceries, but not entertainment costs such as dining out. If you own your home, you can include the costs of repairs, real estate taxes and homeowners insurance, but not the mortgage loan itself. You can't include clothing, transportation, medical care or education expenses.
You Have a Qualifying Dependent
You must have a qualifying dependent to file as head of household. This could be your child, stepchild or foster child if you can claim her as a dependent on your tax return and she lived with you more than half the year. She also must meet age requirements as a child dependent.
The rules are more complex for claiming a relative as your dependent. Her income can't exceed the amount of the tax exemption you take for her as your dependent -- $3,950 for the 2014 tax year, although this number increases regularly to keep pace with inflation. You must pay for at least half her living costs.
Unless the relative is your parent, she must live with you for more than half the year -- although there are exceptions, such as a child attending college out of state. If you're claiming your parent as your dependent and she lives elsewhere, you must pay at least half the costs associated with that residence.
If you're divorced or separated, your decree or custody order might give the dependent deduction for your child to her other parent. You can still qualify as head of household if your child meets all other requirements for being your dependent -- she lived with you more than half the year and you paid more than half her living expenses.
If all or part of your income comes from public assistance, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and if you used this money to pay more than half your household's expenses, this can disqualify you as head of household.