Difference Between Head of Household & Married Filing Jointly

Compared to married filing jointly, head of household is a more beneficial tax status. The married filing jointly tax bracket limits and standard deduction are less than twice the amounts for head of household filers. It's also much more difficult to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit as a married filer.

Filing Requirement Differences

Only certain groups of taxpayers can file as head of household or married filing jointly. To file for head or household, the taxpayer must be unmarried, provide more than half the financial cost of maintaining the home and have a qualified person -- for example, a dependent child or parent -- live with her for more than half of the year.

If two taxpayers are married as of the last day of the tax year and agree to file a tax return together, their tax status is married filing jointly. If they elect to file separate tax returns, their status is married filing separately.

Tip

Married filing separately is not the same filing status as head of household. A married taxpayer cannot file as the head of household.

Tax Bracket and Standard Deduction Differences

The tax bracket limits for married filing jointly are exactly twice what they are for single filers. For example, the first $9,225 of a single filer's income is taxed at 10 percent and the first $18,450 of a married couples' income is taxed at 10 percent.

In contrast, head of household limits are about halfway in between what they are for single and married filers. For example, the 2015 tax bracket limits for head of household filers are $13,150, $50,200 and $129,600 for the 10 percent, 15 percent and 25 percent brackets, respectively. The married filing jointly limits are $18,450 for 10 percent, $74,900 for 15 percent and $151,200 for 25 percent.

The standard deduction for a married couple is about 40 percent more than the standard deduction for a head of household filer. For 2015, the standard deduction for the head of household is $9,250 and $12,600 for a married couple.

Tax Credit Differences

For most common tax credits, the qualifying income limits for married filing jointly is exactly twice the limit of head of household. One notable exception is the Earned Income Tax Credit. For 2015, head of household filers can claim the credit if they have no children and adjusted gross income of $14,820, one child and adjusted gross income of $39,131 or two children and adjusted gross income of $44,454. In contrast, a married couple can only claim the credit if they have no children and an adjusted gross income of $20,330, one child and an adjusted gross income of $44,651 or two children and an adjusted gross income of $49,974.