When Can You Claim Yourself as an Independent on Taxes?

You can claim yourself on your tax return by electing the personal exemption, as long as no one else has claimed you as a dependent or is eligible to do so. If a parent or relative claims you as a dependent, you can either change your circumstances to eliminate this from happening in the future, or look for another credit to offset the personal exemption you are not eligible for.

Dependent Exemption

As of 2015, a parent can claim you as a qualifying child dependent on her tax return if all of the following exists:

  1. You are younger than your parent.
  2. You are 19 years old or younger, or in college and younger than 24. If you are disabled, it doesn't matter how old you are.
  3. You lived with your parent in the U.S. for more than half of the year. Certain temporary absences, such as being away at college, still count toward this time.
  4. Your parent supported you for more than half of the year.
  5. You did not file a joint return the same year, such as with your spouse, unless it was only to claim a refund.

A relative can claim you as a qualifying relative dependent, regardless of your age, if you meet all of the following:

  1. You are not your relative's child.
  2. Your income for the year was less than $3,500.
  3. Your relative supported you for more than half of the year.
  4. You lived with your relative the entire year, unless you are a relative exempt from this requirement, such as a parent or sibling.

Independent Tax Return

Just because you're claimed as a dependent on a parent's or relative's tax return doesn't mean you don't have to file a return. The IRS requires dependents to file under certain circumstances. For example, as of 2015 if your income from work wages for the year is greater than $6,200, you're required to file a tax return. If you didn't work but received unearned income over $1,000 -- such as from savings account interest -- you must file.

Personal Exemption

If your parent or a relative claims you as a dependent on her tax return, you are prohibited from claiming a personal exemption on your own return. This restriction exists even if your parent or relative doesn't claim you on her return. She only needs to be eligible to do so to eliminate your right to claim the personal exemption. If you're not sure whether you can claim a personal exemption, you can take the exemption test on the IRS's website.

Alternative Credits Available

If you are enrolled in college, certain tax credits are available. These include the Lifetime Learning Credit and American Opportunity Tax Credit. Taxpayers who spend money on qualified education expenses, such as tuition and books, can recoup some of these costs by claiming education credits on their tax returns. If your parent claims you as a dependent on hers, she can claim these credits and further reduce her tax obligation. However, if she doesn't claim you -- even if she is eligible to do so -- you can claim these education credits for yourself. This is a good idea if your income is less than your parent's, making you eligible for a larger amount in education credits than she would receive. It also makes sense if your education credits would amount to more than her dependent credit for claiming you.