Choosing a Tax Filing Status

By | February 23, 2014

There are several different types of tax filing statuses that people must be aware of and use correctly when filing their tax return. A taxpayer can select a tax filing status by checking the appropriate box directly below their name on page 1 of Form 1040 or Form 1040A. The IRS form says says “Filing Status”


Types of Tax Filing Statuses

The following lists the main types of tax filing statuses:

  • Single
  • Married filing jointly
  • Married filing separately
  • Head of household
  • Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child

The type of filing status is important because it can lead to different tax rates and benefits. The next section will address each type of tax filing status briefly.


Single Tax Filing Status

The simplest explanation is that people who are not married will file taxes as “single.” The IRS does not recognize couples living together. You must get married to get the benefits of the marital tax bracket.

If you live in a state that recognizes civil unions and same-sex marriage and you have legally entered into one of these unions, although you’re still required to use the single or head-of-household filing status for your federal return, you must use either the married filing jointly or married filing separately status for your state income tax return.


Married Filing Jointly Tax Filing Status

Married couples will be required to file jointly with their spouse and share the tax responsibilities.

You can file your taxes as married filing jointly if you meet any of the following criteria:

  • You were married as of December 31 of the tax year even if you didn’t live with your spouse at the end of the year.
  • Your spouse died in the tax year , and you did not remarry someone else in the tax year. If your spouse died during the year, you’re considered married for the entire year. It is necessary to report all your spouses income and can take their deductions.
  • Your spouse died in the next tax year, but before you filed a previous tax year return.

A couple legally separated under a divorce decree may not file jointly.


Married Filing Separately Tax Status

Sometimes people are hurt by the marriage penalty and chose to file their taxes separately. To determine whether filing separately is a benefit, it is advised to calculate your as if you married filing jointly and married filing separately. There are several restrictions based on married filing separately that every taxpayer should consider.

Instead of filing separately, a taxpayer may be able to file as a head of household if you had a child living with you and you lived apart from your spouse during the last six months of the tax year.

After filing a joint return, you cannot go back and amend your return to the married filing separately status.


Head of Household Tax Filing Status

Under the head of household tax filing status rules, you may file as head of household if you were unmarried, or separated and considered unmarried at the end of the year, and you paid more than half of the cost of a maintaining a home that either:

  • Was your parent’s main home for the entire tax year, provided you can claim your parents as your dependent. Your parent didn’t have to live with you in your home.
  • You lived in for more than half of the year (temporary absences, such as for school, vacation, or medical care, count as time lived in your home) with any of the following

* Your qualifying child

* Any other person you can claim as your dependent.

* Your qualifying married child, but only if he or she doesn’t file a joint income tax return with his or her spouse, and only if that child is a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or a resident of the United States, Mexico, or Canada.


Qualifying Widow with Dependent Child

If you meet all five of the following tests, you can file as a qualifying widow with dependent child and use the tax table for married filing jointly:

  • Your spouse died within the 3 preceding tax years and you did not remarry in the previous tax year.
  • You have a child, stepchild, adopted child, or foster child whom you can claim as a dependent.
  • This child lived in your home for all of the tax year. Temporary absences, such as for vacation or school, count as time lived in your home.
  •  You paid more than half the cost of keeping up your home for this child.
  • You could have filed a joint return with your spouse the year he or she died, even if you didn’t actually do so. (But you can’t claim an exemption for your deceased spouse.)