Your Federal Income Tax Filing Status

Your Federal Income Tax Filing Status

Your federal income tax filing status refers to your household and financial structure, and is used to determine your income tax rate and standard deductions. Therefore, it is very important that you select the correct filing status. Filing status also determines other credits, tax exclusions and deductions, so it is vital (and mandatory) that you choose the correct one.

Fortunately, selecting your filing status is not incredibly complicated, as the IRS only has five income tax filing statuses to choose from. These are married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household, qualifying widow(er), and single. When selecting your filing status, consider the following information about each of the filing status categories:

Married Individuals. You can choose between two filing statuses, either married filing jointly or married filing separately. Regardless of which status you select, you are required to meet its stipulations and requirements.

In order to qualify for the status of married filing jointly you must have been married as of the year end. According to the IRS, marriage is a legal union between a man and a woman. If you are filing jointly, both you and your spouse must sign your tax return.

If you are separated (with a provisional decree) or living apart from your spouse at the end of the year, you are still considered married by the IRS. You can opt to file a joint return or claim the filing status of married filing separately. The exception to this rule is if you have been separated (living in separate and distinct households) for the last six months of the year. In this case, you can choose to file as an unmarried head of household IF, while separated, you have paid over 50% of the costs associated with a dependent.

If you are part of a common law marriage, it must be recognized by the state you reside in. If this is the case, and you are living together as of year end, you are considered married by the IRS. You may select either married filing jointly or married filing separately.

Head of Household. In order to qualify as a Head of Household, you must be financially responsible for more than 50% of the household costs for a qualifying dependent who lives with you. This dependent may be a child, a parent or a relative. If you are not legally related to the dependent individual, specific other conditions apply that must be met. You may also qualify as Head of Household for a parent who does not reside with you if you pay more than 50% of their support. I.E., this would include those in extended care facilities.

Qualifiying Widower. To qualify as filing as a qualifying widow(er) on your 2009 income tax return you must meet the following four tests:

  • You must have paid over 50% of the household costs (support) for a dependent child in 2010.
  • You must have been widowed (your spouse died) in either 2009 or 2010.
  • You were entitled to file a joint return in the year your spouse died. This means you had the option to file jointly. It does not mean you were required to.
  • You cannot have remarried during the year.

Single. If you are unmarried at the year end, you can file as single. You will only file as single if you do not meet the tests or qualifications that determine whether or not you need to file as head of household or qualifying widow(er). You should be aware that single filing status is known for paying more and/or higher taxes than any other filing status.

If you are divorced, you must have the FINAL divorce decree or separate maintenance agreement by December 31 of the tax year you are filing. If this is the case, the IRS will consider you unmarried (or 'Single') for the entire year. If you meet the support test (more than 50% of their household costs) for another dependent, like a child from the marriage, you will need to file as a head of household.

For more information about the different income tax filing statuses available, see Publication 17 - Your Federal Income Tax.

Article written by: Letty G.

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