Your tax filing status depends on your life circumstances. The key factor is whether you're married. Other factors include whether you have dependents and if you were married, but your spouse is now deceased.
The Internal Revenue Code offers five filing status options. You must choose one of them when you complete your tax return. The head of household status is thought to be the most advantageous. These taxpayers get a higher standard deduction. They're also subject to more favorable tax brackets compared to the single filing status. But numerous rules apply to qualifying.
- Head of household filers get larger standard deductions than single filers, and they're subject to more generous tax brackets.
- Qualifying as head of household requires that you not be married, have at least one dependent who you support and who lives with you, and that you pay for more than 50% of your home's costs.
- A special IRS rule says you're "considered" unmarried if you didn't live with your spouse at any point after June 30 of the tax year, even if you're not legally divorced yet.
- You may qualify if you support an aging parent by paying more than half their living expenses in their home, even if they don't live with you.
How Do You Claim Head of Household Filing Status?
Qualifying for the head of household status means meeting a series of interlocking rules that involve your marital status, paying for more than half your household's expenses, and having a dependent.
The Unmarried Test
A taxpayer must be unmarried on the last day of the tax year to file as head of household. This means you're single, divorced, or legally separated under an order issued by a state court. But you can be "considered" unmarried if you're still legally married, but you lived in a separate residence from your spouse for at least the last six months of the year—literally from no later than July 1 through the end of December.
You must file a separate tax return from your spouse, and you must still meet the other two criteria for the head of household status if you qualify under the "considered" unmarried rule.
The Support Test
The support test requires that you provide more than half the cost of keeping up your home for the entire year. Qualifying costs include expenses like rent or mortgage interest payments, although not the principal portion of your mortgage payments. That part is paying back your loan. They include property taxes, property insurance, repairs, utilities, and groceries.
Unfortunately, costs associated with clothing, education, medical care, vacations, life insurance, and transportation don't count toward this test.
This doesn't mean that you have to be the only adult living in your household. You can still have a roommate to help defray costs. But you must pay at least 51% of the household expenses. You won't qualify as head of household if you scissor expenses exactly down the middle.
Income received from public assistance programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families doesn't count toward financial support provided by a taxpayer for purposes of qualifying for head of household filing status. You can't include it as money you personally paid toward supporting your household if you used funds from any of these sources.
The Qualifying Dependent Test
A qualifying dependent must live in your home for more than half the year. This might be the most complicated rule of all. Only certain close relatives can be qualifying persons for the purposes of meeting the head of household filing status rules. They include:
- Your child, stepchild, adopted child, foster child, brother, sister, or a descendant of one of these persons whom you claim as a dependent under the qualifying child rules.
- Your child, stepchild, adopted child, foster child, brother, sister, or a descendant of one of these persons whom you could claim as a dependent under the qualifying child rules, but you've elected not to claim them as a dependent. You released the right to claim the child as a dependent to the noncustodial parent.
- Your mother or father who can be claimed as your dependent under the qualifying relative rules.
- Your brother, sister, grandparent, niece, or nephew whom you can claim as a dependent under the qualifying relative rules.
Tools for Determining Filing Status
The IRS provides an interactive filing status tool on its website. It takes about five minutes to complete. It can help you determine if you qualify for head of household status. Most tax preparation software will ask you a series of questions to help determine your filing status for you as well.
The Standard Deduction for Heads of Household
Your filing status determines the amount of your standard deduction, as well as the tax rates you'll pay on your income. The head of household standard deduction for 2022 is $19,400, up from $18,800 in 2021.
Contrast this with single filers and married persons who file separate returns. They can claim only a $12,950 standard deduction in 2022, up from $12,550 in 2021. Married taxpayers who file joint returns get a $25,900 standard deduction in 2022. But this works out to one $12,550 deduction for each of them, just as though they were single.
Head of Household Tax Rates
This table shows the tax rates that apply to head of household filers for the tax year 2021, the tax return you'll file in 2022. Each segment of your income is taxed at the applicable bracket or percentage rate.
|Head of Household Tax Brackets for 2021|
|10%||$0 to $14,200|
|12%||$14,201 to $54,200|
|22%||$54,201 to $86,350|
|24%||$86,351 to $164,900|
|32%||$164,901 to $209,400|
|35%||$209,401 to $523,600|
|37%||More than $523,600|
These income thresholds are also indexed for inflation, so they increase slightly for tax year 2022.
|Head of Household Tax Brackets for 2022|
|10%||$0 to $14,650|
|12%||$14,651 to $55,900|
|22%||$55,901 to $89,050|
|24%||$89,051 to $170,050|
|32%||$170,051 to $215,950|
|35%||$215,951 to $539,900|
|37%||More than $539,900|
Head of household filers also get a break on the long-term capital gains tax rate. They don't jump to the 15% rate in the 2021 tax year until their taxable incomes exceed $54,100. It's just $40,400 for other unmarried taxpayers and $80,800—again, double the amount for other single filers—for married taxpayers filing jointly. This 15% threshold increases to $55,800 in 2022.
Exceptions to the Rules
A taxpayer and their qualifying dependents are considered to reside in the same household during periods of temporary absences if the absence is due to "illness, education, business, vacation, or military service," according to the IRS. In other words, your child will still qualify you if they live away at school for a portion of the year.
There's also a special exception for people who support their dependent parents. A parent can be a qualifying person for purposes of meeting the residency test even if they don't reside in your home, as long as you can claim them as your dependent and you meet the support test. You must pay more than half the cost of maintaining their home for the year.
You'd also meet the qualifying dependent test if you paid more than half the cost of keeping your parent in a home for the elderly or a rest home.
Can Two Spouses Both Qualify?
It's possible that two taxpayers who used to be married to each other could each qualify as head of household due to the complexity of these rules—assuming they're divorced as of December 31 of the tax year, or they haven't lived together from July 1 onward.
Mary might maintain her own residence. The child she and John share lives with her throughout most of the year. She claims the child as her dependent. She has a roommate to help her make ends meet. But the roommate only contributes about a quarter of the household's annual expenses. Mary pays the other 75%.
Mary qualifies as head of household. She meets both the qualifying dependent test and the support test. She and John are "considered unmarried" under IRS rules because she and John broke up. They moved into separate residences on June 1. They never lived together after that point.
As for John, he lives alone. He pays 100% of his household expenses. He also paid more than half the annual cost for his mother to live in a nursing home. John also qualifies as head of household. He's considered unmarried, and he meets both the support test and the qualifying dependent test because he provides for his mother.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What's the difference between single and head of household?
Heads of household and single filers are both unmarried taxpayers. But there are some major differences. Single filers don't have to prove that they're supporting qualifying dependents and they receive fewer tax benefits than those who file as head of household.
What happens if two people claim head of household?
Two unmarried parents cannot file as head of household with the same dependents. The IRS won't accept both returns. Both taxpayers may have to pay a penalty if both seek to claim this status for supporting the same qualifying dependents.
How do you prove head of household status to the IRS?
The IRS accepts a variety of documents to prove that you meet each of the three requirements to pass as a head of household. These are listed on Form 886-H-HOH.
Tax Foundation. "2021 Tax Brackets."
Tax Foundation. "2022 Tax Brackets."