What Is a Qualifying Relative?

Multigenerational family with grandparent, parent, and two children
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DEFINITION
A qualifying relative is a type of dependent the IRS allows you to claim on your tax return. To qualify, the individual must meet several tests concerning their relationship to you, how much income they make, and how much support you provide for them.

A qualifying relative is a type of dependent the IRS allows you to claim on your tax return. To qualify, the individual must meet several tests concerning their relationship to you, how much income they make, and how much support you provide for them.

Claiming a qualifying relative on your taxes can often save you money. Learn more about qualifying relatives and whether you can claim one on your tax return.

Definition and Examples of Qualifying Relative

A qualifying relative is one of two types of dependents you can claim on your tax return. The other dependent is a qualifying child. Before you can claim someone as a qualifying relative, they must pass several tests. These tests examine how much income your relative makes, how much support you provide for them, and your relationship with them.

To claim a qualifying relative, you must be able to show that your relative is actually dependent on you. You need to be their primary source of financial support, and no one else should be able to claim them as a dependent.

For example, imagine your 25-year-old niece has lived in your household for two years, is a full-time college student, and does not have a job. You pay for her daily needs and college tuition. In this case, your niece fulfills all the requirements for a qualifying relative and can be claimed as your dependent on your tax return.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) suspended the deduction for qualifying relative exemptions for tax years 2018 through 2025. Taxpayers, however, can still claim other tax benefits, such as the child tax credit, earned income tax credit, and child and dependent care credit.

How Does Claiming a Qualifying Relative Work?

Anyone you claim as a qualifying relative must pass multiple tests to ensure they are actually your dependent. Whether you intend to claim either a qualifying child or qualifying relative, your dependent:

  • Can’t claim their own dependents
  • Can’t be married and filing a joint return (with some exceptions)
  • Must be a citizen, national, or resident alien of the United States, or must be a resident of Canada or Mexico

Your dependent also must pass the following tests to be claimed as a qualifying relative:

  • Not a qualifying-child test
  • Member of household or relationship test
  • Gross income test
  • Support test

Qualifying Child Test

A taxpayer can claim a dependent as a qualifying child or qualifying relative, but not both. A qualifying child is typically the taxpayer’s biological or adopted child, but may be a stepchild or a foster child. A sibling, half-sibling, or step-sibling may also qualify as a qualifying child.

A qualifying child must meet be younger than the taxpayer and be under age 19 or a full-time student under 24 years old. The age requirement does not apply if the qualifying child is permanently and totally disabled during the tax year.

If your dependent meets these criteria, they are a qualifying child, not a qualifying relative.

A taxpayer may claim a qualifying relative even if that individual is a qualifying child of another taxpayer only when the dependent’s parent is not required to or does not file an income tax return.

Member of Household or Relationship Test

The dependent must meet certain relationship tests. A qualifying relative is typically a family member, and the relationship is not always biological—a sister-in-law could be claimed as a qualifying relative, for example. An unrelated individual who lived with the taxpayer for the entire year could also satisfy this criterion.

Gross Income Test

The qualifying relative’s gross income must be under the threshold amount. In 2021, the amount was $4,300. Gross income includes taxable unemployment compensation, Social Security benefits, and school grants.

Support Test

The taxpayer must have provided more than 50% of the person’s total support to claim that person as a qualifying relative. The taxpayer’s contribution must be measured against all types of support the dependent received, including taxable income, tax-exempt income, and loans.

In some cases, someone may receive support from multiple people. The people who provide more than 10% of the dependent’s total support will need to agree on in writing who will claim the dependent. The taxpayer claiming the deduction must file Form 2120.

For example, you provided $4,000 in support toward your father during the year, and your father received Social Security benefit payments of $5,000. Your father’s total support was $9,000 that year. Since you contributed only $4,000 (44%) of that amount, you can’t claim your father as a qualifying relative.

Key Takeaways

  • A qualifying relative is a type of dependent you can claim when filing your taxes.
  • To qualify, your relative must pass the dependent taxpayer test, joint return test, gross income test, and support test.
  • The deductions for a qualifying relative are suspended for tax years 2018 through 2025 due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, although other tax benefits are available.
  • A dependent can’t be claimed as both a qualifying and a qualifying relative simultaneously.
  • If two taxpayers can claim the same qualifying relative, they must come to an agreement on who will claim the dependency exemption.

Article Sources

  1. IRS. "Publication 501 (2021), Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information." Accessed Jan. 27, 2022.

  2. IRS. "4491 VITA/TCE Training Guide 2021 Returns," Page 6-1. Accessed Jan. 27, 2022.

  3. IRS. "4491 VITA/TCE Training Guide 2021 Returns," Page 6-2. Accessed Jan. 27, 2022.

  4. IRS. "4491 VITA/TCE Training Guide 2021 Returns," Page 6-6. Accessed Jan. 27, 2022.

  5. IRS. "4491 VITA/TCE Training Guide 2021 Returns," Page 6-7. Accessed Jan. 27, 2022.

  6. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 501 (2021), Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information: Gross Income Test." Accessed Jan. 27, 2022.

  7. IRS. "4491 VITA/TCE Training Guide 2021 Returns," Page 6-8. Accessed Jan. 27, 2022.

  8. IRS. "4491 VITA/TCE Training Guide 2021 Returns," Page 6-9. Accessed Jan. 27, 2022.