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Do You Qualify for the Favorable HOH Status?

The head of household (HOH) federal tax filing status is often misunderstood by taxpayers who might qualify, including single, divorced, or legally separated parents, and taxpayers who support adult family members. However, it’s worth exploring because you could reap substantial savings at tax time.

Benefits of HOH Status

The IRS enumerates several advantages of qualifying for HOH status. For example, you can claim the standard deduction even if your spouse files a separate return and itemizes deductions. The standard deduction is larger, so less of your income is taxed. For 2023, the standard deduction was $20,800, compared to $13,850 for single filers and married couples filing separately. For 2024, it’s $21,900, compared to $14,600 for single filers and married couples filing separately.

In addition, the tax rate for a head of household usually is lower than for single filers and married filing separately. For example, the 12% rate applies for single filers on taxable income from $11,600 up to $47,150 in 2024. Heads of household, on the other hand, will pay the 12% rate on taxable income from $16,550 up to $63,100 in 2024.

HOH status also may increase your tax credits. You might be eligible for some credits not available when married filing separately, including the dependent care credit and the earned income credit. The income thresholds that reduce the child tax credit and retirement saving contribution credit are higher for heads of household than they are for married couples filing separately. So, with HOH status, you may qualify for these credits when you wouldn’t otherwise.

General Requirements

You can qualify for HOH status if you satisfy three conditions:

(1) You were unmarried or considered unmarried on the last day of the year. According to the IRS, you’re generally “considered unmarried” if:

  • You file a separate tax return, including a return claiming married filing separately, single or HOH filing status,
  • You paid more than half the cost of keeping up your home for the tax year (see below for more information on this criterion),
  • Your spouse didn’t live in your home during the last six months of the tax year,
  • Your home was the main home of your child, stepchild, or foster child for more than half the year, and
  • You can claim the child as a dependent. (You meet this criterion if the only reason you can’t claim the child as a dependent is because the noncustodial parent can claim the child.)

(2) You paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for the year. Relevant costs for this requirement include:

  • Rent,
  • Mortgage interest,
  • Real estate taxes,
  • Homeowners’ insurance,
  • Repairs,
  • Utilities, and
  • Food is eaten in the home.

The cost of “keeping up a home” doesn’t include the cost of clothing, education, medical treatment, vacations, life insurance, or transportation for any household member.

(3) A “qualifying person” lived with you in the home for more than half the year. For this purpose, you may exclude temporary absences, such as school. Depending on the circumstances, a qualifying person could be:

  • Your son, daughter, or grandchild who lived with you for more than half the year and meets certain other tests,
  • Your parent, or
  • A qualifying relative other than your father or mother, such as a grandparent or sibling who meets certain tests.

Notably, a dependent parent needn’t live with you to qualify. However, you must pay more than half the cost of keeping up a home that was the main home for the entire year for the parent, including senior living facilities.

The child of divorced or separated parents usually is the qualifying child of the custodial parent, meaning the parent with whom the child lived for a greater number of nights during the year. If the child lived with each parent for an equal number of nights during the year, the custodial parent is the parent with the higher adjusted gross income.

But a noncustodial parent can sometimes satisfy this test if:

  • The parents 1) are divorced or legally separated under a decree of divorce or separate maintenance, 2) are separated under a written separation agreement, or 3) lived apart at all times during the last six months of the year, regardless of whether they are or were married.
  • The child received over half of his or her support for the year from the parents,
  • The child is in the custody of one or both parents for more than half of the year, and
  • The custodial parent signs a written declaration that he or she won’t claim the child as a dependent for the year, and the noncustodial parent attaches this written declaration to his or her tax return.

A child might meet the conditions to be a qualifying child for more than one person, but only one person can claim the child as a qualifying child for HOH purposes.

Check It Out

Taxpayers who consider themselves the head of the household may not actually be eligible for that tax status. The IRS rules are complex, particularly when it comes to the “qualifying person” requirement, but the potential savings are significant. Contact your tax advisor at Isdaner & Company to determine if you qualify for this tax-favored status.