Head of Household vs Single: How Should You File Your Taxes

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Filing taxes can be complex and intimidating. If you file your taxes incorrectly, you could face fines and legal ramifications from the IRS. Understanding how to file your taxes can save you a great deal of time, money, and frustration. Common tax filings include either filing as Head of Household, Single, or Married Filing Jointly.

How should you file your taxes for the upcoming tax season? We’ll cover both the Head of Household and Single filing status in greater detail below. 

Are there advantages of filing as the Head of Household?

We all pay taxes as a percentage of our overall income. However, those who file as Head of Household often pay less tax on their income as a percentage than those who file taxes as Single. Tax brackets update yearly, but taxpayers gain a meaningful advantage when they file as Head of Household.

For example, in 2022, Single filers started paying 22% tax when their income reached $41,775. If you filed as the Head of Household, the 22% tax didn’t start until your income reached $55,900. It’s in your best interest to find out if you qualify for Head of Household filing status. 

What Qualifies a Person as Head of Household?

Filing as Head of Household involves more than just checking off a box. You must meet several requirements to claim this status. Always ask a tax professional if you are not sure. 

To qualify for Head of Household status, you must:

  • Be unmarried
  • Pay at least 50% of the costs of maintaining a household
  • Have a qualifying dependent who lives in your household, and you provide their support for at least 50% of the year

To file using the Head of Household status, you must meet all of the requirements above. If you miss just one, you need to file your tax return using Single status. 

It’s a good idea to document how you meet Head of Household rules. The IRS could challenge the status of your tax return.  If you can’t show that you’ve met all of the requirements under the Head of Household test, the IRS could change your status to Single, which could ultimately result in paying more taxes. A good rule of thumb is to keep accurate and updated financial records. Not only can this process help you better track and manage your money throughout the year, it can also help you substantiate your tax filing status in the event you were ever audited by the IRS. 

Can I claim the Head of Household without dependents?

Normally, to qualify as Head of Household, you would have a child dependent. However, it is possible to file as Head of Household without claiming dependents. This exception might happen when a noncustodial parent has the right to claim a child as a dependent. 

Even if you aren’t entitled to claim your child as a dependent, you may be able to file as Head of Household as long as you’re unmarried, paid for more than half the home cost with your child, and your child is your qualifying person. 

Who Is considered a qualifying person?

A qualifying person is a child, parent, or relative who helps you meet requirements for Head of Household filing status. In general, a qualifying person is a child under 19 years old who lives with you for at least half of the year. A child under 24 years old who is away at college could also qualify.

A qualifying person doesn’t have to be a child. If you provide more than half of the support for a parent, they may meet this definition as well–even if they don’t live with you. 

The IRS has various definitions of who a qualifying person is to allow you to file as Head of Household. It’s important to familiarize yourself with these definitions yearly to see if you happen to qualify for the Head of Household filing status. 

How do I file taxes if I’m married to a nonresident alien spouse?

Carefully consider your tax filing status if your spouse is a nonresident alien. Choosing the wrong status could trigger higher tax rates, lost deductions, and expanded reporting requirements. It is always a good idea to consult a tax professional if you are not sure. 

And remember, for the latest information head to IRS.gov.

When you are married to a nonresident alien, you may fall under a Married or Head of Household tax status. 

  • Married Filing Single – If you report your spouse on your tax return and don’t have dependents, you may need to select Married Filing Single. You may pay a higher tax rate and miss out on some deductions with this status, but it may be your only option if you don’t have a qualifying dependent.
  • Head of Household – If you have a qualifying person that is not your nonresident alien spouse, you may qualify for Head of Household status. You still need to meet the IRS rules for having a qualifying person, including paying for more than half of that dependent’s home. You can receive a lower tax rate if you qualify for the Head of Household status. 
  • Married Filing Jointly – You can choose to treat your spouse as a U.S. resident when filing your tax return. However, you and your spouse must then include your combined global income on your tax returns.  

Single tax filing status

Single tax filers are unmarried and don’t qualify for any other filing status. The IRS bases your marital status on the last day of the year. If you get divorced at any time during the year, you are considered unmarried and file as Single on your tax return. 

If you are legally separated from your spouse and lived apart for at least six months during the year, the IRS considers your status to be Single. 

Difference between Single and Head of Household

Head of Household and Single filers experience differences in tax rates. On a high level, the two biggest differences are that filing as Head of Household gives you a preferential standard deduction amount and a lower income tax bracket. Said differently, those who file as the Head of Household may pay less tax on the income they earn, and they have the potential to earn a higher tax refund when compared to the same income as someone who filed single. 

Should I file as Single or Head of Household?

Filing as Head of Household gives you more tax benefits than filing with Single status. Head of Household filing status has lower rates and a larger deduction. However, to qualify as Head of Household, you need to be single or unmarried and pay for more than half the cost of supporting a qualifying person. If you are a single parent or take care of dependents, investigate which tax status maximizes your tax savings. 

As a reminder, be sure that you follow the IRS guidelines. Choosing the wrong status can be a costly mistake if the IRS decides that you don’t qualify. You’ll pay back any tax savings, along with penalties and interest. The IRS conducts random audits to ensure people are complying with the tax laws and regulations. If you are intentionally misleading your taxes, you could face legal charges as well. 

To decide whether it’s better to file single or head of household for your situation, you may also want to consult with a tax professional. Having a dedicated attorney or accountant at your side can help you ensure your approaching your filing status in the smartest way.

Save money by picking the right tax filing status

Choosing between Head of Household or Single status can be tricky. Different living situations can push you toward one status or another. If you pick the wrong status, it can cost you time and money. If you are unsure which filing status you qualify for, consider filing your federal and state tax returns using a free online tax service or the free IRS filing program

Can you claim head of household if you are single? 

Yes, you can claim Head of Household if you are single, so long as you meet these requirements

Can you be head of household without dependents?

You typically need to have a dependent to file as the Head of Household, and custodial parents will need to follow these rules to qualify. 

Is it better to file single or head of household? 

Generally speaking, it’s preferential to file as the Head of Household if you qualify. Your tax rate as a percentage of income is reduced, and more deductions can become available.

What is the difference between single and head of household?

Single and head of household are different filing statuses for tax purposes. If you are unmarried and provide more than half the cost of keeping up a home for qualifying relatives, you may be able to file as head of household and receive a higher standard deduction and more favorable tax rates compared to filing as single.

Can I claim head of household if I live alone?

Generally no, you cannot claim head of household if you live alone. To qualify for head of household filing status, you must have a qualifying dependent living with you and you pay more than half the cost of keeping up your home.

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