Claim Children and Dependents on Your Tax Return
If you support children, relatives, or even non-relatives, then you may be able to claim them as dependents (or "dependants", as the word is often misspelled) on your tax return.
What Is the IRS Definition of a Dependent?
The IRS definition of a dependent is: a Qualifying Child or Qualifying Relative for whom you can claim a tax exemption.
What Are the IRS Dependent Rules?
If someone is your Qualifying Child or Qualifying Relative, then you can claim a tax exemption for them, and you may qualify for additional tax benefits. You can claim one exemption for each dependent.
A dependent exemption is technically different from a tax deduction for dependents, because an exemption is subtracted from your adjusted gross income before your taxable income is calculated (after that, tax deductions are subtracted from your taxable income).
What Are the Tax Benefits of Claiming Dependents?
Can I Claim Dependents on My Tax Return?
If someone qualifies as your dependent, you are entitled to claim them on your tax return unless you or your spouse qualify as a dependent for another person. If someone else can claim you (or your spouse, if filing jointly) as a dependent, whether or not they actually claim you, then you are not allowed to claim any dependents of your own (nor can you take any tax exemptions, even for yourself).
Who Can I Claim as a Dependent on My Tax Return?
You can claim a person as your dependent if all 3 of these statements are true:
- They are a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, resident alien, or resident of Canada or Mexico. There is an exception for legally adopted children.
- They are not married and filing jointly, unless the joint return is only a claim for a refund and there would be no taxes owed by either spouse if they filed separate returns.
- They are a Qualifying Child or a Qualifying Relative, according to the IRS rules.
Special Case: Adopted Child
A child whom you legally adopt is always considered your child. If you adopted a child who is not a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or resident alien, they can still qualify as your dependent if they lived with you for the entire year.
If a child was placed with you for a pending legal adoption, they are considered to be your adopted child for the purposes of claiming a dependent.
What Is a Qualifying Child?
If a person is your Qualifying Child according to the IRS requirements, then you can claim that person as your dependent. A Qualifying Child must be related to you, but they do not have to actually be your child.
See the Qualifying Child requirements
What Is a Qualifying Relative?
If someone meets the IRS requirements to be your Qualifying Relative, you may claim them as a dependent. A Qualifying Relative does not have to actually be related to you, as long as they lived with you all year and meet other requirements.
See the Qualifying Relative requirements
What If Two or More People Claim the Same Dependent?
Generally, only one taxpayer (or married couple filing jointly) may claim any one person as a dependent. The tax benefits for claiming a dependent cannot be split, unless it is detailed in a divorce decree. If two or more taxpayers claim the same person as a dependent, the IRS will apply a set of tiebreaker rules to determine who has the legitimate claim.
In the case of divorced parents, the custodial parent usually has the right to claim the child as a dependent. The custodial parent may release this claim, allowing the non-custodial parent to claim the child, by attaching a written statement or Form 8332 - Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent to their tax return.
Find out more about the tiebreaker rules for more than one person claiming a dependent.
How Do I Claim Dependents on My Taxes?
You can claim dependents when you prepare your tax return on Form 1040A efile it or Form 1040 efile it (Find out which type of Form 1040 to file here). It is easy to claim dependents when you prepare your return on efile.com.
Before you begin, make sure that you have access to your dependents' Social Security cards, because you will need to enter their names and Social Security Numbers exactly as they appear on the cards. If your dependent does not have a SSN, an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) or an adoption taxpayer identification number (ATIN) is acceptable.
Unfortunately, dependents cannot be claimed on a Form 1040EZ, so if you do claim dependents, you will not qualify to use the Free Federal Edition. But our prices for preparing a 1040A or a 1040 are the lowest around (and the accuracy, ease-of-use, and peace-of-mind are well worth the modest fee)! Compare our tax return preparation prices.
How to Claim a Qualifying Child
How to Claim a Qualifying Relative
What Are Tax Exemptions?
What If Both Divorced Parents Claim the Same Dependent?