IRS Head of Household Filing Status

Head of Household tax return filing statusHead of Household is one of the most misunderstood tax filing statuses. But it is important to know about this filing status, because it comes with some great tax benefits for those who qualify.

For example, this is a great filing status for single parents!

What Is the IRS Definition of Head of Household?

Head of Household is a filing status for single or unmarried taxpayers who keep up a home for a Qualifying Person. The Head of Household filing status has some important tax advantages over the Single filing status. If you qualify as Head of Household, you will have a lower tax rate and a higher standard deduction than a Single filer.

Also, Heads of Household must have a higher income than Single filers before they owe income tax. Do you need to file a tax return?

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Do I Qualify as Head of Household?

You qualify to file or efile as Head of Household if you meet all 3 of these Head of Household filing status requirements:

  1. You were not married (you were single, divorced, or legally separated), or were "considered unmarried" on the last day of the tax year.
  2. You paid more than half the cost of "keeping up a home" for the year.
  3. A "Qualifying Person" lived with you in that home for more than half the year, except for temporary absences (a dependent parent is not required to live with you).

What Is "Considered Unmarried"?

There are cases where a person is still legally married but lives separately from their spouse, who provides little or no support. Even if you are still legally married, you may be considered unmarried for the purposes of the Head of Household filing status if all 5 of the following statements are true:

  1. You are not filing a joint return.
  2. You paid more than half of the costs of keeping up the home during the year.
  3. Your spouse did not live with you anytime during the last 6 months of the year (temporary abscess don't count as not living with you).
  4. Your Qualifying Person is your child, stepchild, or foster child and they lived in your home for more than half the year (except temporary absences).
  5. You are able to claim an exemption for the child (meaning they qualify as your dependent), or you cannot take the exemption only because the noncustodial parent qualifies for it.

Special Case: Temporary Absence

You are still considered to have lived with your spouse in your home if you only lived apart due to temporary absences. A temporary absence includes living away from the home for the purposes of school, business, military service, medical treatment, or vacation, with the expectation of returning to the home after the absence.

Special Case: Nonresident Alien Spouse

You can be considered unmarried (single) for the purpose of filing as Head of Household if your spouse was a nonresident alien anytime during the year and you do not choose to treat them as a resident alien for tax purposes. But you are considered married if you choose to treat your spouse as a resident alien on your tax return.

Your spouse cannot be a qualifying person, so you must have another qualifying person to be eligible to file as a Head of Household.

What Are the Costs of "Keeping up a Home"?

To figure out if you paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home, you must first determine the total cost. All of the following expenses should be included when determining the total cost of keeping up a home:

  • Rent
  • Mortgage interest
  • Insurance
  • Property taxes
  • Utilities
  • Repairs and maintenance
  • Food eaten in the home
  • Other household expenses

Once you figure the total cost, simply halve the number and compare the result to your actual expenses to see if you paid more.

Special Case: Multiple People Pay the Cost of Keeping up a Home

You are considered to have paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home if you paid a greater portion of the total cost than anybody else did, even if you actually paid less than half of the total cost.

Special Case: Public Assistance

If you paid any costs of keeping up your home with funds received from TANF or other public assistance programs, you may not include those amounts in the expenses you paid. However, you must still count these expenses toward the total cost of keeping up a home.

Who Is a "Qualifying Person" for Head of Household?

A Qualifying Person is someone who qualifies you to file as Head of Household if they lived with you in your home for more than half the year, not counting temporary absences. Your parent, however, does not have to live with you to be a Qualifying Person. Many dependents will count as a Qualifying Person for Head of Household, but some dependents will not. And a Qualifying Person does not necessarily have to be a dependent.

So who does count as a Qualifying Person? Any of the following can be a Qualifying Person:

  • A Qualifying Child who is single.
  • A Qualifying Child who is married, as long as you can claim a tax exemption for them. (They can still be your Qualifying Person if the only reason you cannot claim the exemption for them is that you can be claimed as a dependent on someone else's return).
  • Your mother or father, if you can claim an exemption for them.
  • A Qualifying Relative that is related to you, if they lived with you for more than half the year and you can claim an exemption for them. Any of the following relations may count as a Qualifying Person: your child, stepchild, grandchild or other descendant of one of your children (or stepchildren or foster children), son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother, sister, half brother, half sister, stepbrother, stepsister, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, parent, stepfather, stepmother, father-in-law, mother-in-law, grandparent, great-grandparent, and, if related by blood, aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew.

Qualifying Person Examples:

Child Who Is a Qualifying Person, example 1: Your single daughter, who was 18 years old on December 31, lived with you all year and had no income, so she did not provide more than half of her own support. She is your Qualifying Child and single, so she is a Qualifying Person for Head of Household.

Child Who Is a Qualifying Person, example 2: Your single daughter was age 20 on December 31. She was a full-time student and lived on campus while attending school, so she is considered to have lived with you. She paid some of her own expenses, but did not pay more than half of her own support. She is your Qualifying Child and single, so she is a Qualifying Person.

Child Who Is Not a Qualifying Person: Your daughter is single and was 25 years old at the end of the year. She had a gross income of $10,000 for the year. She is too old to be your Qualifying Child, and she made too much money to be your Qualifying Relative, so you cannot claim a dependent exemption for her. Therefore, she is not a Qualifying Person for Head of Household.

Girlfriend or Boyfriend: Your girlfriend lived with you all year and had no income. You are able to claim her as a dependent and get an exemption for her because she is your Qualifying Relative. But she is not a Qualifying Person for Head of Household because she is not related to you. Your girlfriend or boyfriend can never be your Qualifying Person for the Head of Household filing status.

Child of Girlfriend or Boyfriend: Your girlfriend's 9-year old son, who is not your child, lived with you all year and you provided all of his support. You are able to claim him as a dependent and get an exemption for him because he is your Qualifying Relative, but he is not a Qualifying Person for Head of Household because he is not actually related to you.

Qualifying Person Special Cases

Temporary Absence

If you or your Qualifying Person were temporarily absent from your home, you are still considered to have lived together in the home. An acceptable temporary absence includes living away from the home for the purposes of school, business, military service, medical treatment, or vacation. You or your Qualifying Person must have expected to return to the home after the absence, and you must have kept up the home during the absence.

Birth or Death of Qualifying Person

If your Qualifying Person was born or died during the year, they are still considered to have lived with you for the entire year as long as you paid more than half of the cost of keeping up the home during the time your Qualifying Person was alive.

Parent Is Your Qualifying Person

If you support your mother or father, but they did not live with you, you may still be able to claim them as a Qualifying Person for the Head of Household filing status. In order to do this, you must be able to claim an exemption for them for being your dependent, and you must have paid more than half the cost of keeping up the home in which they lived for the entire year. If your parent lived in a rest home, nursing home, or home for the elderly, you are considered to have kept up their main home if you paid more than half of the cost of them living there.

Multiple Support Agreement

If you can claim an exemption for someone only because of a multiple support agreement (where several people provide someone's support), then you cannot count them as a Qualifying Person for Head of Household status.

Kidnapped Child

Yes, there is a rule for this. If your Qualifying Person is a child who was kidnapped, and thus did not live with you, you are still entitled to file as Head of Household if the following 3 statements are true:

  1. Law enforcement presumes that the child was not kidnapped by a member of your family or the child's family.
  2. The child lived with you for more than half of the part of the year before they were kidnapped, in the year in which they were kidnapped.
  3. If the child had not been kidnapped, you would qualify as Head of Household.

If multiple years pass before the child is recovered, you may file as Head of Household for each year in which the above statements hold true, until the year during which the child would turn 18, or until the child is determined to be deceased.

How Do I File or efile as Head of Household?

You can claim the Head of Household filing status when you prepare your return on a Form 1040A efile it or Form 1040 efile it(Learn which type of Form 1040 to file). It is easy to file as Head of Household on efile.com. Choosing your filing status is one of the first things you do when you start preparing your tax return online.

Unfortunately, the Head of Household filing status cannot be used on a Form 1040EZ, so if you file as Head of Household, 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 worth it)! Compare our tax return preparation prices.

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