IRS Tax Return Filing Status

What is my filing status?

The first thing you need to do when you prepare a tax return is to choose your filing status. Your IRS tax filing status is a classification that determines many things about your tax return. It's important to select the correct filing status as the right one will get you the lowest taxes and the biggest refund. In most cases, it is very simple to pick if you are single and have never been married.

It can get a bit more complicated if you are single and have qualifying dependents, such as a child or relative. Here, you don't have to read a lot of Tax Mumbo Jumbo to find out what your correct filing status is. Simply use this STATucator below and you get the answer. If you are not sure if one your dependents or relatives might indeed qualify to be a dependent on your tax return, use the DEPENDucator or the RELucator and find out.

Your filing status is used to determine such things as: filing requirements, tax rates, standard deduction, and your eligibility for tax credits and tax deductions.

We have a very simple question-and-answer tool that helps you determined your correct filing status: the STATucator will determine what filing status best suits you based on your marital status, dependent information, and financial support.

Get Your Filing Status Now

Five Tax Return Filing Status Types

There are five different choices of filing status, but you can only qualify for one or two in any given year, depending on your circumstances. You can only choose one filing status on your tax return, but your filing status may change from year to year.

How do you know which filing status to choose? You can use the linked STATucator on this page, but the table below outlines this in simplest terms.

Filing Status
Who May Use It
If you are unmarried and do not have any qualifying dependents, use this filing status.
If you are unmarried, but you do have at least one qualifying dependent for whom you pay the costs of keeping up a house for, select this status.
Most married couples benefit most from this status; it has the highest standard deduction and other income limits for certain credits and deductions.
Generally, high income earners who are married may benefit from this if they wish to keep their income separate for tax purposes or one of the spouses has past tax liability that would hurt their joint return.
As a surviving widow, claim this status the following two years after your spouse's passing if you have a qualifying dependent.

Once you have the correct filing status, start your return on eFile.com and begin entering your various income and deduction forms.

Single Filing Status

The single filing status is the most basic among the filing status options. You must file as single if you were not married on the last day of the tax year and you do not qualify for any other filing status. If you have dependents, you might qualify as Head of Household. Also, if your spouse passed on during a tax year, you might can still file as married filing jointly or separate even if you are now a qualifying widower. If in doubt use the STATucator.

Not sure if your dependent(s) or relative(s) qualify as dependent(s) on your tax return? Fire up the DEPENDucator or the RELucator and get the answer.

Head of Household

You may qualify for Head of Household filing status if you were single and you paid more than half the costs of keeping up a home and you had a qualifying dependent or person. Use the HOHucator to find out if you qualify.

Under certain circumstances, you might be able to file as Head of Household as a single person or even if you are technically still legally married. If you lived apart from your spouse for the last half of the year and if you keep up a home for a dependent child, you might qualify for Head of Household.

Learn about the tax implications or planning steps if you are a single parent or single and pregnant now.

Married Filing Jointly, Separately

Other than being married, there are no special qualifications for the Married Filing Jointly or MFJ and the Married Filing Separately or MFS filing statuses. You and your spouse may choose whether to file jointly or separately, but you must both use the same filing status for the year. In other words, one spouse can not file as MFJ and the other as MFS for the same tax year.

Generally, the married filing jointly filing status is more tax beneficial. You can choose married filing separately if you are married and want to be responsible only for your own tax liability and not your spouse's liability. You can also file separately if you determine that you will get a bigger refund (or lower tax liability) than if you filed jointly. You must use this filing status if you were married on December 31, but you and your spouse (or now ex-spouse) cannot agree to file a joint return.

It is a good idea to weigh the benefits of each married filing status before deciding on which one to use. Determining your marital status will narrow your choices of filing status. As a general rule, your marital status on the last day of the tax year (December 31) is your marital status for the entire tax year.

You are considered to have been married for the entire tax year if, on December 31, any of the following was true:

  • You were legally married and living together as husband and wife, wife and wife, or husband and husband.
  • You were living together as husband and wife - husband/husband or wife/wife - in a state-recognized common law marriage.
  • You were legally married but living apart and have not made any action to legalize your separation.
  • You were legally separated under an interlocutory decree of divorce, but your divorce has not been finalized.
  • Your spouse died during the tax year (you may still be able to file a joint tax return).

Learn about the tax consequences of taxes and marriage.

You are considered unmarried for the entire tax year if, on December 31, any of the following was true:

  • You were never married.
  • You were legally separated (but not under an interlocutory decree of divorce).
  • You were divorced and your divorce decree was finalized.
  • Your marriage was annulled with an official court decree of annulment.
  • You were still legally married but were considered unmarried for the purpose of qualifying for the Head of Household filing status.

Note: married filing separately is not the same as filing single.

Tax Tips: Innocent Versus Injured Spouse

Innocent Spouse: If you file as MFJ, both individuals are equally responsible for all taxes owed if there is a balance due. This is also called joint and several tax liability as a married filing jointly couple is liable for taxes even if the additional taxes are the result of income, deductions, or credits of a spouse or former spouse. Thus, you might want to consider the Innocent Spouse if you think your current their spouse or former spouse should only be held responsible for all or part of the tax liabilities, penalties, and interest.

Injured Spouse: If you prepared and filed or e-Filed a married filing joint income tax return and if one spouse is not responsible for the current or past debts of the other spouse, then the spouse might be entitled to request his or her portion of the IRS tax refund back from the IRS in case the IRS has offset the tax refund to pay the spouse's debt. In that case, consider the Injured Spouse option.

Qualifying Widow(er)

Find out your filing status in case your spouse deceased during the tax year: Qualifying Widow(er).

You may file as a Qualifying Widow or Widower for the two years following the year of your spouse's death if you support a dependent child. If you are left to support a dependent on your own, you can use this status for two years following the passing of your spouse. This means that you can claim the married status for the year of the passing, then claim widow for the subsequent two years, giving you three years of the more beneficial filing statuses.

No matter what your filing status, eFile.com makes it easy to prepare and file a tax return. We will apply all of the correct rates and amounts based on your filing status. You enter the information, and we do all the math for you. Plus, we guarantee 100% calculation accuracy!

Use any of the other free tax estimator and tax calculator tools that help you find answers to your personal questions.

State Filing Status

Can I claim a different filing status on my state return?

Generally, taxpayers will claim the same filing status on their federal and state returns when they file. Since state returns are primarily based on a federal return, this filing status is selected by default on eFile.com and most taxpayers will only be able to file using the same status. However, some states do allow you to file with a different filing status. Some taxpayers can choose to file a married filing joint return to the IRS, but elect to file separate returns to their state. Only certain states allow this; see our states pages for more details.

It can be complicated to change filing statuses from federal to state and we generally commend using the same status across both returns. If you want or need to change the status on your state return, you may be able to change this when you prepare your taxes on eFile.com.

For questions on your filing status, contact us here and make eFile.com the home of your Personal Support Page.

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