tax tips — February 13, 2017

Breaking Down the 5 Filing Statuses

by Susannah McQuitty

A man using a laptop in a coffee shop

So you’re e-filing your taxes for the first time, and you’ve heard that you need to know your filing status. You know it’s pretty simple if you’re single, but what’s all this “married filing jointly” and “married filing separate” business? And when we say “head of household,” do we mean just anyone who tends to be an authority figure?

Let’s break these down a bit – starting with filing single, just to get the easiest one under our belts.

A woman smiles while using her phone and laptop in a coffee shop.

Filing with the single status

Pretty simple, right? Well, sort of. This isn’t exactly the same as your grandmother asking you for the umpteenth time whether you’re ever going to find true love. Even if you’re in a relationship, you count as single if you’re not legally married. You could also file as single if you’re legally separated or divorced according to the state laws where you live.

The standard deduction for a single filer is $6,300.

Have any kids? Well, you may want to file head of household instead of single.

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Head of household

Single parents, listen up. You can file head of household if you have dependents (children or adults) whose expenses you pay more than half of over the course of the year. You’ll get a higher standard deduction ($9,300) and qualify for more credits than you would if filing single.

If you’re married, you can claim head of household if you were legally separated as per state law and paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for you and your dependent.

A couple sitting on a couch to use a laptop.

Married filing jointly versus married filing separately

Okay, so you’re legally married and you’re not sure which status to choose here. Filing jointly means that you’ll fill out one return between the two of you. This is usually the best option, since it helps you qualify for the most credits and gives you a higher standard deduction, at $12,600.

But in some rare cases, married couples benefit more from filing separately. If there’s a huge difference between their income amounts, it can be better to file separately. You may also want to go this route if your spouse is in suspiciously gray areas on their taxes – if there’s anything dishonest going on, you don’t want your return to be associated with theirs.

It’s important to note, too, that if both spouses file separately, they must both either claim the standard deduction or itemize their deductions – one can’t claim the standard deduction if the other is itemizing their deductions.

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Qualifying widow(er)

infographic on filing statusesIf your spouse passes away and you do not remarry, you might be able to use this status. To qualify you also must have provided over 50% of your household expenses and your home must be the principal home for your qualifying child.  You also must be able to claim an exemption for the qualifying child.

A key benefit to this filing status is that you are able to claim the same standard deduction as a married couple: $12,600.

So those are the five filing statuses: single, head of household, married filing jointly, married filing separately, and qualifying widow(er). Remember, when you file with, we’ll help you pick the best filing status based on your tax situation.

Want more info on filing statuses? Take a look at our infographic.

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