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Filing Basics

Personal Tax Exemption

Exemptions cut your taxes by subtracting a set amount from your taxable income. You are allowed a personal exemption for yourself, your spouse if married filing jointly, and each person you can claim as a dependent. For 2013, the exemption amount is $3,900.

You can take a personal exemption for yourself unless another taxpayer can claim you as a dependent. Even if the other taxpayer does not take an exemption for you, you cannot claim the personal exemption.

Phaseouts

For 2013 and later, the personal exemptions phase out at certain higher income levels, depending on your filing status:

  • Single: phaseout begins when your adjusted gross income (AGI) reaches $250,000, phasing out completely at $372,500.
  • Married filing jointly: phaseout begins at $300,000, phasing out completely at $422,500.
  • Married filing separately: phaseout begins at $150,000, phases out completely at $211,250.
  • Head of household: phaseout begins at $275,000, phases out completely at $397,500.

Spouse Exemption

If you file a joint return, you can claim an exemption for your spouse.

If you are filing separate returns, or as head of household, you can claim an exemption for your spouse only if you meet all of the following:

  • Your spouse has no gross income.
  • Your spouse is not filing a return.
  • Your spouse was not another taxpayer's dependent.

If your spouse could be claimed as someone else's dependent, you cannot claim the exemption, even if the other taxpayer does not claim the exemption for your spouse.

If your spouse died during the year and you did not remarry, you can claim an exemption for your spouse if you are filing a joint return in the year of your spouse's death.

Dependent Exemptions

You can claim one exemption for each person you can claim as a dependent. Even if your dependent files a return, you can still claim a personal exemption for him or her.

You can take one exemption for each qualifying child or relative if the person meets three tests:

  • Dependent Taxpayer Test
    • If you could be claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer, you cannot claim anyone else as your dependent. This is true even if you have a qualifying child or relative.
  • Joint Return Test
    • You generally cannot claim a married person as a dependent if he or she files a joint return.
    • This test does not apply if a joint return is filed by a dependent only to claim a refund and no tax liability exists for either spouse, even if they filed separate returns.
  • Citizen or Resident Test
    • You cannot claim an exemption for a dependent unless the person is a U.S. citizen, resident alien, national, or a resident of Canada or Mexico for at least part of the year.
    • If you are a U.S. citizen or national who has legally adopted a child who is not a U.S. citizen, resident alien, or national, this test is met if the dependent lived as a member of your household the entire tax year.

Non-Resident Aliens

If you are a non-resident alien, generally you can only claim an exemption for yourself. You cannot claim an exemption for your spouse or any dependents.

This does not apply to residents of Canada, Mexico, or certain residents of India and Korea. This also does not apply if you are a non-resident alien married to a U.S. citizen or resident alien, and have chosen to be treated as a resident of the United States.