Tax Law Update: Beginning with 2018 returns, claiming dependents no longer gets you a personal exemption for them, as the personal exemption has been eliminated in favor of a much higher standard deduction. For 2017 returns, the personal exemption was worth $4,050 for each person on your return, which reduced your taxable income. The change was part of tax reform legislation passed in 2017, which you can find more out about in the Tax Reform 101 section.
Let’s break down the IRS requirements for correctly adding dependents to your return.
First and foremost, a dependent is someone you support: You must have provided at least half of the person’s total support for the year — food, shelter, clothing, etc. If your adult daughter, for example, lived with you but provided at least half of her own support, you probably can’t claim her as a dependent.
For a quick overview of who you can claim, see our infographic.
Rules for All Dependents
Dependents are usually, but not always, a child or other relative. Qualifying children and qualifying relatives have their own additional requirements, but all dependents must meet these requirements:
- Dependents can have their own tax returns, and even be married, but they must not have filed a joint tax return for the year unless it’s just to claim a refund.
- They must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or a resident alien.
- They must have a taxpayer identification number. That’s usually a Social Security Number, but if the child doesn’t qualify for one, it can be an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) or an Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number (ATIN).
Rules for Claiming Children
When you’re claiming a dependent who is a child, there are further requirements:
- The child has to have lived with you for at least half of the year.
- The child has to be related to you as a son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, or a descendant of any of those.
- The child must be 18 or younger at the end of the year, or under 24 if a student. To be a student, the child must have attended school full-time during at least five months of the year. The five months don’t have to be in a row.
- The child must be younger than you (or your spouse, if married filing jointly), unless the child is disabled.
Rules for Claiming Other Relatives and Unrelated Persons
For a parent or other relative, there are different additional requirements:
- The person cannot have a gross yearly income over $4,200. (That’s the amount for 2019 returns — it usually changes each year.)
- The person can’t be a qualifying child dependent of you or another person. That means you can’t claim the person if someone else could.
- The person must be either related to you or must have lived with you all year as a member of your household.