Can I File As Head of Household if I Am Married & My Spouse Does Not Work?

by Herb Kirchhoff

    People who file as head of household as of 2012 usually get a lower tax rate than the rates applied to those who are single or married filing separately. A head of household also gets a larger standard deduction. As a general rule, you must be unmarried to file as a head of household. But you may be able to claim this filing status even though you are married if you meet the Internal Revenue Service tests to be “considered unmarried.”

    You can’t claim head of household status if you file a joint tax return. Your tax return must be separate from that of your spouse. In addition, your spouse cannot have lived in your home during the last six months of the tax year. Or your spouse must have been a nonresident alien during the tax year. Your spouse’s employment status is irrelevant when you are claiming head of household tax filing status.

    You must have one or more dependents for which you can claim a tax exemption. Your home must have been the main home for your child, stepchild, adoptive child or foster child for more than six months of the year. The six-month exemption residency test also applies to other dependent relatives such as a brother or sister. For an exemption, you also must have provided more than half of your dependent’s support.

    You must have paid more than half the costs of keeping up the home where you and your dependents lived during the year. Home upkeep costs include items such as taxes, mortgage or rent payments, utilities, home insurance, maintenance and groceries. Home upkeep does not include individual expenses such as clothing, education, medical treatment, life insurance or transportation. You also can’t count the value of the time you spent on home upkeep tasks.

    If your dependent is a parent, the residency and home upkeep rules for head of household status are slightly different. There’s no requirement that a dependent parent lived with you during the tax year, but you must have paid more than half the cost of keeping up the home where your parent is living. If your father or mother was living in a rest home or residence for the elderly, you must have paid more than half the cost of keeping your parent in that facility.

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    About the Author

    Herbert Kirchhoff has over 35 years experience as a newspaper and newsletter reporter, writer and editor, with 27 of those years spent on telecommunications industry policy issues. Kirchhoff has a B.A. in journalism from Rider University in New Jersey and has been published in the "Trenton (N.J.) Times" and in "Communications Daily" and State Telephone Regulation Report, Washington, D.C.

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