The phrase "head of household" brings to mind a large family with a patriarch or matriarch ruling the roost. For tax purposes, however, a single parent living with one child can potentially qualify as head of household. Under some very specific circumstances, a single taxpayer who lives alone can do so as well. Many rules apply, but if you can claim head of household filing status, it offers several tax perks.
Although there are exceptions, generally one can't claim head of household on their taxes unless they live with an eligible dependent and provide at least half of that dependent's support.
Your Qualifying Dependent
Generally, you must have a dependent who lives with you at least six months out of the year to qualify as head of household. The Internal Revenue Service makes an exception for your parents, however. You can claim your mother or your father as your dependent under some circumstances, even if they don't live in your home. They might still maintain their own residence – with your help – or reside in a nursing home or other care facility, which you help pay for.
Other Dependent Rules
Even if your parent doesn't live with you, he must be dependent upon you in order for you to qualify as head of household. You must be able to claim him as a dependent on your tax return, and this imposes additional rules. One rule concerns his income – it cannot exceed the amount of the dependent exemption for that year. The dependent exemption is $4,050 for the 2017 tax year, so your parent cannot earn more than that. The exemption increases periodically to adjust for inflation, and Social Security or other non-taxable income doesn't count toward the total.
You must also pay for more than half your parent's support. If his nursing home costs $4,000 a month, you must pay at least $2,001 of that. If maintaining his home, utilities and basic living expenses costs $2,000 a month, you must pay at least $1,001. However, it is worth noting that starting in 2018 for taxes that will be filed in 2019, the personal/dependent exemptions are phased out in lieu of the doubled standard deduction.
Your Marital Status
Your marital status factors in as well. If you're married, your tax filing options are usually limited to a joint return or a separate married return. However, the IRS considers you unmarried as long as you and your spouse didn't live together the last six months of the year, even if you're not legally divorced yet, and you maintain a home of your own.
Another significant rule regarding head of household filing status involves your household itself. If you live alone, however, it should be easy to meet. You must personally pay more than half the cost of maintaining your home for the year. These costs include rent, mortgage interest, utilities and groceries. They don't include things like clothing or health insurance. To claim head of household filing status, your own household costs are in addition to the costs of maintaining your parent's residence.
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally for over 30 years. She specializes in personal finance and w, bankruptcy, and she writes as the tax expert for The Balance.