When it comes to filing your taxes, everyone wants to ensure they get the maximum tax refund. One way to increase your refund is to make sure you claim as many dependents as you’re legally entitled to – at least for the 2017 tax year. If someone you provide for is married and files a joint return, you need to know the rules so you don’t miss out on a potential tax break, but also so you don’t incur the wrath of the Internal Revenue Service for cheating on your taxes.
You can only claim a married person who files a joint return as your dependent if the joint return is only filed to claim a refund of all taxes withheld.
Claiming Married Filing Jointly Dependents
The only way that you can claim a married person who files a joint return as a dependent is if the person and their spouse is filing a joint income tax return only to claim a refund of all taxes withheld or estimated taxes paid. This means a complete refund of any amounts withheld.
For example, say that your daughter meets the requirements to be claimed as a qualifying child, except that she files a joint return with her spouse. If she and her spouse have had $100 withheld between them from their jobs, and neither has any income tax liability, you can still claim your daughter. However, if they had a tax liability of $40 so they are entitled to a refund of $60, you aren’t allowed to claim your daughter.
Claiming Dependent’s Spouse
Even if you’re allowed to claim one of the people filing the joint return as a dependent, you aren’t allowed to claim the spouse as dependent on your tax return unless the spouse also meets either the qualifying child or qualifying relative. For example, if your daughter meets the qualifying relative tests but her spouse has too much income to meet the criteria, you can claim your daughter but not her spouse.
2019 Tax Filing with Dependents
Although 2018's suspended dependent exemptions are still in effect for tax year 2019, the standard deductions for 2019 increased to $24,400 (married filing jointly), $12,200 (single and married filing separately) and $18,350 (head of household). Taxpayers have the choice of taking this standard deduction or itemizing their deductions, whichever option nets them a better tax benefit.
2018 Dependent Exemptions Disallowed
Starting with the 2018 tax year, the tax exemption for each dependent you formerly claimed on your tax return has been eliminated, including any married person who's your legal dependent. Unless new laws are passed, the exemption will return in the 2026 tax year. However, claiming eligible dependents may still entitle you to other tax deductions or credits such as the Credit for Other Dependents ($500 per qualifying dependent).
Based in the Kansas City area, Mike specializes in personal finance and business topics. He has been writing since 2009 and has been published by "Quicken," "TurboTax," and "The Motley Fool."