Difference Between Head of Household & Married Filing Jointly

Claiming married filing jointly and head of household on your tax returns have specific requirements that must be met. Basically, married filing jointly means you are married on the last day of the tax year. Head of household means you are unmarried or considered unmarried, but you maintain a home for a qualifying dependent who is not your spouse.

Head of Household

Head of household status applies to someone who maintains a home for a qualifying dependent for half of the tax year or more. The qualifying dependent can be absent from the home for qualifying reasons such as attending school or temporary visits away from home. Head of household status also applies to a person providing half of the expenses or more in the care of a mother or father who lives in a different location and only if the parent is claimed as an exemption on the person's tax returns.

Married Filing Jointly

Married filing jointly is a status used by married couples that are considered legally married on the last day of the tax year. If your spouse lives with you for six months or more during the tax year before a legal separation, you can use the married filing jointly status if you both choose to file taxes together.

Standard Deduction

The standard deduction for a couple filing married filing jointly is higher than someone filing as head of household. For instance, in 2011, the standard deduction for married filing jointly was $11,600 and head of household was $8,500. Although the standard deduction is higher for married couples, they also have to report both incomes if both are working.


A married couple who have separated and lived apart for six months or more during the tax year can file single or head of household if there is a qualifying dependent. For instance, if Jon and Mary separate and Mary leaves a child behind to live with Jon, he can claim head of household as long as she was out of the home for six months or more. Mary can claim single, but cannot claim head of household because she left the child (dependent) with Jon. Jon is providing the home for the child and more than half of the expenses for his care.

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Pamela Gardapee is a writer with more than seven years experience writing Web content. Being functional in finances, home projects and computers has allowed Gardapee to give her readers valuable information. She studied accounting, computers and writing before offering her tax, computer and writing services to others.

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