If you are supporting dependents, such as your children or an elderly or disabled relative, you can often see certain tax benefits when you file your return. Some of those tax benefits apply only to people who are supporting other people, but there are also certain tax deductions and credits that, if nobody is able to claim you as a tax dependent, you are eligible to claim for yourself.
You are only eligible to claim certain deductions and credits, like the earned income tax credit, if nobody can claim you as a dependent. Through 2017, there are also what are called personal exemptions that are available as deductions either to taxpayers or whoever claims them as a dependent.
Claiming Yourself on Taxes
Through 2017, probably the most common benefit to not having someone be able to claim you as a dependent is the personal exemption. This is essentially a deduction that reduces the amount of your income that is subject to federal income tax.
In 2017, the personal exemption is $4,050 per person, unless you have very high income. When filing taxes, you can claim one personal exemption for yourself, one spouse exemption for your spouse if you're married and filing jointly and one for each dependent that you have. The rules for who you can claim as a dependent are somewhat complex, but the most common case is your child, under 19 or under 24 if attending school, who you support and who lives with you.
If someone claims you as a dependent, you can't also claim your own personal exemption, even if you are required to file your own tax return.
Of course, you're never literally claiming yourself as a dependent, but if you are nobody's dependent, that tax benefit goes to you rather than to a person taking care of your needs.
Other Tax Benefits for Non-Dependents
Other tax deductions and credits require that you not be someone's dependent. For example, the earned income tax credit, which provides an economic boost to low-income people, is only available if you can't be claimed as someone's dependent.
Similarly, the American opportunity credit and lifetime learning credit, which go to support educational expenses, can essentially either go to a student or to someone claiming that student as a dependent, but not both. Use Form 8863 to claim this credit on your taxes.
2018 Tax Law Changes
One of the most significant changes in tax law in 2018 is the disappearance of those personal tax exemptions. While the standard deduction is rising to $12,000 for single people and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly, and the child tax credit for parents is rising as well, the concept of personal exemptions will no longer exist when you file your taxes for 2018.
2017 Tax Law and Personal Exemptions
If you're filing taxes for tax year 2017, personal exemptions are still alive and well. You, your spouse and each of your dependents generally provides an exemption of $4,050. These exemptions start to phase out if you make more than $261,500 if single or more than $313,800 if married and filing jointly.
- IRS: Publication 596, Earned Income Credit
- IRS: Publication 501 (2018), Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information
- TaxSlayer: Who can I claim as a Dependent or Qualifying Child?
- IRS: Publication 17 (2018), Your Federal Income Tax
- CNBC: Families Will Feel the Pain of Losing This Tax Break
- IRS: Instructions for Form 8863 (2018)
Steven Melendez is an independent journalist with a background in technology and business. He has written for a variety of business publications including Fast Company, the Wall Street Journal, Innovation Leader and Ad Age. He was awarded the Knight Foundation scholarship to Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.