Understanding your filing status

There are five tax filing statuses: Single, Married Filing Jointly, Married Filing Separately, Head of Household, and Qualifying Widow(er). Your filing status determines your filing requirements, standard deduction amount, and eligibility for certain tax credits. If more than one filing status applies to your situation, the law allows you to choose the status the results in the lowest tax liability.

 

Below are the requirements for each filing status. You may also quickly identify the best filing status for your specific situation using the IRS's Filing Status Assistant Tool.

1) Single

Use this filing status if, on the last day of the year, you are not married or legally separated from your spouse pursuant to a divorce or separate maintenance decree AND you do not qualify for another filing status.

2) Married Filing Jointly

Use this filing status if you are married AND both you and your spouse agree to file a joint return. (On a joint return, you report your combined income and deduct your combined allowable expenses.)

3) Married Filing Separately

Although it may go without saying, you must be married to use this filing status. This method may benefit you if you want to be responsible only for your own tax or if this method results in a lower tax liability than filing a joint return. If you and your spouse do not agree to file a joint return, you may have to use this filing status.

4) Head of Household

To file as head of household, you must meet ALL of the following requirements:

  1. You are not married or considered married on the last day of the year;

  2. You paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for the year; and

  3. A qualifying person lived with you in the home for more than half the year. There are exceptions for temporary absences (e.g., school), children who were born or died during the year, kidnapped children, and children of divorced or separated parents. Note also that your dependent parent does not have to live with you.

 

5) Qualifying Widow(er)

If your spouse died in a specific tax year, you can use married filing jointly as your filing status for that year's return if you otherwise qualify to use that status. The year of death is the last year for which you can file jointly with your deceased spouse. However, you may be eligible to use qualifying widow(er) with dependent child as your filing status for up to two years following the year of death of your spouse. For example, if your spouse died in 2017, and you have not remarried, then you may use the married filing jointly for your 2017 return and then the qualifying widow(er) with dependent child status for your 2018 and 2019 returns. This filing status entitles you to use joint return tax rates and the highest standard deduction amount (if you do not itemize deductions).

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