If you are a full time college student under the age of 24, they can claim you as a dependent on their tax return if you do NOT provide over one-half of your own support under the Qualifying Child rules.
See this IRS worksheet for determining support - https://apps.irs.gov/app/vita/content/globalmedia/teacher/worksheet_for_determining_support_4012.pdf
To be a Qualifying Child -
1. The child must be your son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, half brother, half sister, stepbrother, stepsister, or a descendant of any of them.
2. The child must be (a) under age 19 at the end of the year, (b) under age 24 at the end of the year and a full-time student or (c) any age and permanently and totally disabled.
3. The child must have lived with you for more than half of the year. Temporary absences while away at college are considered living with you.
4. The child must not have provided more than half of his or her own support for the year.
5. If the child meets the rules to be a qualifying child of more than one person, you must be the person entitled to claim the child as a qualifying child.
6. The child must be a U.S. citizen or U.S., Canada or Mexico resident for some portion of the year.
7. The child must be younger than you unless disabled.
No, they cannot claim you just because they pay for your tuition. But they probably can claim you for other reasons. It depends on what you mean by "live on my own" and "college student" and, to a lesser degree, "my own job".
There are two types of dependents, "Qualifying Children"(QC) and standard ("Qualifying Relative" in IRS parlance even though they don't have to actually be related). There is no income limit for a QC but there is an age limit, student status, relationship test and residence test. Only a QC qualifies a taxpayer for the Earned Income Credit. They are interrelated but the rules are different for each. The $4200 income limit, you may have heard about only applies to standard dependents (Qualifying relatives).
Being away at school, even if living off campus, for tax purposes, is only a temporaray absence, from your parent's home and you are considered as still residing with them, for the QC rules.
A child of a taxpayer can still be a “Qualifying Child” (QC) dependent, regardless of his/her income, if:
- He is under age 19, or under 24 if a full time student for at least 5 months of the year, or is totally & permanently disabled
- He did not provide more than 1/2 his own support. Scholarships are considered third party support and not as support provided by the student.
- He lived with the parent (including temporary absences such as away at school) for more than half the year
So, no they cannot claim you just because they pay for your tuition. But they can claim you, if you meet those 3 rules.
If you really do "live on your own", then you cannot be a QC. Then we look to see if they could claim you under the standard dependent (Qualifying relative) rules.
A person can still be a standard dependent ("Qualifying Relative"), if not a Qualifying Child, if he meets the 6 tests for claiming a dependent:
- Closely Related OR live with the taxpayer ALL year
- His/her gross taxable income for the year must be less than $4,200
- The taxpayer must have provided more than 1/2 his support
In either case:
- He must be a US citizen or resident of the US, Canada or Mexico
- He must not file a joint return with his spouse or be claiming a dependent of his own
- He must not be the qualifying child of another taxpayer
First, understand that as an undergraduate college student under the age of 24 there is *NO* requirement for your parents to provide you any support. NOT. ONE. SINGLE. PENNY.
The support requirement is on you the student, and *ONLY* you the student. That reaquirement reads:
If the student did not provide more than 50% of their own support, then the parents qualify to claim the student as a dependent on their tax return.
Now there are only two possible ways that you can have any claim to providing more than half of your own support. Understand that scholarships, grants, 529 distributions, gifts from Aunt Mary, money from mom and dad, and any other "third party income" that you receive *does* *not* *count* for you providing your owe support. The only two possible ways that you can have any claim to providing more than half of your own support "for the entire tax year" are:
1) You have a W-2 job or are self-employed. The money earned and "actually paid" to you during the tax year must be more than the total of all third party support.
2) You the student are the "PRIMARY" borrower on on a *qualified* student loan, and sufficient funds were actually distributed to you during the tax year to justify any claim to providing more than half of your own support. The amount of funds distributed to you *must* be more than the total of all third party support received.
NOTE: When using the worksheet, understand that your costs must be realistic. For example, a $5000/mo penthouse suite isn't going to cut it with the IRS for an undergraduate, I don't care how rich your family is, or how much money you may have actually earned during the tax year. LIkewise, steak and eggs for breakfast and steak and lobster for lunch and dinner every day isn't going to cut the mustard any more than those $180 Michael Jordan shoes that get replaced every 3 months with new ones. So I very deeply and greatly stress that your cost *MUST* be realistic.
It is also perfectly possible for you to earn $250,000 in a tax year and "still" not provide more than half your own support. Remember, the rules are based on "SUPPORT" and "NOT EARNINGS". For example, if you received $80,000 in scholarships, grants and 529 distributions in 2019, that would mean you would have to of spent an "additional" $80,001 in that same tax year supporting yourself to have any claim here to providing more than half of your own support. Now I don't care where you live or attend school on this plant, there is no way on this green earth that anyone can justify it costing a total in excess of $160,000 to support themselves for the entire tax year *as an undergraduate* who is not married and has no children while attending school full time.
So chances are, your parents very well may qualify to claim you.
Two key points:
1) You must "live with" your parents for them to claim you under the "qualifying child" rules. "Live with" is tricky because they can consider that you "lived with" them if you are away for a temporary absence, and college is almost always considered a temporary absence. If you "live on your own" means a dorm paid for by your parents and you go home for summer, then you probably "live with them" for dependent purposes. If you have really moved out (changed voting registration, found a new church, got a new doctor, joined a bowling league, or did other things to establish that your "domicile" is where you live now and not your parents' house) then your absence is no longer temporary and you don't "live with them". If the IRS is forced to investigate, they will look at the facts of your particular situation in detail.
Also, you only have to live with your parents for half the year for them to be able to claim you, so you will almost always be counted as living with your parents in your senior year of HS/freshman year of college even if you permanently moved out in August to go to college.
If you don't live with your parents, they can't claim you if you have taxable income over $4200, no matter any other facts.
2) If you live with your parents, they can claim you as long as you don't provide more than half your own support. They don't have to provide it, as long as you don't provide more than half. You need to add up your total living costs (room and board, transportation, medical, clothing, entertainment, and tuition) and then add up how much you provide from your own funds. Include money you spend from your earnings or your savings. You can also include student loans you borrow in your name. Don't include grants, and don't include money you spend to support other people.
These two key points should be evaluated for each tax year. They might be able to claim you for 2019 but not for 2020.
Most importantly, if you and your parents file conflicting tax returns, the IRS will eventually investigate both of you. You all need to decide if the benefits of fighting over the dependent designation are worth the costs.