, Answering FAQ'sTurboTax Employee
Filing status tells the IRS what exemptions, deductions, and credits should be available to you on your tax return. To prepare your tax return with the deductions you are entitled to, you need to determine your correct filing status.
Federal tax filing statuses are:
- Single (unmarried or legally separated)
- Married Filing Jointly (MFJ)
- Married Filing Separately (MFS)
- Head of Household (HOH)
- Qualifying Widow(er) (also with Dependent Child)
If more than one filing status applies, you can choose the one that will give you the lowest tax. When you enter all of the information in the TurboTax interviews, we'll help you with your choice.
Below we help you understand which status you qualify for. Because the Head of Household qualifying rules have changed, be sure to check the new rules.
Do I file as single or married?
For tax purposes, your status as either single or married is determined on the last day of the year.
Just to confirm the obvious, you are single if you are not married and should use the Single status. If you have a qualifying child or relative that you support, you might be able to file Head of Household. See Can I claim head of household below.
You must be legally married as of December 31 of the tax year to file as married for that tax year.
When legally separated or divorced from your spouse under a divorce or separate maintenance decree on the last day of the year, you are considered unmarried for the year. Unmarried persons can file as either Single or Head of Household if you meet the requirements. See the Can I claim Head of Household? section below.
Married filing jointly vs. married filing separately
Married taxpayers have a choice when selecting their filing status. They can file as either:
- Married Filing Jointly (MFJ), meaning both persons income and deductions are combined on one tax return and both are responsible for the accuracy and completeness of the return.
- Married Filing Separately (MFS), where each person files a separate tax return, but are subject to limitations as to the credits and deductions available.
Generally Married Filing Jointly has more advantages, or more to the point, offers lower taxes. However, for more about the benefits of choosing one or the other, see Married Filing Jointly vs. Married Filing Separately.
Married persons can use either filing status regardless of either person’s income level or lack of income. But both persons must file as either MFS or as MFJ.
When filing as Married Filing Separately and you live in a community property state, there may be additional rules as to how each person’s income and deductions are split. Be sure to check your state tax rules and see Married Filing Separately in Community Property States.
Separated from my spouse during the year
You are still considered married if you are living separately but are not legally separated under a final divorce decree. Typically, you can file as either Married Filing Jointly (MFJ) or Married Filing Separately (MFS). Under certain circumstance you can file as Head of Household. See the Claiming Head of Household When Married section below.
Common law marriages
You are considered married if on the last day of the year you are married and living together. You may also be married if you are living together in a common law marriage that is recognized in the state where you now live or in the state where the common law marriage began.
Even if living apart on the last day of the year, you are considered married if there is no legal decree of divorce or separate maintenance.
With certain state situations, you may find your state filing status can be different from your federal return. Other states may require your filing status to be the same as the status claimed on your Federal tax return.
I live with my boyfriend/girlfriend and we have a child together
When you are not married, your choices are to file as Single, or possibly as Head of Household. Filing as Head of Household is not open to everyone; it depends on your having a qualified person meeting the tax law's Head of Household requirements.
If you and your friend have a child together, one person but not both or you, may be able to use your child to qualify as head of household. The rules do not allow use of an unrelated person to qualify you as head of household. See the Can I claim Head of Household? section below.
Tip: That live-in friend may still qualify as a dependent if they meet the dependency rules, they just cannot be used to qualify for the Head of Household filing status.
Because you are not married, your choices are to file as Single or Head of Household, provided you meet the Head of Household requirements. See the Can I claim Head of Household? section below.
The IRS only recently started recognizing legal marriages for same-sex partners. Starting on September 16, legally married same-sex couples must file as married (either jointly or separately) if they haven't filed their 2012 returns yet. Refer to How DOMA affects tax returns.
The IRS doesn't recognize registered domestic partnerships (RDPs) or civil unions. Although couples in RDPs and unions may be able to file a joint state return, each partner still needs to file their own Single return with the IRS. See how do I prepare a RDP or civil union tax return for instructions.
Can I claim Head of Household?
To file as Head of Household, the IRS requires that you have a qualifying child or relative (as defined by the IRS) who also lives with you. There are many particulars as to who you can use to qualify. There are recent IRS rules which limit who qualifies.
The short story is:
- You must be considered unmarried at the end of the year
- You paid more than half the cost of maintaining your home, and
- Your qualifying person must be:
- Your child or a relative related to you meeting age and other tests, and
- they must have lived in your home (with certain exceptions such as schooling or illness)
Some persons used in previous years, such as a live-in roommate, may not meet this year’s rules for a qualified person for filing as Head of Household. For a more complete view of the rules, see Do I Qualify for Head of Household.
Claiming Head of Household when married
If you are married, you may still be able to file as Head of Household. If on the last day of the year you:
- File a separate tax return,
- You paid more than half the cost of keeping up your home during the year,
- Your spouse did Not live in your home during the last 6 months of the year (their absence the last 6 months cannot be due to illness, schooling, or military service),
- Your home was the main home of your child, stepchild, or foster child for more than half the year.
You must be able to claim an exemption for the child. This counts even if the child’s exemption is awarded to a non-custodial parent. For more information see Do I Qualify for Head of Household. and IRS Pub 501 Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information.
My spouse died recently (Qualified Widower)
If your spouse died during the last tax year, you are still considered married for this last year’s tax return. If your spouse died after December 31st, you are still married for that tax year and file as married. You may also be considered married for the next tax year as a Qualified Widower.
After the year in which your spouse died, if you have not remarried and do not have qualifying children, you file as Single unless a relative qualifies you for Head of Household.
If you have a child and remain unmarried for two years after the death of a spouse, the Qualified Widower filing status may offer some continuing benefits. TurboTax helps you determine if you may be a Qualifying Widow(er) with dependent child for tax purposes. Refer to IRS Pub 501 Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information.
Still not sure? Try the IRS Filing Status Interview
The IRS has a handy Filing Status interview that steps you through the sometimes complicated questions around what is your filing status. It is anonymous (no registration) so feel free to see how your situation fits their rules. Have the following information ready for the interview:
- Citizenship status, marital status, spouse's year of death (if applicable)
- Names of any dependents you may use to qualify for a filing status (or you can use an identifier such as "child one" etc.)
- The amounts that your household members paid towards the cost of keeping up a home
Then go to What Is My Filing Status on the IRS website.
For additional information, see:
- Do I need to file a tax return with the IRS?
- States that recognize RDPs, Civil Unions, and Same Sex Marriages.
- How do I prepare my return if I'm in a Registered Domestic Partnership?
- Preparing community property returns for Registered Domestic Partners in CA, NV, and WA.