What is my Filing Status?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Claiming Head of Household when Single or Married
- My Spouse Died Recently
- Common Law Marriages
- Same Sex Relationships
- 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.