Who Is Considered a Dependent for Tax Reasons?

Dependents can save you significant money at tax time. Your dependents are those people who depend on you for support. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has extensive rules regarding dependents. In some cases, even a child might not qualify. Child dependents must be younger than 19, or younger than 24 if they're full-time college students. You must provide more than half the child's support, and the child must live with you more than half the year.

Other Children May Qualify

Your children do not have to be biological for you to claim them as dependents. As long as they meet all other IRS qualifications, including those for age, residency, and support, they're your dependents. A younger sibling who lives with you can be a dependent. Stepchildren and foster children can also be dependents.

Dependents Are Not Just Children

The IRS recognizes that sometimes an adult can be a dependent as well. There is one additional qualifying condition for adults. An adult dependent cannot have earned more than $3,700 in the tax year for which you're claiming the dependent. Typically, spouses are not dependents.

Dependents Bring Several Tax Advantages

Tax advantages associated with dependents include both deductions and credits. Deductions reduce the amount of income you must pay taxes on. The IRS allows you a $3,800 deduction for each of your dependents. Credits come off your tax bill. If you owe the IRS $1,000 after calculating your taxes, and if you have a $1,000 tax credit, you don't owe the IRS anything. Having at least one dependent can qualify you for the earned income tax credit. Child dependents can also qualify you for a child care credit and a child tax credit. To claim the child tax credit, your dependent must be younger than 17. To claim the credit for child care, your child must be younger than 13.

Divorced Parents Have Special Issues

Only one parent can claim a child as a dependent unless parents are married and filing a joint return. The IRS has special tiebreaker rules for divorced parents to decide which one gets the dependent deduction for each of their children. Unless you and your child's other parent have agreed otherwise, the parent with whom the child lived most during the year gets the deduction. If the child lived an equal amount of time with both of you, the deduction goes to the parent with the highest adjusted gross income.

Dependents Have Limited Tax Options

If you are the dependent of someone else, you can't take a personal exemption for yourself on your own income taxes. This is true even if the other taxpayer doesn't actually claim you on his or her return. You also can't claim any dependents of your own.

A Tax Lawyer Can Help

The law surrounding how dependents can affect the filing of income taxes is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a tax lawyer.

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