Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What filing status should I use?

Your federal tax filing status is based on your marital and family situation. It is an important factor in determining your standard deduction, your tax liability, eligibility for deductions and credits and whether you must file a return.

Your marital status on the last day of the year determines your status for the entire year. State law determines if a taxpayer is married or legally separated under a divorce.

If more than one filing status applies to you, you may choose the one that gives you the lowest tax obligation.

There are five filing status options:
  • Single. Generally, if you are unmarried, divorced, or legally separated according to your state law as of December 31 and you do not qualify for another filing status, your filing status is Single.
  • Married Filing Jointly. If you are married as of December 31, you and your spouse may file a joint return. Both taxpayer and spouses incomes are included. Both spouses must sign the return and both are responsible for payment of tax. If your spouse died during the year and you did not remarry, you may still file a joint return with that spouse for the year of death. This is the last year for which you may file a joint return with that spouse. Once you file a joint return, you cannot choose to file separate returns for that year after the due date of the return.
  • Married Filing Separately. Married taxpayers may elect to file separate returns. Each spouse would only report their own income yet still have to report their spouses name and Social Security Number on the return. If one spouse itemizes, the other spouse must also itemize.
  • Head of Household. You must be considered unmarried and paid more than half the cost of maintaining a home for you and a qualifying person for more than half a year.
  • Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child. You may be able to file as a qualifying widow or widower for the two years following the year your spouse died. To do this, you must meet all four of the following tests:
      • You were entitled to file a joint return with your spouse for the year he or she died. It does not matter whether you actually filed a joint return.
      • You did not remarry in the two years following the year your spouse died.
      • You have a child, stepchild, or adopted child (a foster child does not meet this requirement) for whom you can claim a dependency exemption.
      • You paid more than half the cost of maintaining a household that was the main home for you and that child, for the whole year.
    After the two years following the year in which your spouse died, the taxpayer may qualify for head of household status.
You can obtain more information by referencing IRS Publication 501.

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