Come tax time, you want to claim as many deductions as possible on your return to lessen your tax burden. And that includes accounting for all the dependents you’re entitled to claim.
Your minor children are obvious dependents, but you can also claim certain adults as dependents, if they meet the criteria set by the IRS. The Internal Revenue Service considers some adults who rely on you for the majority of their support to be dependents. Even if you have no family relationship with someone who lives with you and who you’re supporting financially, that person could qualify as a dependent, such as your unemployed significant other.
Who Can You Claim as a Dependent?
The IRS defines two types of people that you can claim as a dependent on your taxes: “qualifying children” and “qualifying relatives.” That terminology is interesting, as your qualifying child doesn’t have to be your child, and a qualifying relative doesn’t need to be related to you.
In either instance, the person must be a U.S. citizen, a U.S. national, a U.S. resident or a resident of Canada or Mexico. You can claim a foreign exchange student temporarily living with you if that residency requirement, and other rules stipulated by the IRS, are met.
A qualifying child does include anyone who is your child — including any adopted or foster children — but it can also include a sibling, stepsibling, half-sibling or any of their descendants. However, there are a number of set requirements beyond their relationship to you.
- The person in question can not be older than either you or your spouse.
- They must be under the age of 19 — or under the age of 24 if they’re a student — at least five months out of the year.
- They must live with you for at least half the year.
- They must not file their own joint return.
- They must rely on you for at least half of their annual expenses.
Should a child be permanently disabled, all age requirements are removed.
Just when can you claim an adult as a dependent? A qualifying relative is a much broader category that can include a wide variety of different people in your life who you’re supporting financially.
A qualifying relative cannot be your qualifying child or the qualifying child of another taxpayer; they must earn less than $4,400 a year, rely on you for more than half of their financial support for the year and must live with you as a member of your household for the year. So, a live-in domestic partner with little to no income and for whom you’re paying the bills can score you some tax benefits.
Even if a person doesn’t live with you, they can still be a qualifying relative if you’re actually related, and the IRS allows for most of your relatives to qualify. Here’s the list of relatives you can claim as a dependent if you’re supporting them financially, even if you’re not living together:
- A child, stepchild, foster child or any of their descendants
- Any siblings, including full, half and stepsiblings
- Parents, stepparents, grandparents or other direct ancestors, but not a foster parent
- Uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews — including the children of any half-siblings
- A son-in-law, daughter-in-law, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law or sister-in-law.
However, before you start claiming these dependents on your taxes, note that they would still need to meet the other requirements about their income and how much of their annual expenses you’re responsible for. What’s more, even a qualifying person still can’t be claimed as a dependent if they’re filing a joint return or don’t meet the residency requirements — and you can’t claim a dependent if you yourself are eligible as someone else’s dependent.
Why Would I Claim Someone as a Dependent?
Of course, wading through the tax code is tough, and it isn’t easy to clarify just who qualifies as a dependent. But don’t abandon the idea. By consulting with your tax advisor, you will determine who qualifies as a dependent and learn the benefits of claiming a dependent.
For starters, for each eligible dependent child, you will receive a $2,000 tax credit. A tax credit reduces your total taxes due. For example, if your total tax owed is $10,000 but you are eligible for a $2,000 tax credit, your net liability becomes $8,000. Claiming your children as dependents also opens you up to other deductions, such as for child care. Tax filers who adopted a child in 2022 also are eligible for a tax credit of up to $14,890.
If you claim an adult dependent, you’re entitled to a nonrefundable tax credit of $500.
The Bottom Line
If you’re primarily responsible for another person’s well-being, you should reflect that in your tax documents. And even if they’re an adult who’s not directly related to you, they may still be a “qualifying relative” whom you can claim at the end of the year. This is one tax advantage not to be overlooked.
FAQHere are answers to some questions commonly asked about claiming a dependent.
- Can you claim someone as a dependent if they are over 18?
- Yes, a qualifying relative can be of any age provided they meet the other qualifications regarding relationship, residence and income.
- What qualifies someone as a dependent?
- Generally speaking, a person must not be financially self-sufficient and has to either live with you or be related to you before you can claim them as a dependent. If you're not related to your dependent, you must live with them.
- How much money can someone make and still be claimed as a dependent?
- The most a person can earn in a year and still be claimed as a dependent is $4,400, by 2022 IRS rules.
- Does being claimed as a dependent affect my tax return?
- Yes, it definitely does. You can't claim any dependents if you could be claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer, according to the IRS.
- Can you claim someone as a dependent if they are on Social Security?
- You can if you meet the requirements regarding relationship, residence and income. Generally, you do not count Social Security as income, but there are exceptions.
Jami Farkas contributed to the reporting for this article.
Data is accurate as of March 8, 2023, and is subject to change.