Your Guide to Filing Head of Household vs. Single

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When you file your tax return, it’s important to know your correct filing status because it can affect the amount of tax you owe for that year. The Internal Revenue Service advises that your marital status on December 31 of the previous calendar year is your tax filing status for that entire year.

Sometimes more than one tax filing status may apply to you for a given year. If you are single, meaning not married on December 31, your filing status could be either single or head of household: single if you have no dependents, and head of household if you have qualifying dependents. We’ll explain more about qualifying dependents later in the article.

If you are not married and are wondering which filing status is right for you, read on to determine whether you should file as single or head of household if you are not married.

What Qualifies You As Single Filing Status?

According to the IRS, single filing status refers to taxpayers who are unmarried, divorced or legally separated under the law of the state in which they reside. Single tax filers do not qualify to file as head of household.

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If you were widowed before January 1 and did not remarry during the tax filing year, then you qualify for single filing status. Think carefully before filing as single. You might get a better tax break if you file as head of household or as a qualifying widow or widower with a qualifying dependent.

What Qualifies You As Head of Household Filing Status?

Head of household status applies to taxpayers who are not married, but some specific rules are involved. You must meet certain criteria to qualify as head of household. You can use a head of household calculator such as eFile’s HOHucator Tool to determine if you meet these requirements. You must:

  • Have a qualifying child or dependent
  • Be unmarried on December 31 of the filing tax year
  • Have paid for more than half of the household expenses for the tax filing year

You can use eFile’s specific guidelines to help you understand and determine whether or not you meet the head of household filing criteria. Here are the requirements and criteria.

Qualifying Child

  • At end of the tax year, must be under age 19 if not a student; under 24 if a full-time college student
  • Must be biological, adopted, step, or foster child; sibling, step sibling, half sibling, or descendant of one of these relatives
  • Must not have paid for more than half of their living expenses during the tax year
  • Must have lived in your home for more than six months during the tax year

Qualifying Dependent

  • Your parent: mother or father
  • Your stepparent, niece, nephew, aunt or uncle of one of your parents, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, father-in-law, brother-in-law or sister-in-law
  • Your biological, adopted, step, or foster child; sibling, step, half sibling, or disabled descendant of one of these relatives

Unmarried

  • Claim the child as a dependent
  • File a separate tax return
  • Child lived in your home for at least six months of the tax filing year
  • Your dependent’s other parent did not live in the home during the last six months of the tax filing year
  • You paid for more than half of the home maintenance for the tax filing year
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Maintained Bulk of Household Expenses

  • Paid for more than half of total household bills, such as rent, mortgage, utilities, insurance, groceries, properties

How To Determine Which Filing Status Applies To You

Your filing status decides your correct tax, tax credits, standard deduction and filing requirements. If you’re still not sure whether you should file as head of household or single, the IRS has an assessment tool — the Interactive Tax Assistant that you can use to find the status that will result in the lowest tax burden for you.

What You’ll Need

To answer the questions in the ITA, you will need the following information.

  • The percentages that each of your household members paid for the entire year for maintaining the home
  • Your marital status and if applicable, your spouse’s year of death

Your correct filing status is based on your answers to the ITA questions.

Tax Advantages of Filing as Head of Household

As a result of filing as head of household, single and separated taxpayers can potentially save thousands of dollars. Compared to single and married filing separately, head of household filing status has a larger standard deduction. The IRS set the 2020 standard deduction for heads of household at $18,650; that’s up $300 from 2019.

According to the Tax Foundation, head of household filers could also pay less in their respective tax bracket. For example, for the 2020 tax year, a filer making $50,000 who files single will be taxed in the 22% bracket, while a head of household filer earning the same amount will be taxed in the 12% bracket.

Helpful Tip

Deciding whether to file as head of household vs single can sometimes be tricky. Be sure that you meet all of the qualifications of filing as head of household. Don’t mistakenly choose this status simply because you are single.

Under certain circumstances, you can file as head of household even if you do not have any children. For instance, you can claim a live-in partner as a qualifying relative or dependent if they meet all of the following IRS rules.

  • They are not someone else’s qualifying child.
  • They lived with you for the entire tax filing year.
  • Their income is less than $4,300.
  • You provided more than half of the household expenses during the entire tax filing year.

Since you are supporting at least one person besides yourself, filing head of household has the advantage of lowering your tax liability just as those who are married filing jointly.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I lower my tax bracket to pay a lower federal income tax rate?

You can take tax deductions to lower your taxable income percentage, and you can take tax credits to reduce the amount of tax you owe.

I am married. Can I still file as head of household?

Not necessarily. According to the IRS, head of household filing status is for taxpayers who are unmarried and support others living in the household.

I’m divorced. Can my ex-spouse and I both claim head of household and claim our children as dependents?

No. Only one parent can claim the children as dependents; that is the parent who provides more than half of the children’s living expenses during the tax filing year.

Our in-house research team and on-site financial experts work together to create content that’s accurate, impartial, and up to date. We fact-check every single statistic, quote and fact using trusted primary resources to make sure the information we provide is correct. You can learn more about GOBankingRates’ processes and standards in our editorial policy.

About the Author

Kathy Evans is a personal finance freelance writer and entrepreneur with a technical writing and instructional systems design background. She holds an MS in technical writing and informational design and is currently a doctoral student in instructional technology at Towson University. Through work experience in the federal government as well as commercial and nonprofit industries, she has focused her freelance writing on finance, investing and economic content with a specialization in budget coaching.  

Your Guide to Filing Head of Household vs. Single
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