Guide To Filing Taxes as Head of Household vs. Single

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Key Takeaways

  • If you are unmarried and you financially support dependents, you may qualify to file as head of household.
  • Filing as head of household gives you a higher standard deduction than single, meaning you keep more of your pre-tax earnings.
  • In most cases, to qualify for head of household, you must be unmarried on the last day of the year. You must also provide more than half the financial support for at least one qualifying dependent.

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 states 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 in a given year. If you are 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. 

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.

What Is the Difference Between Head of Household and Single?

Filing as single means you are unmarried, divorced or legally separated. The head of household status, claimable if you’re single and financially responsible for a home with a qualifying individual, offers tax benefits such as larger standard deductions and preferential tax rates compared to the single filing status.

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Can You Claim Head of Household if You Are Single?

As far as who qualifies to claim head of household, according to the IRS, you must be unmarried and supporting dependents in your home. If you are single and you have qualifying dependents, then you are eligible to claim head of household.

Who Qualifies for Head of Household and Single?

According to the IRS, people who are unmarried at the end of the tax year and who are maintaining a household with dependents may claim head of household status.

What Are Qualifying Dependents?

The IRS offers favorable tax conditions to people who are supporting dependents. If you are providing more than half of the financial support for one or more dependents, you may qualify for head of household status.

Your biological children can qualify as dependents if you provide more than half of their support. Adopted, foster and stepchildren, as well as your siblings, half-siblings and step-siblings may also qualify as dependents. In some cases, other relatives may qualify as dependents, too.

Who Else Qualifies as a Dependent?

Other relatives may qualify as dependents if they are:

  • Your parent
  • Your step-parent, 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

Does Your Child Qualify as a Dependent?

As outlined by the IRS, you can claim your child as a dependent if:

  • They are under age 19 at the end of the tax year if they are not a college student, or under age 24 if they are a full-time college student.
  • They are of any age and permanently disabled.
  • They are a biological, adopted, step or foster child, or a sibling, half-sibling, step-sibling or descendant of one of these relatives.
  • You have paid for more than half of their living expenses during the tax year.
  • They have lived in your home for more than six months during the tax year.
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Final Take

It’s important to claim the correct status on your taxes. While filing as head of household will give you a higher standard deduction than filing as single, check that you meet the necessary criteria before claiming it this tax season.


Here are some frequently asked questions about filing for taxes.
  • How can you lower your 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.
  • Can you still file as head of household if you are married?
    • In most cases, you cannot file as head of household while married. According to the IRS, head of household filing status is for taxpayers who are unmarried and support others living in the household. However, the IRS allows you to file as head of household if you are preparing to divorce your spouse and you lived together for less than half of the year.
  • If you are divorced, can your ex-spouse and you both claim head of household and claim your children as dependents?
    • Only one parent can claim the children as dependents -- the parent who provides more than half of the children's living expenses during the tax filing year.

Kathy Evans contributed to the reporting for this article.

The article above was refined via automated technology and then fine-tuned and verified for accuracy by a member of our editorial team.

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