Every Tax-Filing Status Explained

Learn how your filing status impacts your tax bill.

When preparing your annual tax return, one of the most important things to consider is your taxpayer filing status. Your filing status is commonly defined by your marital status. Typically, there are two categories — married and unmarried — and five different types of filing status and tax filing options. Keep reading to find out how choosing right filing status can lower your tax bill.

For a quick and general overview of each filing status, take a look at this tax filing status chart:

Tax Filing Status Options
Tax Filing Status Who Can Use It
  • Not married on the last day of the tax year
  • Don’t qualify for any other filing status
Head of Household
  • Unmarried
  • Have at least one qualifying child
  • Paid more than 50 percent of household expenses
Married Filing Jointly
  • Married
  • You and your spouse agree to file one tax return
Married Filing Separately
  • Married
  • You and your spouse file separate returns
Qualifying Widow(er)
  • Your spouse died during the tax year
  • Have at least one dependent child
  • Have not remarried within the two years after your spouse’s death
  • Paid more than 50 percent of household costs
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This filing status determines your tax bracket, number of deductions and other factors that affect the amount of taxes you owe each year. The status also impacts the standard deduction that you can receive on your federal tax return.

What Is My Filing Status?

Given that your tax filing status traditionally comes down to your marital status, here is how to decide which status you are as a taxpayer for your federal return and state tax return:

1. Single

The single filing status generally applies to taxpayers who are are unmarried, legally separated from your spouse, divorced or separated by decree and have no dependents.

Single Standard Deduction: When using the single tax-filing status, a taxpayer can claim a standard deduction of $12,000 for tax year 2018.

2. Head of Household

The head of household filing status is reserved for single individuals who maintain a household and who the IRS considers unmarried for the duration of the tax year. In order to file as head of household, you must fulfill at least three qualifications:

  • First, you must pay for more than 50 percent of your household’s expenses.
  • Second, you must be unmarried for the entire tax year.
  • Third, you must have dependent children or other dependents who rely on you, such as biological children, siblings, parents, step-parents and in-laws.
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Head of Household Standard Deduction: As the head of household, a taxpayer can claim a standard deduction of $18,000 for tax year 2018.

Learn More: 10 Best Tax Tips for Single Parents

3. Married Filing Jointly

When married filing jointly, you are married, and you and your spouse have agreed to file a tax return together. This status requires you to combine your incomes and deduct your combined expenses, and it might qualify you for additional deductions compared to filing separately.

The standard deduction for married couples filing jointly is $24,000 for 2018 and increases to $24,400 for the 2019 tax year. If you are divorced by the last day of a given tax year, your state and federal return will require you to file as unmarried for the entire year. You might qualify as a single taxpayer or as head of household, depending on whether you meet specific criteria.

Married Filing Jointly Standard Deduction: When filing with the married filing jointly tax-filing status, a couple can take a standard deduction of $24,000 for tax year 2018.

Learn More: 9 Tax Tips Every Married Couple Must Know

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4. Married Filing Separately

In order to qualify for this taxpayer status, you must be married. In this scenario, you and your spouse have agreed to not file a joint tax return. This method is typically used if individuals find that they would pay less in tax when filing separately than when they file together.

Married Filing Separately Standard Deduction: When using the married filing separately status, filers can take the standard deduction of $12,000.

5. Qualifying Widow(er)

If your spouse died before the last day of the tax year, you can use the married filing jointly status for that year alone. However, you might you might qualify for the qualifying widow(er) status for the next two years if you have a dependent child. This status allows you to use the joint filing tax return rate and claim the highest standard deduction available.

Qualifying Widow/Widower Standard Deduction: Qualifying widows or widowers can take a standard deduction of $24,000.

How to Choose the Right Tax Filing Status

Taxpayers can qualify for more than one tax filing status on their federal tax return and state tax return, so it’s worth taking the time to explore the best filing status for you.

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Look at More Than One Tax Filing Status

Single taxpayers should see if they qualify for any other tax filing status. For example, if you also qualify for the head of household filing status, you might also be able to get a bigger tax refund.

Choose the Status That Can Reduce Your Tax Liability

As a rule, you should choose the filing status that allows you to pay the lowest amount of tax. For instance, even if you are married, you might want to file as married filing separately if you anticipate you will receive a bigger tax refund. Or visa versa, you might be separated but choose married filing jointly in order to take advantage of more deductions.

Click through to take a quiz to see if you are you filing your taxes correctly.

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Taylor Bell contributed to the reporting for this article.

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About the Author

Garrett Baldwin

Garrett Baldwin has a decade of leadership experience in financial publishing, competitive and market intelligence, corporate advocacy and financial planning. He is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University; he also has a Master’s Degree in Economic Policy from The Johns Hopkins University, an MS in Agricultural Economics from Purdue University, and an MBA in Finance from Indiana University.

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Every Tax-Filing Status Explained
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