So Dependent On You: Who Can I Claim as a Dependents on my 2009 Tax Return?

Deductions and Credits, Tax Tips

Over the past few years, questions around who can claim who and why has dramatically changed. There are more blended families in the U.S. The economy has taken a toll on our bottom lines resulting in three or four generations of families living together to save money. And yes, even non-family members moving in with each other to save a buck.

So how do those changes affect your tax situation? Can you claim your girlfriend on your taxes? What about your son who lives with your mother? And of course, pets. Can you claim Buster the beagle on your taxes? I sat down with Lee Ferris, one of our in-house tax experts and asked her those same questions.

The question and answer session aims to explain some of the more common dependent questions so you can get your biggest refund possible.

Question: Can someone claim their girlfriend or boyfriend on their taxes?

Answer: If your girlfriend has lived with you for all of 2009, her gross income is less than $3,650, and you’ve provided more than half of her total support (which is room board, food, car, insurance, etc.), you could claim her as a dependent on your tax return. To determine if you pay for more than half of her support, see IRS Pub 501 page 20. Each dependent you claim on your 2009 tax return reduces your taxable income by up to $3,650.

Question: What if we have a child, can I claim the baby also?

Answer: If the baby is your child, lived with you for more than half the year, and can’t support itself, you can claim the child as your dependent. And I know you are thinking, ‘Of course my baby can’t support itself.’ This was a-recent change by the IRS and a good example is if you have a child that is an actor. That child might be receiving a decent income and that counts as supporting itself.

But for all those parents with non-actor children out there, you can claim a child under the age of 19. If the child is a full-time student then you can claim them until the age of 24. If they are 25, working on their master’s degree and not earning any income you might be able to claim what the IRS calls a “qualified relative.” I would recommend visiting the IRS link to get more info on what defines the qualified relative and qualified child.

Question: My sister lives with me, and she receives Social Security Disability Benefits. If I charge her rent – which gets paid with social security – can I claim her as a dependent on my tax return?

Answer: If you are providing more than half of her total support (taking into consideration the rent she’s paying you) and she doesn’t make more than $3,650 a year, you can most likely claim her. Remember her social security isn’t counted as gross income. Look at the IRS worksheet in pub 501 to get more information on this.

Question: Can I claim any of my pets? What if they require special needs?

Answer: No. But I have been reading about a bill in Congress that is making the rounds that allows people to deduct pet medical expenses up to $3,500. The bill is proposed by Republican Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan. I am not sure what will happen with this but it is worth paying attention to.

Q: My parents just moved in with us so that we can take care of them. Can I claim them?

Answer: This is a common question right now because of the economy. If they are living with you, their only source of income is social security, and you are supporting them by more than 50 percent, you can claim them as a qualified relative. Remember, social security doesn’t count towards their gross income. Also, remember that since they are qualified relatives, they don’t have to live with you. You could be supporting them in their own home and still claim them as dependents.

Question: Can I still claim my spouse even though she received unemployment the majority of the year?

Answer: Even if your spouse is a stay-at-home mom, you can’t claim her as a dependent. This is why I encourage you to file a joint return. That way you get $3,650 for you and $3,650 for your spouse as a write-off – also known as an exemption. So 99 percent of the time it is more beneficial to file jointly because of that write-off amount and other deductions and credits.

However, one of my top questions this year is “Is unemployment taxable?” And the answer is, the first $2,400 of unemployment is NOT taxable. If both spouses receive unemployment benefits during 2009, each may exclude from taxable income the first $2,400 of benefits they received.

Question: I have been supporting my grandchild for the past six months and paid for everything. Do I claim her or does my daughter?

Answer: It depends. There are some questions you need to answer first. Will the father claim the child on his return? Is your daughter going to claim the child? If the child has lived with you for more than six months, both the father and your daughter are not going to claim the child , then yes, you can probably claim your granddaughter as a qualified child and get the various child credits on your tax return.

Question: Can I claim my niece if she is here on a student visa, going to college, and living with us? She makes no money here, pays no rent to us and we support all her expenses, except for tuition.

Answer: In this case, if she is under 24 and a full-time student and she’s not a qualifying child for anyone else, you can probably claim her as a dependent. But I like to urge people to please ensure that someone else is not already claiming the person in question as a dependent. Your niece can’t be claimed more than once. Also you can only claim the niece as a dependent if she’s a U.S citizen, U.S. resident, U.S. National, or resident of Canada or Mexico.

For questions we haven’t covered, please check out the IRS.gov page. The site has updated sample situations to help U.S. filers.

Check out this TurboTax video as well:

Comments (183) Leave your comment

  1. My parents are my nieces and nephews social security payees and guardian’s however, they live with me. They’ve lived with me since my sister passed away. My question is, can they legally claim them on their taxes? They don’t provide care for them outside the social security they receive. The kids don’t nor ever have lived with them. They say they have to claim them because they get their money. I read somewhere that social security money doesn’t have to be claimed on taxes. If this is true I believe they’ve been committing fraud. I need answers because they don’t help me with them as far as their every day needs. They bought a house with their social security and have been making double payments on the house. They won’t give me money for food or daily basic needs. I also would like to know if they are buying a house with their money don’t they have to leave it to them when they turn 18? They have been threatening to kick me and my kids out if I question them or being it up. Quite frankly, I’m tired of being threatened and taken advantage of . Could someone please help me? Thanks, Michelle.

  2. My parents are my nieces and nephews social security payees and guardian’s however, they live with me. They’ve lived with me since my sister passed away. My question is, can they legally claim them on their taxes? They don’t provide care for them outside the social security they receive. The kids don’t nor ever have lived with them. They say they have to claim them because they get their money. I read somewhere that social security money doesn’t have to be claimed on taxes. If this is true I believe they’ve been committing fraud. I need answers because they don’t help me with them as far as their every day needs. They bought a house with their social security and have been making double payments on the house. They won’t give me money for food or daily basic needs. I also would like to know if they are buying a house with their money don’t they have to leave it to them when they turn 18? They have been threatening to kick me and my kids out if I question them or being it up. Quite frankly, I’m tired of being threatened and taken advantage of . Could someone please help me?

  3. Question. In 2010 my son was raising a child as his own daughter. He claimed her that year as his “daughter”. Now the IRS is asking for the EIC money back, stating “falsification of relationship”. No one else contributed to her financially, nor did anyone else claim her that year. How can we rectify that so he doesn’t owe almost 5k? Thanks.

  4. I’m a married 21 year old. My husband is not a resident of the US yet he lives in India and my dad is sponsoring him because I don’t work. Obviously my husband and I don’t file taxes. My dad put me as dependant on hi tax return, which I am. Is this right? Can he get in trouble. And will it be problem if I apply for financial aid for college with my dad’s taxes while he’s sponsoring my husband? Please help ASAP. Thank you

  5. turbo tax lisa: i claimed a child that i had raised since 2 and now is 16 this was the first year that i claimed her and i was audited.. i could not find the information that they were requesting for proof is there any way to get this mess fixed

    1. Hi Jennifer,
      It may be possible that someone else claimed the child, which will show up as a duplicate social security number used which will cause the IRS to send you a letter. If she is not your relative, she would have to live with you the entire year for you to claim her. You would also need to provide half of her support. If she lived with you the entire year, you should be able to use her school enrollment records showing your same address, her state ID or driver’s license with your address, and medical records. You would also have to be able to show receipts for providing over half of her support.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  6. My daughter is permanently disabled due to a brain tumor and four brain surgeries. She and my three grandchildren have had to live with us for over 6 months in 2013 following forclosure on their home. If I claim the grandchildren on my taxes how will it effect her social security disability benefits for the children and their Medicade.

    Jim

  7. my family just came from out of country, i was the one who support them the whole year. can i claim them in my tax return?

    1. Hi Oscar,
      If your girlfriend’s daughter lived with you the entire year, you provided over half of her support, she did not have over $3,900 in earned income, no one else is eligible to claim her, and she meets the citizenship test then you will be able to claim her. TurboTax will guide you through questions and give you the deduction for her if you’re eligible.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  8. My husband claimed me as a dependant and were married but going through a divorce so we did taxes jointly I’ve never worked since the years I was with him but my question is do I have any rights to get money from him he only wants to give me $500 .

  9. I am retired.Social security is only source of income. My granddaughter helps me out by buying groceries, taxables and sometime my medicine. Can she claim those things on her taxes for 2014?

  10. Hello my fiance has been living with me and didn’t work at all last year, due to having Cancer. He is on disability. And is 2 years older than me. When i file do i file as a head of house hold with a qualifying dependent? Or as a single with dependent? I’m confused. Please help !

    1. You’d file head of household. My concern would be dealing with Social Security because if he is on SSI (not SSDI), they may use your income deciding how much SSI he continues to get. There are some information that is filed with the IRS that Social Security can gain access to.

  11. My son is 19..he worked all of 2013 and helped support his siblings because I was layed off.i just started back working December 2013 and didn’t make a lot…could he file his younger siblings on his income tax?

  12. I am a payee of a 19 year old that receives social security he lives with me and my mom can claim him on my federal taxes

    1. Who is the head of the house? Does he receives SSDI or SSI? SSI is not counted as income, so based on that and you provide for half of the person’s well being, you could file. However, if you are taking care of this indivdual, it might effect his benefits.

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