Who Can I Claim as a Dependent for This Tax Year?

Tax Tips

That is one of the trickiest questions when it comes to preparing your taxes. It’s so difficult because the nature of families has changed so much. Back in the days before divorce was as common as it is today, claiming a dependent was easy. Two parents meant one married filed jointly return that claimed all the children. Today, just having the parents separated and filing two returns can mean audits if you’re not careful!

It’s also important to make sure you’re claiming every dependent you can. If this recent economic crisis has taught us anything, it’s that it’s very important to get your taxes right so you get the largest refund you’re entitled to. Last year, the average tax refund was nearly three thousand dollars according to the IRS. Who wouldn’t want an extra $3,000 to help with bills this year?

So, let’s discuss how the rules have changed and who you can claim as a dependent for the tax year 2010.

Qualifying Dependents

By definition, a dependent is someone who is a qualifying child or qualifying relative, which by definition makes it only possible for that dependent to appear on one tax return. When it comes to deciding if someone is a qualifying child or relative, qualifying child takes precedence if the individual satisfies all the requirements..

Qualifying Child

To be considered a qualifying child, you need to satisfy four criteria – relationship, residence, age, and support. On relationship, the child must be your child, step child, adopted or foster child, brother or sister, or a descendant of one of these (so nephews count too). They must live with you for more than half the year (residence) and be under the age of nineteen unless they are in college, then the age limit rises to twenty four. The age restriction is removed if they are totally and permanently disabled. Finally, you must provide more than half of his or her financial support during the year.

Qualifying Relative

To satisfy the requirements to be a qualifying relative, there are six requirements. First, they can’t be a qualifying child. They have to earn less than the personal exemption amount during the year, which for TY2010 was $3,650. You must also provide more than half of the total support. If they are married, they cannot file a joint return with their spouse (this would be double counting). They must be related to you in some way (the laundry list includes every conceivable familial relationship you can think of) or live with you for the entire year. Finally, they have to be a citizen or resident alien of the United States, Canada, or Mexico.

As you can see, many of the rules exist so that one dependent cannot be claimed on two returns.

Finally, we leave with this word of warning. This is also one of the areas where being accurate is crucial. If you claim someone who is already being claimed by another taxpayer, you’ll get audited regardless of which tax bracket you’re in. This makes it especially important for divorced parents to communicate with one another.

Comments (130) Leave your comment

  1. My daughter is 22, a full time student, lives with two roommates and receives SSI. As she is still with me a good portion of the time and I still provide more than half her care-food, clothing, furniture, transportation , etc. can I claim her as a dependent on my taxes?

  2. My kids came from india last year(1st November 2013) so i couldn’t claim them as a dependent. now they stayed more than 6 months(11/1/2013 to 8/16/2014) with me, can i file a claim now for 2013?

  3. My son who turned 22 in July started a job after he finished college in June. Can I still claim him on my tax returns since i provided all his support for six months of this year. College tuition etc. He will probably make almost 40,000 from his job in 2014.

  4. I WILL BE GETTING MARRIED NEXT MONTH TO A NONRESIDENT AND WILL BE FILING FOR HIS TEMPORARY RESIDENCY. CAN I CLAIM HIM ON MY TAXES NEXT YEAR

  5. Im a military deployed in Japan on 2010-2013 got married on 2012 with two child. My question is can i file an amend for the year 2012 since they are here in the US now and has a SSn? We live in Japan all together since 2012 and they do have ITIN that time but when we filed our tax we didn’t get anything for my wife and stepchildren. I filed married joint since my wife don’t have work.

  6. My wife earns less than 3000$ per year and a US Citizen. Can I claim her as dependent. We were thinking whether this $3000 per year job is helping us any way. I earn around $90K and thinking we will save better if she does not work at all. Please advice whether we are right. Thank you.

    1. Your wife is never your dependent. If you file MFJ, you will have an exemption for her and one for you + one for each dependent.
      Mike, EA

  7. This May I will finish my 2nd year of college. I am considering taking a year off to work and save money before transferring to a University. Because my father claims me as a dependent, I qualify as an in-state student for the University I want to attend. However, I am 19 and if I do that then I won’t be a student in the fall. I will have been a student for the 5 months of January-May, but if the school year ends early to mid May is that still considered a full 5 months? Want to ensure I understand the consequences of the decision.

    1. Yes, part of May (even a day) counts as a month:

      Student defined. To qualify as a student, your child must be, during some part of each of any 5 calendar months of the year:

      . A full-time student at a school that has a regular teaching staff, course of study, and a regularly enrolled student body at the school, or

      . A student taking a full-time, on-farm training course given by a school described in (1), or by a state, county, or local government agency.

      The 5 calendar months do not have to be consecutive.

      Good luck with the studies,
      Mike, EA

  8. Im 18 years old working a part time job ive only been working for 3 months. No one else is working in my house of 5. My parents and my 2 little sisters, but my dad gets a small check once every month only a couple hundred under $700. Can I claim my sisters?

    1. Jada – you are asking about qualifying relatives.

      Here’s the rules:
      1) They must not be your qualifying child – Okay, they’re your sisters & parents.

      2) They must have lived with you as a member of your household all year, or be a brother, sister, parent or a number of other “qualifying relatives”

      3) Their gross income must be less than 3,950 (2014) – so your Dad will not qualify.

      4) You generally must provide more than half of a person’s total support during the calendar year.
      You need to add up the entire cost of the support of each person you want to claim. This includes “lodging” which your parents may be providing? Use the worksheet #3-1 in IRS Publication 17 to help figure this out.

      Good luck – I hope all them including your Mom are your qualifying relatives!

      Mike, EA

  9. I have a son his 19 years old and he lived with me in 2013,he graduated high school in June 2013 can i claim him as dependent ?

  10. can i claim my parents on my return if they both receive ss benefits. dad got 10,104.00 and mom 4512.00. we all live together. thx

  11. Can I claim my 70 yr old blind disabled sister who lives with me and can no longer take care of herself?

  12. My kids been claim from tee he grandmother since their were born .. n the irs ia asking for proff n she doesn’t have all the papers to meet their needs can some one else claim now?

  13. My husband is in basic training. We were married in 2013 and he made well over ten thousand dollars last year. He was a fulltime student from january to may. He turned twenty in december. His mom is trying to claim him. Can she?

  14. My sons mothers current husband claimed my son this year. We have a joint custody and I have claimed him since he was born. Since their married my tax preparer has told me he can, but she doesn’t work and I have him jointly, how can this be possible?

    1. Only if:
      1. she is not a qualifying child for another
      2. she earned less than 3900,
      3. you provide over 1/2 her support for the year
      She must not file a MFJ return, except to possibly claim a refund AND was she a U.S. citizen, U.S. resident alien, U.S. national, or a resident of Canada or Mexico

  15. I graduated high school in may 2013 while I was still 18. I did not go to college in the fall but I took 2 dual enrollment college classes in high school my senior year. I turned 19 in sept and still live with my mom and not in school. Can she still claim me?

    1. Yes, if you were a full-time student and under age 24.
      Note the IRS definition of a full-time student:
      To qualify as a student, your child must be, during some part of each of any 5 calendar months of the year:

      A full-time student at a school that has a regular teaching staff, course of study, and a regularly enrolled student body at the school, or on-the-farm training.
      Mike, EA

  16. My daughter is a full-time grad student (age 22) and was married in August. Can she and her spouse (22) file “married filing jointly” if they are 1)residents of different states (PA and MD) and living apart at different schools (PA and TX)and 2) both parents claim them on the respective parents’ tax returns as dependents (therefore my daughter and son-in-law would not be allowed to claim an exemption for themselves on their own return)?

    1. Linda – you’ve been studying!
      Correct, as long as they did not provide over 1/2 of their own support, and do not claim a personal exemption.
      They could even file MFJ if the only purpose of the return is to claim a refund of withheld or estimated taxes.
      Good luck,
      Mike, EA

  17. Important question please Help!!! I have had my two children full time since June 11th 2013 and stated that to the court when i went to file for custody and i got joint custody all rights in September 2013… SHE only received joint custody (visitation only) now she is trying to claim them saying i didnt have placement until september when ive had them full time since june i should be eligible for child tax credit this year ? I earned $1,300 for federal and only $378 for state ?!? HELP PLEASE THANK YOU

    1. BL, I’ll try to keep this short . . .
      The IRS does NOT care what the courts say. Per the IRS, the custodial parent is the parent with whom the child spends the most nights. If the non-custodial parent claims the child and files first, the other parent will have to paper file their return. In the end you will win provide you can provide clear proof. Keep a log with receipts, pictures, etc.
      Good luck,
      Mike, EA

    1. You must meet the requirements for a qualifying child or qualifying relative – see IRS pub 17 or 501.
      Being disabled merely avoids the age rule for a qualifying child.
      Best to you,
      Mike, EA

  18. My boyfriend has full custody of his sons but his mother has guardianship of them and does not file taxes can my boyfriend still claim them as a dependent on his taxes he gives his mother 200 dollars a month to get the boys what they need we r confused he always claimed when he got divorced and his ex wife had custody but now this is a different situation and it has us wondering who claims them if anyone does

    1. Belinda,
      A parent always has first right to claim their child’s exemption.
      HOWEVER, you say they live with his mother? For Dad to claim them, they must have lived with him for over 1/2 the year.
      Stick together, get a home for the kids, and form a family – things will get better.
      Good luck!!
      Mike, EA

  19. My boyfriend has full custody of his two sons but his mom has guardianship of them can my boyfriend still claim on his taxes

  20. my husband has been the only one who worked this past tax period. I have been a stay at home mom to our four children. Can he as head of household claim me as his wife and our four kids as a dependent on our joint tax return. I am not a kid but would I fall under relative as his wife.

    1. Sandra – four children – you worked as hard as he did!!!
      Okay, you’re married, you’re not a dependent, you’re a spouse. When you file MFJ you will get 6 exemptions – 1 for hubby, 1 for you, 1 for each child. He is not head of household – file MFJ.
      Bless you!
      Mike, EA

  21. I have been claimed by my roommate for the last 3 years I had no income. This past year I worked for the last 5 months of the year and made 4100.00. She paid all the bills and still does and I still live here.

    1. Dana, things are getting better – you got a job!
      However, since you earned over $3,900, you no longer qualify as a qualifying relative, so your roommate can not claim you.
      Enjoy the income,
      Mike, EA

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