Who Can I Claim As a Dependent?


The age-old question, “Who can I claim as my dependent?”, has remained a confusing topic for many taxpayers and an area where tax deductions are often missed or misstated on tax returns.

Diverse generations

Did you know, you may be able to claim your couch potato friend as a dependent?  Did you realize that support of your struggling aunt who didn’t live with you may qualify you for the dependency deduction?  Don’t feel bad, you would be surprised how many people don’t understand the dependency tax laws.

The bottom line is a dependent must be your “qualifying child” or “qualifying relative” and meet specific tests in order for you to claim them.

There are 5 test that will qualify a child as a dependent as follows:

  • Relationship – Must be your child, adopted child, foster-child, brother or sister, or a descendant of one of these(grand or nephew).
  • Residence – Must have the same residence for more than half the year.
  • Age – Must be under age 19 or under 24 and a full-time student for at least 5 months. They can be any age if they are totally and permanently disabled.
  • Support – Must not have provided more than half of their own support during the year.
  • Joint Support – The child cannot file a joint return for the year.

There are 4 tests that will qualify a relative as a dependent as follows:

  • They are not the “qualifying child” of another taxpayer or your “qualifying child”.
  • Gross Income – Dependent earns less than $3,700 TY 2011 and $3,650 TY 2010.
  • Total Support – You provide more than half of the total support for the year.
  • Member of Household or Relationship – The person must live with you all year as a member of your household or be one of the relatives that doesn’t have to live with you see IRS Publication 501 for a list of qualifying relatives.

Many taxpayers are surprised to find they may be able to claim a boyfriend, girlfriend, domestic partner, or friend as a qualifying relative if:

  • They are a member of your household the entire year.
  • The relationship between you and the dependent does not violate the law (you can’t still be married to someone else.  Also check your individual state law.  Some states do not allow you to claim a boyfriend or girlfriend as a dependent even if your relationship doesn’t violate the law).
  • You meet all the other criteria for “qualifying relatives” (gross income and support).

Here are  some common questions from our users that we answered:

Question:  My 26 year old is living with me.  He works and has made more than $3,600.  Can I claim him as a dependent?

Answer:  No, because your child would not meet the age test, which says your “qualifying child” must be under age 19 or 24 if a full-time student for a least 5 months out of the year.  He may be considered a “qualifying relative”, but his income must be less than $3,700 for 2011 and $3,650 for 2010.

Question:  I start work in September of this year and had my baby in March.  Can I claim my baby as a dependent on my taxes?

Answer:  Yes, even if you have a baby on December 31, you can claim them as a dependent on your taxes.

Question:  My boyfriend fully supports me.  We live with his mother, but we pay for our full support including rent.  His mother wants to claim us as dependents.  Who can claim the deduction?

Answer:  As long as your boyfriend is not married (be sure to check your individual state law regarding claiming a boyfriend or girlfriend some states don’t comply with the federal law), supplies over half of your support, and you lived with him the entire year, you did not earn more than $3,650 TY 2010 and $3,700 TY 2011, you would qualify as his dependent.  His mother could not claim you since she did not provide more than half of the support.

Question:  My spouse has not worked all year except for a month, can I claim him as a dependent?

Answer:  You cannot claim a spouse as a dependent.  If you file married filing jointly, you will get a personal exemption of $3,650 for TY 2010 and $3,700 for TY 2011 for each of you.

Now that you are armed with more knowledge about dependent tax laws, you may want to reconsider kicking out your free-loading friend.  They may help you get a larger refund.

For more information see our Who Counts as Your Dependent or Can I Claim My Girlfriend As a Dependent blogs.

Comments (620) Leave your comment

  1. HI I’m in a domestic partnership. I have been living with my partner since may 15. Im 22 years old and Im still in school, I was wondering can my partner calm me as their depended?

  2. Hello, I have a question. I wanted to know if I can do my own income tax, with my child of course. I clean houses for cash. I don’t get pay checks. I’m confused on how I would be able to do this. My child has always lived with me and only me. I need a reply please. I’m a single mother, I am 24 years of age and my son is 3. Any reply will be helpful.

  3. My husband and I have supported my 49 year old daughter this year totally. The only thing she gets is food stamps and now she just got some state insurance and dental insurance which the dental doesn’t pay mush. Can we claim her on our income tax this year?

  4. the mother of my child is not working but married , my daughter stay with me sun to wed morning , who should claim her as a dependent?

  5. Hello, I Am 18 going on 19 at the end of the up and coming week. I am a full time college student living at home. I filed at my job as independent but my mom is claiming me as dependent. So far I have made over 5k. I was wondering if I filed my taxes from work, would it affect my financial aid and/or my Mom’s ability to claim me. Thanks

  6. My 88 year old mother-in-law just came to live with us after her husband passed away – is she now a dependent of ours? Should we file separate tax returns? what about health care – is this a qualifying event? so many questions

  7. We have a 18 year old boy who is still in high school and has been living with us since 6/2 of this year. He does work 27 hours per week since end of June. We supply his almost all of his support as he uses the money he makes to get help with his education as he is so far behind in school. There is major tension between him and his Mother so that is why he is living with us know. She does not support him in anyway and has not since 6/2. Can we claim him on our returns this year?

    1. That decision is not easy as it sounds, you as his father needs to prove in front of the I.R.S that you support him more than his own mother, be ready for a sustain battle….

      1. We are not his parents. His father died when he was 9 and his mother has not helped in at all with education or work or living expenses since he moved into our home on 6/2. His SS checks go to help in improve his reading and math skills as he is wanting to graduate from High School in Spring. We feed him and supply all laundry and cleaning supplies he needs plus bedroom.

  8. I am 24 years old, almost 25. I live with my mom but I am going to school and I am paying for my tuition. I make $15,000 a year but she pays for my rent. However I pay for cell, gas and food. I have claimed myself as independent on my takes for the last two years. Can she claim me as dependent?

  9. I am 27 years old I haven’t worked all year. My mom has been supporting me and my 3 children can she claim my children and my self if I’m a full time student?

  10. I have a question I live with my father. Am 23 years old. I pay rent at home. Full time worker and part time student.I recently asked my dad to give me his taxes so that I can apply for financial aid at school and he refused. So I decided to pay cash. Now he wants to claim me yet he will not even support me with school.

    1. Hi Lisa,

      My 22 year old son was a full time student in 2014 and graduated from college in May. He lives with me and I support him. He is a Reservist and has some income but is less than $10,000 for the year. I make approximately $40,000. Can I claim him as a dependent?

  11. I have a disabled fiance on ssi and ssdi. approx 8900 a year he receives but i pay over half his living expenses. we have a child together and he doesnt file a return. He has been disabled from birth from severe hemophilia Can i Claim him?

  12. Hi my question is I am 21 and my brother is 23 he is a full time student and I worked and supported him and my mom when my mom was paid off due to her having a car accident I have all the proper documents supporting this my question is would my brother be a qualifying child or a qualify relative and would I be able to get earn income credit?

  13. Hello Lisa, July 29, 2014 My 25 years son lives
    with me, he is not working, a student at a technical college. Can he still be a dependent on my tax return this year.

    1. Hi Shirley,
      He could qualify as a “qualifying relative” and not a “qualifying child” since he did not meet the age requirement to be a “qualifying child” as long as:
      – He doesn’t make over $3,950 in 2014
      – You provide over half of his support
      – He meets the citizenship requirements
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  14. I turn 18 years old September 5 2014 and I’ve been staying with my friend and he’s been supporting me this entire year. Im still in school and he does everything for me. from taking me to cheer practice to purchasing my shoes and cloths. He’s 22 years old and I want to know if he can claim me as a dependent?

    1. Hi Brittany,
      As long as there is no custody agreement with your parents. If there is one of them may still be able to claim you depending on the agreement especially since you will not turn 18 until September. If your parents can not claim you, then your friend may be able to claim you if:
      – you lived with him the entire year
      – you did not make over $3,950
      – he provided over half of your support
      – you meet the citizenship tests
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  15. My daughter is 18 and pregnant,and still living wwith me has finished her college course and is not going back do I still claim for her or does she claim herself

  16. Hi Lisa, I’m surrently living with my girlfriend and her son. He is planning on attending college in the fall and I was wondering if there was any tax benefit for me in giving my girlfriend money to help pay for his tuition?

  17. Hi. My husband is a Filipino working in UK under a 2-year contract, while me and our 1year old child lives in the Philippines. He has his contract renewed and now about to finish by October 2014. He never updated yet his marital status and never applied yet for a child tax credit. Is my husband qualified to claim for this benefit?

  18. I am 20 years old, I am a full time student, I live on my own for 9 months out of the year, and I provide for ALL of my expenses except for my health insurance. Am I considered INDEPENDENT status??

  19. Our Daughter and grandsons lived with us for 7 1/2 months she receives Social Security can we claim the grandsons on our taxes since she had no earned income

    1. Hi John,
      If you provided over half of their support, they did not receive income over $3,900, your daughter or anyone else can claim them, and they meet the citizenship requirements you can claim them. TurboTax will ask you the appropriate questions and give you the tax deductions and credits you’re eligible for.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  20. I turned 18 in July of 2013 but graduated and moved out in 2012. I lived on my own all of 2013 and am not a full time student in college and my parents claimed me. Was that right?

  21. My younger brother passes the dependent test. But he is on F1 visa (foreign student goes to the US to study). Can I claim him as dependent? Thank you.

  22. I am 20 years old & support myself i rent my own place etc. My 17 year old sister will be living with me this year. I know i can claim her as my depemdent. But can i also claim head of household? She does not work, but she is a full time student.

  23. Can I claim my third cousin on my earn income tax he is seven I have raised him since he was two months old the IRS said I only can claim him as independant

  24. My daughter is 22, a graduate student out of state, I provide more than 1/2 support. She has an income of 12K. Her state has a much lower tax rate.Can she file in her school’s state, while I still claim her as a dependent? In other words does the dependent have to use the same address when filing her return as the parent?

  25. If I am getting food stamps for me and my children and am currently unemployed, can my boyfriend claim us on his taxes?

    1. If I have been living with my fiance for 2.5 yrs can he claim me as an independent i made less than 3,900.00 this yr?? Thank You!

  26. If my sister claimed my son whom supported my son for about a year and his dad claimed him too who doesn’t provide for my son in any way who will lose this situation

  27. My daughter goes to college in Texas. I want to claim her. She made $6330 income. She is a full time student. She is doing her taxes, being claimed my me and wants to used her Texas address to establish residency. Can I claim her since I pay all her expenses to live???? even if she made over $3000 and lives away from home for school?????.

  28. Hi,

    Im 22 and living with my parents. Ive made well more than $10,000. I only went to school for a semester. I filed as independent, however, are they still able to claim me as dependent. If so, how would that affect me and my tax return filed as independent?

  29. Can i claim my brother he makes more than 3,700 a year… He is 21 and i am 23 >> I provide more than half of the total support for the year,, Also can i claim my mother? She doesn’t work.
    Can i be head of house hold?
    Please i need an answer

  30. im 23 years old, can i claim my brother he is 21. he makes more than 3,700 .. but i provide more than half of the total support for the year,, And also can i claim my mother?, she doesn’t work.
    can i be head of house hold??
    Please help i need answer!

  31. Hi Lisa …
    My husbands mother spends every other month here since she gave up her apartment. The month she’s not here she’s at her other sons house. She gives us $400.00 a month which is room and board. Can we claim her as a dependent and if so what documentation would we need to support it? Thanks … Peg

  32. Hi Lisa,
    My mom is a green card holder and she stayed with me from Oct.1, 2012 to Oct. 2, 2013. Can I claim her as my dependent? Thank you.

  33. My 84 year old mother lives with us in our guest area, just steps from our house. She pays hers utilities and medicine, and doctors and some food to keep at her place. We pay for all other food (I cook all her meals), and we pay the mortgage. I drive her everywhere she needs to be, and shop for her. Can I claim her. She has no income, but has SS check each month.

  34. I’m a 20 yr full time college student who worked a temp job and made less than 3K end of 2013, if my dad claims me, do i still have to file my own taxes? Also, will we get more money if he claims me or should I claim myself? I took out some student loans and received some grants but I paid for all my books and school supplies, but I live with my dad.

  35. My daughter 25 and her daughter 2 live with us full time. my daughter gets child support and disability income which totals about $10,000. Are these two incomes taxable, does she need to file? If not, can we claim her daughter as a dependent if she doesn’t file and we have been supporting over 75% of their support?

  36. My fiancé lives with me and is an international student. We have lived together for 2 yearsvin the same location. She gets some financial aid but overall I pay for what she cannot like occasionally rent,tuition,supplies,etc. Can I claim her on my taxes?

  37. Hi there! I need help. My fiancee is still legally married & haven’t filed for divorce yet. Can he claimed me as gf for dependant? I worked for almost 3months, filed for unemployment & just received disability last year. Also I did live with him until june 2013.

  38. I use my child as a dependent on my taxes. My question is he owes child support in Puerto Rico and I am afraid that they will take my return for his debt. Is this possible, being it would be my deduction? I heard that there is a law about grandparents paying what is owed if the child isn’t paying. He is applying for SSI.

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