Who Qualifies as a Dependent on Your Tax Return?


Got family? Then you might have tax deductions as well. Most of us know you can claim a personal exemption for your children on your tax returns, but many people forget that they might be able to claim exemptions for elderly parents or other relatives that qualify as dependents as well.

Is it really worth it? For each dependent you can deduct $3,900 from your federal taxable income, which is likely to reduce your taxes. And if the dependent is your child, you may be able to claim the child tax credit of $1,000 as well.

Children you support

In IRS-Speak, a child you support is a “qualifying child.”

To be qualifying, the child doesn’t have to be your biological child, but must be related to you, such as a stepchild, adopted child, brother, sister, niece, nephew – you get the idea.

The child has to be under age 19 unless permanently and totally disabled. An exception to this rule lets you claim an exemption if the child has been a full-time student for at least five months of the year and is under the age of 24.

The child must be dependent and not-self supporting, must live with you unless living with the other parent in the case of divorce or separation or temporarily absent, such as being away at school.

The child must be a US citizen, US national or a resident of the United States, Canada or Mexico during the year.

And finally, you have to list the child’s social security number on your tax return.

Relatives you support

If you support your parents or your great-uncle Harry, you might be able to claim a dependency exemption for them, if they pass three tests.

1. The person must either be a relative or a member of your household. The category of relatives is broad, and includes:

  • your child, adopted child, step child, foster child, or their descendents, such as your grandchild descendant of any of them (for example, your grandchild) if they are not considered your “qualifying child”
  • your brother, sister, half brother, half sister, stepbrother, or stepsister, or their descendents
  • your father, mother, stepfather, stepmother, grandparent, or other ancestor
  • a brother or sister of your father or mother, or
  • your son-in-law, daughter-in-law, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, or sister-in-law, but only while the marriage exists, not after it ends in death or divorce.

2. The person’s taxable income must be less than $3,900 (this goes up every year).

3. You must pay for more than half the person’s support during the year, unless the person is supported by several people who all agree in a multiple support agreement that you can claim the exemption.

You don’t need to worry about figuring this all out. TurboTax makes it easy. After asking you a few simple questions about your family, TurboTax will determine for you who qualifies as a dependent on your tax return. That way, you’ll get the biggest tax refund possible with the least amount of hassle.

Comments (621) Leave your comment

  1. Hi. I am taking care of my parents outside USA. They are not US citizen and never came to USA.
    Can I claim them as dependent?
    As my one colleague told me about this. So wana confirm.

  2. I am a U.S. Citizen and my husband has an ITIN, but no income. We file married jointly and have 2 children. Can I still get the EITC for our children? I know I can’t for him since he has no SSN. But does him being on my tax returns with an ITIN disqualify me from getting the EITC for our children? They both have SSN’s.

  3. Hi, I have left the workforce to be a stay-at-home mom 4 years ago. Am I qualified to be a dependent under my husband? I currently file as ‘married filing jointly’. Would it be more beneficial to be filed as a dependent?

  4. My brother helps me raising my kids both physically and financially. I receive cash benefit for my oldest daughter, my 6 year old is maximum family grant rule amd therefore doesn’t qualify. I receive cal fresh benefits for both children and they receive no child support and haven’t for many years. I let him claim them for taxes since we live together and they do receive more than half their support from him. He pays for clothes, school supplies, sports and sporting supplies and takes them t do activities that I can’t afford. He recently received a letter from the IRS saying he would be audited. He wasn’t worried until someone told him that if I receive food stamps (cal fresh benefits) for any of my kids that they dont qualify as a dependant. I am not sure if it’s true or not. When my kids were babies and we lived with myparents my situation was basically the same. My parents helped me out a lot, I lived there and same financial situation. My parents claimed them and never had problems and they claimed them until I moved out. Do you know if its legal to claim a dependant child even if the parent is receiving cal fresh benefits for the state of CA? Thank you for your help.

  5. My nephew is 31 years old, graduated from college, no disability, no medical condition, but he doesn’t work. Never has. He lives with his parents. Can he qualify as a dependent of theirs? My brother says he does. I say he does not. Who is interpreting the law correctly?

    1. Hi Lyricanne,
      Your brother is correct as long as:
      – your nephew does not make more than $3,900 for tax year 2013, $3,950 for tax year 2014
      – your brother provides over half of his support
      – your nephew meets citizenship requirements
      Your nephew would qualify under the “qualifying relative” rule if all these tests were met since he doesn’t meet the age requirement to be considered a “qualifying child”.
      I hope this helps you!
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  6. I’m a US citizen and in military currently in Japan by that time i got married and my wife has two children under the age of 16. We got married on January 2012. My wife and stepchildren has ITIN that time. Since we are here in US now and has a green card ans SSn. Can i amend my wife and stepchildren for my refund last 2012? For tax credit and so…

  7. Can i amend my stepchildren for my tax refund last 2012. They are not in the US yet that time but they have ITIN and we are living in Japan as my part of military deployment now that we are in the US and they have ssn and resident alreafy. Should i fileame d for 2012

  8. Hi. My boyfriend and his ex girlfriend had a child together and shortly after, they broke up. She along with the child moved in with her parents and she doesn’t work and never has. My boyfriend has paid Child support every month for 8 yrs (since the child was born) and every year, the grandparents claim the child as a dependent. The mother must be claiming her as a dependent somehow because she gets state assistance (food stamps, medicaid and TANF). Is this legal?

  9. I just recently moved in with my father in December but I start school in a couple weeks but my mother has claimed me as a dependent and by her doing that I can’t get FASFA but I was going to be going to school under my step father, my question is can my mother un claim me as a dependent so my step father can? Please reply back ASAP!

  10. I had mad to much money for my mom to claim me on her tax return so I had to file my own. will I qualify for Pell grant using my own tax return because I’m 22, single, no children, and I only made 17,000 dollars last year?

  11. I am the grandparent and my 9 year old grandson lives with me since 2012. I filed a New York state tax return and now i am being audited. that’s fine, however, i must prove that he lives with me. I did not change his school so there is no record of my address on file. the doctor that he goes to does not have my address on file either. In order for me to claim him the NY taxation dept. said that I need to prove his residency with me. what other documentation can I provide them?

  12. According to turbo tax my 26 yr.old son can be claimed on our ’13 taxes. He was in an auto accident that cost over 15,000.00 for a 3 hr. ER visit. Would we the parents be responsible for that medical bill if we do claim him?

  13. I’m a HB1 visa holder and I have a 10 years old dependent. We live in US since August 2013, can I claim child credit tax return? Thank you.

  14. My 22 year old daughter became unemployed in January 2014. Since then, my wife and I have provided for all her expenses to include medical and dental. She lives in our home and shares our meals. She may be unemployed for much of 2014 given the state of our local economy. Will I be able to claim her on my 2014 tax return?

  15. Hello,

    I have a 35 year old son who is disabled on Medicaid. He lives with my Husband and I, and I’m wondering if he can be claimed as a dependent?

  16. Hi,

    My husband paid $12,000 in child support to my step sons mother this year. This does not include expenses on clothing and travel when his son was staying with us. Can my husband claim these expenses on his tax return?
    His ex-wife claimed his son as a dependent because he lives with her 80% of the year.

  17. If my spouse has passed a way after being in anursing home and hosp for 5 yrs left me with kinds under 16 can I keep all the income tax money or share with the state?

  18. My 28 yr old daughter and granddaughter live with us. My daughter supports my granddaughter in everyway except daycare/preschool. Can I claim any of the childcare/preschool on my taxes as I pay for it every week. It comes to apprx. $7,000 a year.

    1. Hi Cathy,
      In order to claim any of those expenses you would have to claim your granddaughter as a dependent and it sounds like your daughter is doing that since she provides more of your granddaughters support.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

    1. Hi BB,
      A spouse cannot claim another spouse as a dependent, but he can claim an exemption for you, which is $3,900 for 2013.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  19. I claimed my nephew (14 y/o) on my taxes this year because i help support his living expenses, the place where i filed told me i wouldn’t receive a state return because it’s not my child. Is there any truth in this because i never heard of such.. Please reply & thank you

    1. Hi Deidre,
      I have heard of local laws not allowing the dependent exemption if the relationship violates local laws like in the case of a boyfriend living with a girlfriend and the boyfriend is not divorced, however I have not heard of it in the case of a relative like a nephew. What state is it?
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  20. My father(who does not support me what so ever) has claimed me as a dependent. I mad too much money in 2013 for him to be able to do this, and now I can’t file my taxes as an independent because he claimed me. what do I need to do?

    1. Hi James,
      Unfortunately this happens, whether accidentally or as an attempt for a bigger refund. The down side for you is you’ll have to file by mail and let the IRS sort out the cause. If you efiled and were rejected, you have a few extra days to mail your return and be considered on time. You’ll receive any refund, although later than normal. For details, refer to our article at: https://ttlc.intuit.com/questions/1899162
      Or see this IRS article: http://www.irs.gov/Help-&-Resources/Tools-&-FAQs/FAQs-for-Individuals/Frequently-Asked-Tax-Questions-&-Answers/Electronic-Filing-(e-file)/Age,-Name-or-SSN-Rejects,-Errors,-Correction-Procedures/Age-Name-SSN-Rejects,-Errors,-Correction-Procedures-4

  21. My step-daughter moved in with my husband and I in October of 2013. She is 24, autistic and on social security disability. Can we claim her as a dependent in 2013?

  22. Hello, my step daughter lives with her mom now, but in the fall she will start attending college and living on campus. We will be paying some college bills for her. Is there a tax credit for what we spend on her education?

  23. Hi, my daughter turned 19 in october 2013 and she graduated from high school in may 9th of the same year. She did not enroll in college after and she has an income of $8000. Does she qualify as a dependent?

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